A Fixer-Upper by the Sea: What Were We Thinking?
I spotted the for-sale listing on the Internet, a temptress of a house with fairy-tale ocean views in a far-away Oregon beach town I knew absolutely nothing about.
And for a price — just over $1 million — that in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live part-time, would buy you a rundown garage.
Not quite, but almost.
The last few months have taken me on a crazy Jeff Bezos rocket ship ride into the airless orbit of possibility, only to crash back to earth with the sickening thud of reality.
At the stage of my life when “a cool mill” isn’t just a phrase from some 1960s James Bond flick, I was giddy with the thrill of what-if, ready to ignore the advice of family and friends and pull the trigger on some Internet scrolling whim.
A town with a population of 7,500? A place so far off the beaten track you’d need a wagon train and a scout to find it, one inconvenient to reach by air from SF?
And, Glionna, we hate to break this to you, but you are far, far from a small-town boy. What on earth would you do there?
And if you didn’t go stir-crazy in less than a year, the locals would no doubt run you and your drive-by mouth out of town on a rail.
And yet there it was, that house, on a rocky shore dotted by picturesque sea stacks. What writerly inspiration! I had to have it.
I showed the listing to my wife, and then began plotting to make that dream mine.
For some time now, the thought has nagged at me.
Leaving Las Vegas.
I moved there on a job assignment for a company I no longer work for. For me, ten years is long enough to live in the desert, in the backyard of a soulless gambler’s mecca, staking my claim in — and here’s the worst part — a 55+ community.
A twentysomething visitor once said my quiet neighborhood felt like a cemetery.
“And I am the youngest corpse in the graveyard,” I said.
I have shit to do, adventures to have. I am not signing off from some old folks haven where the Botox crowd wears makeup to the gym.
Not only that, many of my friends had already moved away.
And I am next in line.
But here’s the catch: My wife has a good job in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s not ready to start gallivanting around the world with only a backpack. So until she is, I work as a writer and freelance journalist.
And I could do that in a scribe-like den on the Oregon coast with a fireplace and a view of the sea.
My wife would not move there with me, not immediately. I’d go to the woods alone and set up shop.
If you buy it, I told myself, she will come.
Days after I first saw the listing, I noticed that a sale was pending.
Dang, I’d hesitated. I’d snoozed and lost.
Then another week went by. The pending notice was gone.
My dream girl had jilted some unworthy suitor.
She could still be mine, if I whispered the right words into her ear, (and opened my wallet wide enough.)
I called the listing agent and made an appointment to see the place. Then I packed up the Subaru and with my wife in tow and headed north to a place I’d never been.
We rented a room in the next town, and pledged to make this a work-fun trip, touring the Oregon coast while we tended to business.
We walked into the home on a Friday morning. The sun was out, the surf crashing just below. I’d seen the interior pictures on the Internet; this was no move-in ready deal. There were years of deferred maintenance issues, beginning with the need for a new roof — and quickly, before the winter wet season set in.
The owner was lovely; she’d lived in the place for 25 years but hadn’t done much since her husband passed a way a decade ago.
“I know I need to change the carpets,” she said as a way of greeting.
She said the home, with its various peaked roofs that reminded me of the Sydney Opera House, had been designed by Vincent G. Raney, a lower-case architectural light from the Bay Area, who was best known for designing domed movie theaters.
The home was built in 1947 and many of the original fixtures were still intact. I have lived in older homes and don’t mind Art Deco tile jobs. I wasn’t going to try and play the role of out-of-state Daddy War Bucks and march in to tear the place down.
We spent the weekend touring the nearby coastline, mentally mapping out or lives in the Great Northwest — hiking redwood forests, fresh seafood, river kayaking, sunset walks on the beach.
Then on Monday morning, before we left town, we made our offer.
The house, mysteriously, in my opinion, had been in the market for 100 days, and had twice fallen out of escrow.
The seller wanted a tad over $1 million.
We offered $900,000 with the caveat she could stay there as long as it took to leave a home to which she had developed a sentimental attachment.
We made the drive back to San Francisco, sure that we were going to swing the deal. I’d been told to woo the seller and I’d done my best. I think she liked us.
We just had to wait and see.
That first night back, I couldn’t sleep. What had I done?
I was already having buyer’s remorse and I wasn’t even the official buyer.
The place needed too much work. We’d planned to put in a new roof, replace the carpeting with hardwood floors across 2,600 feet, paint over the wood paneling that made the place too dark, and replace many windows to double-pane.
Even more challenging, we’d landscape the overgrown one-acre lot, perhaps with a bulldozer, in a small town where you could wait two years for the right contractor.
And all after forking over a pretty healthy wad of cash to start with.
We would of course, have the house inspected by a thorough local guy we called “Picky Paul.”
And who knows what other defects he’d find?
As we waited, I continued my research: The housing market on the Oregon coast was hemorrhaging. The value of our home had doubled in two years alone. The seller was cashing in, and who could blame her?
But a million bucks for an “as-is” fixer-upper?
Still, there was that billion-dollar view.
That’s when the roof caved in.
The seller countered with $975,000.
We strategized, ready to offer $925,000, telling ourselves in advance that $950,000 was our utmost top price.
Then the realtor told us that another offer was imminent.
How could that be?
We hadn’t heard of any other showings. Somebody waiting in the wings had been informed of our offer and was now back in the game.
We made our last-ditch $950,000 play, declaring it our highest bid.
The next day, we got our answer: She would drop of $965,000.
And not a penny less.
So, there it was. Were we going to let a measly $15,000 stand in our way of sating our lust? Normally, I would say, “No, hell no!”
But I was wobbling. We were this close.
My wife insisted we stand our ground.
I called a good friend, a Vegas realtor, who pointed out that I didn’t really know what I wanted. And while I was a writer and romantic, he said, my wife was a business person, who knew never to fall in love with any property.
And he was right.
Then came our saving grace.
We saw some other places just coming on the market. For our price, we could get gorgeous, move-in-ready properties, some with ocean views. There was one place, a veritable 5,000-foot castle with an indoor elevator and private brach access that had sold for $980,000 just two years before.
What we we thinking?
In the end, the seller went with another undisclosed offer.
Did we want to sign up as a back-up offer?
No, we did not.
Two days later, just as I was writing this, our realtor told us the other offer had fallen through.
Were we still interested?
Not just no, but hell no.
Somehow, we’d come to our senses, like we’d gone on a boozy, drug-addled weekend in Las Vegas and had woken up on Monday morning, not in jail, not in some lion’s cage at the zoo, but right there in our own beds.
Lessons learned: Beware of false prophets, especially in the Medusa real estate business. Never jump the gun, and trust your instincts, at least those of your wife.
Now I’m planning an eventual return to Sin City.
Man, what a place! The lights never dim, and I live in a nice quiet community.
But forget about any ocean view.
John M. Glionna is a writer and freelance journalist based in Sin City.