After two failed bids, we learned that stretching our furthest was the only way to possibly secure a house.
BUYING a house in Seattle these days is no easy feat, especially for a person of modest income. When my husband and I started looking, we would put our price range into an online search engine and watch as most of the city’s neighborhoods disappeared.
But I knew we needed to try. After 12 years living in a Queen Anne apartment with a view of Elliott Bay and a green-grass park, it was finally time. When we slept in the main room to give my daughter the bedroom; when I had to wait until the children were asleep to trek three floors down to do a load of laundry; when I had a pile of dirty dishes in the sink (no dishwasher in this 100-year-old building); when I had to carry two kids and groceries up two flights of stairs: I knew it was time.
The first step, of course, is viewing houses. My husband and I work in the city, but on opposite ends, so we wanted to live somewhere central. The affordable houses we looked at, however, were often in rough shape. Anything with a low price tag in the city attracts many offers, so the homes we bid on often went for $100,000 more than the asking price, with up to 20 bids on one house.
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I teach high-school English for Seattle Public Schools. Last spring, one of my students posed a question in class for us to write about: “Have you had a sudden change of opinion based on a single fact?” In my journal that day, my reflection went like this: On buying a home, I learned that you need an inspection and sewer scope to find out if you really want to buy. But sometimes it is enough to go see the house that looks pretty decent from the picture, but as soon as you set foot on the property, you know right away that you need to leave.
A couple of these places included “Vertigo Farmhouse,” which was advertised as “cute as a button.” But when we walked across the bowed-hammock wooden floors and saw the giant crack in the concrete garage floor, we wondered if it had been built on sand. On that day, I thought my apartment was just fine.
After two failed bids, we learned that stretching our furthest was the only way to possibly secure a house. Our third bid was the one that went through — but not without going way over the asking price and attaching a cover letter with pictures of the kids.
The house we bought in the Beacon Hill neighborhood is my “Satis House,” which is a reference to a novel I teach, “Great Expectations,” by Charles Dickens. In the novel, Satis House is a stately mansion, rundown and covered in vines and home to Miss Havisham. “Satis,” in Greek, means “enough” or “satisfaction.” When the Satis House was built, it meant whoever lived there would always have enough or would never want for more.
Our house is no great mansion, but it is my “enough house.” It’s small and simple, but in good shape, and is what we needed for our growing family. Even though we didn’t get the midcentury beauty, we were fortunate to secure the house that I described in my letter as “cozy charm in the heart of the city.” I am thankful.
I have taken so many sighs of relief this year now that we are settled. I know what a difference it makes to have a home in which I can be comfortable and that I can afford. But for the many in our city who cannot afford to buy a home, or even for the homeless here in Seattle, I hope they find their Satis House, wherever it happens to be.