On being a homeowner in Seattle

The place that I currently live is the fourth house that Jon and I have owned in Seattle. But it’s the first house that I’ve been in love with. It feels like an extension of myself, and it exudes a real sense of belonging and safety. I love my house! But it took us several wrong houses to figure out where we belong.

Our first home was a post war saltbox in a North Seattle neighborhood called Maple Leaf. The house was ugly inside and out, with sections made of mismatched, sometimes broken wood scraps, and having been recently covered with cheap remodels like Pergo flooring, vinyl windows, and white kitchen appliances. It was clear that whoever built it was barely scraping up enough money to get it done, and then someone did the minimal to fix up and flip it. For all of it’s faults, it had amazing benefits too. It was pretty sweet not to share walls with loud assholes, and be able to play loud music of our own. We had quite a bit of yard, and I was able to grow a substantial veggie garden and start dabbling with growing other things in this NW climate. We were able to entertain and BBQ outside, and had a garage for projects and bikes. Unfortunately it was a dismal neighborhood. When we walked around to introduce ourselves to our neighbors, most people wouldn’t come to the door, others would only open it a tiny crack and yell at us to get off their porch. After a couple years, we came home to find that our screens had all been slit and a tiny window forced open. All our electronics stolen including the computer with all my work on it, and half the entertainment system. They rooted through all of our personal stuff. They left without even bothering to shut the door. Then the thief started calling my cellphone and harassing me. He didn’t have demands, just wanted to call me a bitch. When we went to neighbors houses to warn them of what happened – that a burglar had been in the area, we got similarly cold receptions as our introduction day. One day, right after another unsettling call, a rock came through the kitchen window, shattering it in front of me, and a car sped off. We moved out and sold the house, feeling absolutely rejected by the neighborhood and fearful of what this person would do next. We had no idea why the harassment was happening. Did we know this person? It all seemed too vengeful and hateful to be random, but the perpetrator never said why they were doing it or what they wanted.

House two was east of the University District in a very uptight, affluent, snotty, mostly (all?) white neighborhood. To this day I have no idea how we ended up buying a huge house in that kind of neighborhood. We are not that kind of people. In hindsight, I feel like the bank encouraged-pushed us into higher and higher price brackets in our home search, and before we knew it we were playing Martha Stewart in a three level house with room for a family of four, spending all our time and money on repairs and maintenance, and not really enjoying it. We drove everywhere, even to the local PCC grocery store which was in easy walking distance. We both put on a ton of weight. I think it nearly ended our marriage because we were so unhappy with ourselves. Our wine consumption was enough to fill the recycle bin weekly with so many bottles that I could barely roll it down the steps to the curb, and our neighbors seemed to have similarly wine-bottle-filled bins and crotchety attitudes and increasing waistlines. After awhile then next door neighbor started a campaign of making us miserable. She would come home, yell at her husband, yell at her dogs, phone someone and yell at them, then show up on our porch at yell at us for various things. They threatened to kill our trees. They sent an arborist into our yard and cut a hundred year old lilac tree down to a three foot stub that was ‘blocking their garden sun’. They piled up thousands of pounds of walkway rocks against the fence, then blamed us when the fence started coming apart from the weight. They threatened to make us pay thousands for a new shared fenceline, with a design of their choosing that would consist of mostly see-through areas (it was a privacy fence at time of discussion – not see through and maximum legal height, which I appreciated since they never weeded their yard). I couldn’t stand the thought of having to look at them and their weed-filled back yard while I was enjoying my gardening. They yelled at us if our car was parked 10% front of their house. They yelled at us when we were getting our sewer pipe re-lined because there was some dirt from the digging which she insisted was “poop all over the sidewalk!”. They were just absolutely ridiculous and unfriendly and button-pushing, and could not smell their own shit. The husband fired up a motorcycle every morning and let it idle for 30 minutes before roaring away on it. They would stand out on the porch and make super loud phone calls. Despite them being shits, we attempted multiple times to invite the neighbors over, BBQs, dinner parties, our wedding reception – they were always invited and never came. We completely failed to make friends yet again. The neighborhood was full of white upper-middle-class asshats who were polishing brass on the corporate Titanic. We had to go. Housing bubble crash be damned, we got out. Two pairs of rich assholes got in a bidding war over the house, so we got out unscathed financially, but not emotionally.

Home three was a charming tiny condo on the Central District / Capitol Hill boundary. The neighborhood was awesome. It was everything Maple Leaf and Laurelhurst were not. People went out of their way to stop and talk to me about my garden. When we had garage sales, neighbors would stop and chat for a long time. I had a P-Patch and got to know another half dozen neighbors. The people in the condo building next door were super friendly, and immediately befriended me and introduced me to even more neighbors. Mark shared seeds with me, and we often shared tools or tips since we were the unofficial always-home caretakers of our respective properties. We felt surrounded by like minded friends. The local coffee bar, Tougo, was an amazing community space filled with even more amazing neighbors to catch up with on the daily happs. Our condo space was amazing, I had a tiny garden on both sides of our condo, which was a one-story 1920’s tudor style brick. We shared walls on both sides, but with no one above or below us, it felt like a mini house, not like an apartment. The interior was super charming, since it was nearly all original, full of character and old wood. I had a blast restoring the place, fixing the radiators, restoring the windows, turning a tiny unusable kitchen with old appliances into a shining modern workspace. The reality of co-owning a condo building with eight other people was starting to set in though. The gardens were rotting away and full of overgrown bushes, but one tenacious old bitch who wanted us to Disneyland the property with all new landscaping and hardscaping was being completely inflexible and unfriendly about the keeping up of the property in the meantime. She wanted everyone to chip in for her chosen landscape company to do a five thousand dollar consultation and likely subsequent hundred thousand dollar reworking of the exterior – to her liking. Meanwhile her garden is overrun with ivy, morning glory, and their front area was filled with their rotting outdoor furniture and trash. Clearly not someone who knows anything about making a space look nice, or who is willing to put in the time and effort to care for a home. Our first homeowner association meeting was one where a couple of the women berated and insulted an gentleman who had taken the initiative to keep up his end of the yard – but in a way they didn’t appreciate. Later in the process they re-started a process to hire architects to reinforce the entire building at everyone’s expense so that a few of the residents could maybe possible consider in the future building a second story on their units. Basic maintenance was being ignored while they dreamed about future beautification projects. Jon and I found ourselves doing more of the maintenance, for free, in order to avoid costs for the building. It was totally unappreciated. It became clear that this was not going to be a financially stable building in the future, and the manipulative old hags who’d lived there forever were too entrenched in neighbor-vs-neighbor warfare to see the reality of the situation. We could see a day in the future, where because dues were not keeping up with inflation, the building could no longer afford the basics because of mismanaged, unmaintenanced common areas and finances. We were looking for a long term home, and this clearly was not going to cut it. We woke up every morning dreading interaction with the two total cunt neighbors who were emotionally and politically manipulating the building into financial-daydream-nonsense, and went to sleep every night worrying about our (lack of) long-term security there. Time to go. We literally woke up one morning, both sick to our stomaches, decided to get out, and had a real estate agent on the job by the end of the day. Condos are not for people who want to be good home-owners. It’s a place for people incapable of fixing anything or saving money to store their purchases. I think you have to not care about the state of your living space, and not care about what decisions are made for you about your future. That’s not Jon and I. We’re fiends for homeownership and financial stability.

House four! It’s all ours. It’s not too big, not too small, and has good spaces for Jon to work, us to do big cooking and entertaining, a greenhouse/sunroom for winter gardening, and I have a huge outdoor garden, with more mini-zones and microclimates that I know what to do with at current (squeee!!). The neighborhood doesn’t have much personality or a central core or identity, but we have plenty of nice neighbors, so that’s ok with me. The only thing that bums me out is the lack of a good grocery co-op, but we make do. The block party didn’t have any nimbys, there is a nice mix of elders, kids, middle aged people. Our next door neighbors are really nice! They love to garden, and I love to watch their veggie garden grow and their kids play happily in the yard. They really love seeing me fix up the house and give it some love because they used to own this house, but had been renting it and were unable to do much maintenance while renting it. Things are pretty quiet around here. I feel really at ease and at home. We’re definitely a little out of our element here too, all our neighbors have cars and most of them seem to be breeders, traditional types, less diversity, but there is enough diversity that it works for me. It would be nice if some young-ish people moved into the area, someone we could befriend. We are losing a neighbor behind us to foreclosure in January, and possibly another one moving out and selling since their elderly parent died – very sad events – but with change comes new people too. I’m optimistic about this home. After a year and a half, I feel like I can see myself living here forever. Building an aquaponics tanks, building a sauna, carving a spirit pole, planting trees and watching them grow, harvesting fruit and veggies, maybe getting a pet duck, building all kinds of things big and small. I’ve started a Japanese-inspired garden and started studying traditional Japanese house design. I’m inspired by the way a Traditional Japanese house integrates nature into every aspect of living. The residences are so human, warm, and in proportion with nature, it just feels right to me. We’ll see!