What buying a house teaches you about yourself.

Source: The Selby

In an extremely grown-up move that nobody saw coming, my husband and I decided to buy a house this year.

We currently live in an old, rambling duplex in Hyde Park.  It is populated by me, my husband Ross, our roommate Caleb, our cat Claudia, roughly 10 guitars (Ross’s), a steady supply of coffee and nut butters (mine), wall decals in varying shapes and sizes (usually bird-shaped), hand-me-down furniture from our parents, meals Ross has made, books I have read, high heels, flip-flops, beer, wine, expensive cheese (when we’re feeling rich), canned beans (when we’re not), photographs from parties in our 20s, echoes from fights we have had, old wrapping tissue from gifts we have given each other, pink carpet, yellow bathroom tile, and — occasionally — terrified birds and lizards Claudia carries in from outside.

We try to keep that last feature to a minimum.

What I’m saying is: This is a fully-imprinted house.  I knocked on its front door for my first date with Ross.  Nine months later, he proposed to me upstairs.  There’s a creek outside our bedroom window that I listen to at night, and there used to be a pair of hard-of-hearing vets who walked by every morning.  They wore matching sombreros, and their preferred communication method was shouting.  One of them was so loud, he was banned from the grocery store.


Ross is a school teacher, and primarily teaches music.  Which is, in fact, how we met: I taught at his same school seven years ago, and almost as soon as I met him, thought: “Now that’s going to make one hell of a husband someday.”

I didn’t think it’d be me, but whoever that lucky girl was, I envied her.  Greatly.

Reader, I married him.  We now live down the street from it, this small, private school in the middle of Austin.  Ross still teaches there, and walks up the two blocks every day with his lesson plans strapped to his back, kissing me goodbye on the way out.

But now, the school is closing.

The property was sold a few weeks ago.


For Ross and me, it’s ok: He’s had a dream of opening up his own music school for kids, School of Rock-style.  It’s a dream I am 100% behind.  And admittedly, it’s a bit self-serving: I feel like a badass whenever I tell people my husband teaches kid rock bands.

So sometime back in January, we got this crazy idea to start looking for a house, a house that would allow us to build Ross’ dream music studio.  Now, people told me a lot of things about the house-hunting process, but one thing no one ever told me was that it’s a really good indicator of the state of your marriage.

Here is a conversation Ross and I once while looking at a potential home:

ROSS:  Wow!  Look at all this space on the lot!

ME: The neighborhood’s ugly.

ROSS:  Really?  I don’t think it’s that bad.

ME: Well, I don’t like it.

ROSS: Can you be more specific?

ME:  Uh — I don’t like that someone has a chain link fence in their yard.

ROSS:  Seriously?

ME:  Yeah.  What’s up with that.  They should get a cuter fence. 

ROSS: (Silently gathering reserves of patience)

ME: Also, our whole yard would be taken up by a driveway.

ROSS: Where do you propose we park our car?

ME:  I don’t know but not on a humongous slab of stained concrete.  That driveway just doesn’t “feel” right.

ROSS: You’re honestly getting bad vibes from a driveway?

And on and on and on it went.  If you can’t tell, I can be both shockingly snobby and highly vague in my property tastes.

That conversation was about a house that Ross really wanted and I didn’t, and we had an argument about it that lasted for days.  It sucked, and it scared me to think that we could be on such opposite pages when it came to the biggest purchase of our entire adult lives.  He wanted space; I wanted an adorable neighborhood.  Preferably a centrally-located neighborhood, because at this particular life juncture, I have a deep need to live close to the city.  Maybe I always will.


There was one house we saw online, and after looking at its pictures, felt flatly unimpressed.  The lighting was all wrong and, rather than take a picture of his backyard, the seller decided to show us a single picture of an Everlast punching bag.  Presumably in the back yard.  Presumably his favorite part about the back yard.

Still.  It was in our budget, and I noticed it was located only five miles away from our beloved Hyde Park abode.  We decided to give it a shot.

When we walked inside with our realtor, we heard what sounded like an animal waking up in the back of the house.

“HMMUPHHHRRrrrr,” it said.

I thought it might be a big, sleepy dog.  Or a wolf.

“Ok, ah, hello!” called my realtor, ever chipper in the face of confusion.  “Realtor with prospectives!  Just going to take a quick look around!”  We heard the source of the sound get up out of the bed, stumble to his bedroom door, and shut it.

But we didn’t need to look.  We were already in love.


There’s a certain cliched, cheesy magic that has been portrayed by Remax commercials, of couples gazing expectantly at each other, eyes wide, thrilled that they’ve found THE HOUSE and that they can now embark confidently on The American Dream.  And the thing is, they’re actually not joking.  Just like when I found out that the best part of waking up really is Folger’s (or any coffee) in my cup, I discovered this was a time when commercials weren’t lying to me.

Because the moment you realize that you and your mate both love a house is nothing short of momentous, causing you to react like you’ve just discovered King Tut’s Tomb.  Or maybe the Baby Jesus.

“The stained concrete floors!” I cried.

“The huge backyard!” Ross wept.

“Oh, oh my God, Ross, there’s a PECAN TREE,” I whispered.

“I know, Tolly, and there’s even a small driveway,” he said.

We were completely giddy.  We practically skipped out the front door, and into our realtors’ arms.

And you know the best part?  All those crappy pictures that the seller took of his own house worked in our favor.  When we made our offer, we had zero competition.


We close on this house in six days, and are so nervous it’s all going to evaporate somehow.  I’ve never saved up this much money before, and it’s just sitting in our savings account, staring out at me from the bank website.  “Hello?”  It seems to be calling.  “Hellooo, Tolly!  Let’s go play and have fun.  You need new shoes.”

No, I don’t need new shoes!  I want to tell it.  STOP TAUNTING ME savings account.  What I need is groceries, but we’re saving every single cent we have right now to make our down payment.  I bought fancy coconut milk coffee creamer the other day, and immediately felt guilty about it.  So there, savings account.

Ross has already started boxing up our belongings, and I keep asking the cat if she’s ready for a grand adventure!  She swats at my face, and then runs off to kill something. 

As for me?

I am honestly so excited I can hardly stand it.  We’re doing it!  We’re buying a freaking house!  I never thought I would do something this adult until I was at least 45.  Look out world, I want to say.  Ross and Tolly are making decisions!  Big, responsible decisions.  Next thing you know, we’ll join a home owners association and write off tax deductible charity donations! 

But.  I’m terrified it will fall through.

You hit snags buying a house.  It’s just the nature of it.  For various reasons, it really could all go away.

I’m also keenly aware that leaving my neighborhood might present a weird, surprising pain of its own.  I’ve identified with its haunts — like Quacks — for so long, that I’m maybe not quite ready to leave.  I’ve taken so many walks through this neighborhood that I’ve memorized the best corners.  I know the characters of Hyde Park, the loud veterans, the bright-eyed, 19-year-old checkers at Fresh Plus Grocery, the attendant at Pronto Mart who looks like Jerry Garcia, the Iranian couple who own a gas station as well as a hundred flags, decorating the building exterior and even the very gas pumps, so, so many flags that we’ve nicknamed this gas station “The UN.”  There’s a church in Hyde Park where they do Ouija board seances.  There’s a peacock in somebody’s back yard.

Still though, I think I’m ready for this change.

I just can’t believe that words like “escrow” and “HOA” are now part of my vocabulary.  Part of me wants to spit them out, saying, “Ew!  Too much adult around here!”

But the other part of me savors these words, these official-sounding pieces of home buyer terminology.  It’s like the time I finally realized I like olives.  A slow, contemplative bite, and then … a contented turn of the lips.

These grown-up words don’t feel so bad in my mouth after all.