We were armed, of course—with a very rational checklist, like all house-hunters are.

It looked something like this:

– Four bedrooms (we have three daughters and lots of house guests)

– At least two full bathrooms, including one of the main floor (did I mention three daughters?)

– A spacious kitchen with lots of counter space (Jason and I usually cook together—there’s often a daughter and a dog in the mix, too)

– A dedicated space for me to work (I work from home, which had always meant carving out a cramped corner of the living room)

– Closets! (Closets, closets, closets! Our current house had not a single closet or pantry on the entire first floor—and did I mention three daughters? And backpacks, soccer shin guards, volleyballs, a cello, and more pairs of shoes, boots, and muddy cleats than I could count?)

– A hang-out space of some sort (as our daughters grew into teenagers, we wanted to be sure they regularly invited friends)

– A fireplace (for those cozy, picturesque evenings together as a family)

– A front porch (I have always considered this a must for a house)

– A location in our current neighborhood (walking distance to the girls’ schools, cafes, the library, the farmers’ market, etc.)

Oh, and there was one must-not-have: NO black walnut tree. We’d had enough of the squirrel colony that congregated in the backyard of our current house, and enough of the curses we uttered each time our current tree dropped its ample harvest on our roof, cars, and patio furniture.

In general, we thought our checklist was perfectly reasonable. And we weren’t in a huge hurry to find something—we had already survived two years as a newly-formed family of five in the house I had purchased for three (as a single mom, just months before I met Jason). We were just “keeping our eyes out.”

Each year, for about three years, we went to see a handful of houses. Some met the requirements on our checklist, but were just too expensive. Others had a significant flaw (or two)—a visible bulging in the foundation; a tiny, unworkable living room (but lots of space everywhere else); terrible kitchens (without any hope for feasible remodel plans); a shared driveway or no garage.

There were also a couple of houses that could have worked, but were somehow just “off.” I began to differentiate “house-hunting,” which requires being armed with a list and a realtor, from “home-hunting,” which calls for a fully-loaded gut (and a refusal to buy into the optimism gushing from the realtor’s mouth).

With each visit to a new listing, the hope that buoyed us as the realtor unlocked the front door, quickly deflated. And with each disappointment, we returned to our cozy home determined to find ways to make it work. Trips to IKEA resulted in more storage, and a remodel of the basement added a second bathroom and a fourth bedroom, so two of our girls no longer had to share. After three years of “keeping an eye out” for houses, we simply stopped.

house4saleAnd then, one February day in 2013, I was walking the dog and saw a new For Sale sign. Even from the sidewalk, something about the house spoke to me—to my gut, as cheesy as that sounds.

As it turns out, it was The One—even though it didn’t meet all of the requirements on our ever-so-rational checklist. There were two full bathrooms, but no bathroom of any sort of the first floor (this is apparently a cost of loving 100-year-old houses). There was a beautiful sunroom with built-in bookshelves and three walls of windows, which has become my dream office, but no front porch. The kitchen was workable, but not nearly as spacious as we had hoped for during our house hunting. And there was a wood-burning fireplace, as advertised in the listing, but during the inspection we discovered that it wasn’t a working fireplace and couldn’t actually be fixed to become one, short of completely rebuilding the chimney.

homecomingdinner2013Yes, there are four bedrooms and plenty of beautiful closets, and the location is perfect. Even more importantly, much of what we envisioned for our new home has become a reality—less clutter, more space for family and friends to be together, the ability to host big meals (that first fall we did a Homecoming dinner for our daughter and 22 of her friends and a chili cook-off for 50+). And as a family, we’ve enjoyed two cozy winters of together time, gathered by the fire—the people we bought the house from installed a gas fireplace (not our original ideal, but it sure has made it easy to light a fire every evening rather than just every-so-often).

In short, this is our home and it has been just right from the beginning, regardless what our list said. Even that first summer, when we realized that big tree in the backyard was—you guessed it—a black walnut (this is a danger of buying a house in February and not being an expert in tree bark identification), we had to laugh as we grumbled. After all, we had been home-hunting, not house-hunting.


5 Thoughts.

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your house/home hunting post, and as revealed in the picture, the many memories that will become a part of home as the years go by. But the thing that really grabbed my attention was the black walnut tree! Finally someone who finally understands the “curse” of the black walnut tree! Before we moved to our present location(now 23 going on 24 years), I had never knowingly seen a black walnut tree, or known the trouble they could cause. And now after all of these years, I think I have become an expert on them! We have 2 “mature” trees, and dozens of other wannabe’s who are not yet producing nuts (the squirrels plant them everywhere!). I could go on and on with black walnut tree stories, and what I have learned about the darned trees, but what I would say is that all of this has become part of the memories of being here . .. of home(good and bad). And did I mention that black walnut trees send out a chemical called juglons that prevent many plants from growing near them (including tomatoes!) But. . . pay attention. . .something positive . . . black walnut trees allow black raspberry bushes to grow profusely, a wonderful treat for about three weeks in the summer, and black raspberry picking (and eating)
    that my granddaughters (Jen’s girls) look forward to every year at Nana and Papa’s!! Priceless!

    • Hi Pam! Somehow I completely missed this comment until now, and I’m so sorry I did—it’s so nice to hear from someone who truly gets your frustrations about something (like a black walnut tree)! Thank you also for the peek down the road 20 or so years, to a time when even the frustrations can be part of the good memories of home.

  2. My husband is a realtor in his “free time”, and I have watched him walk through this shift from house-hunting to home-hunting with so many people, though I have never had the words to express it. I’m not sure that the process can be avoided–everyone starts with their ideals, and ends up “down the block” from their original dream house, but I think that it’s a good journey for most people, Just like you said in your comment, Kristin, it’s not just true for houses!

  3. I LOVE this piece. Your writing is so consistently well-crafted. I like how the shift from “house-hunting” to “home-hunting” is accompanied by your increased awareness of your feelings — something was “off,” the house spoke to you, to your “gut.” I can picture you throwing your want list in the air. Of course, it got caught in the branch of a black walnut tree. 🙂

    • Thank you, Lisa! As I was writing this piece, I was aware of how this story is a metaphor for so much of life—for all of those things we want so badly to rationalize and control. In the end, I’m always thankful that something much bigger than our checklists prevails. (Btw, I LOVE your thoughtful comments and humor. xo)

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