Three Issues to Consider When Shopping for a House

By on 23 June, 2017 in Lynne Schneider, Real Estate with 1 Comment

Three main issues inspired my house-gazing hobby to shift gears into actual house-shopping. So far, in my quest for a Home, I have learned some Profound Truths through frankly confronting three issues, which I will share with you.

Profound Home Truth #1: The Bathroom Issue

When I was not really on the hunt for a dwelling, but I felt like browsing local housing stock, I daydreamed over photographs online. I imagined life in each home: badminton tourneys and barbecues, a quiet moment watching the sunset, pancake breakfast in the kitchen on Saturday with fresh berries from the farmer’s market… I focused on things like ambience or a nice view out back.

Fantasy shifted into action over The Bathroom Issue. I had to face facts. One bathroom is enough for…me. When my daughter came home from college and got a job, we discovered that even with only two people, a queue formed at the bathroom door every morning at shower time.

And (of course) there were other, much more awkward, situations predicated on two or more (adult) people simultaneously needing a private moment in that single, precious little room.

Until I faced The Bathroom Issue, I was a little infatuated with the Tiny House movement. The Tiny Houses were often cute, sometimes built with state-of-the-art design and technology, like a spaceship but with a full-size shower, potted herbs and faux-fur throws. I figured that my one-bathroom home is topographically equivalent to a Tiny House, so it was easy to picture my potentially tiny tiny life: solar-paneled, off the grid, sleek and Minimalist! I could even get an incinerating toilet installed. I’m not sure what one does with the resultant “teaspoon of ashes,” but I figured Google would clue me in and I could make it all work for the greater good of mankind and so forth.

But then I remembered that I like my relatives. It is fun when they come over. The idea of Thanksgiving squashed all my Tiny House fantasies. It wasn’t just the cozy table crammed with twice as many people as there was space. It was The Bathroom Issue.

After all, a Tiny House is really just a washroom with a waiting area. A single washroom. A tiny, tiny waiting area. Never mind the rumpus room a miniature house cannot offer guests. You can’t even really be alone with yourself in a Tiny House. There will be days when, even if you could open all the windows and doors, there would still be no escape.

When I considered The Bathroom Issue in light of long-term investment and love of family and friends, I pictured those inevitable times when the stress of a queue outside that single door would only prolong the crisis resolution, and I realized I’m not ready to settle down and live Tiny. I saw that I cannot commit to just one bathroom.

Then I found out that two rented bathrooms cost about the same as a mortgage.

Profound Home Truth #2: The TV Issue

The TV Issue is a lot like The Bathroom Issue, in a way. A one-bathroom-sized place is often modest in size (cramped, crowded, teensy-weensy), so just as cooperation is required for harmonious bathroom use, if all residents are not in accord about how the TV should be deployed, tension will surely ensue.

A household may try to solve that by giving each person his/her own TV, but in a small dwelling, dueling TVs can pollute the shared auditory space as effectively as that one bathroom can affect the olfactory ambience. In short, TV can overwhelm in no time.

Speaking of time, differences in TV-watching spates only exacerbate the problem. People 65+ watch over 50 (loud?) hours per week. Their kids, aged 35-49, watch about 30 hours. And their grandkids, ages 12-18, watch about 14 hours per week. We can probably assume that everyone looks at lit-up screens (laptops, phones, etc) at least 50 hours per week, but a few of those hours are shared time with the brand new 88” Samsung that Dad just brought home. So, in short, who decides what the family watches during dinner? Blogger Thanh writes, “He who holds the remote, holds the power!”

That means that the remote controls the home. I mean, I know I can’t not listen when the TV is on. Sound takes up space. Even a tiny TV can take up ALL of the space in a small place. The control of house space is a huge issue.

It is not simply about hours when the thing is on or which channel or what genre to watch, although differences of opinion on those things will strain domestic joie de vivre. When one person wants to watch golf, another wants to watch CSI-NY and a third wants to watch Game of Thrones, it can come down to who gets hold of the remote. Things could get fierce.

In his blog about remote control, Thanh goes on to explain his Lord of the Rings allusion. I began to suspect that he may be a bit controlling in a way that raises issues for our home-shopping discussion. That is, I began to consider the “smart home,” a whole house operated by remote control. And the one who has the remote has control. If the TV issue is problematic, think how maddening it would be if, on the one cold day of winter, you couldn’t turn the heat up above 55 and watch your soaps on your day off because one of your housemates hit the Max Austerity button and the house took over your life, kicking into high gear to conserve even if you are freezing your… you get the idea, right?

Yes, for me, Thanh’s eyeroll-inducing over-tell exemplified just how irritating remote-hogging housemates can be. I mean, the remote-controller can get a little drunk on his programming powers. He may even assume he needs to explain a Tolkien reference. Indeed, because he is in control, he may assume a lot about what the people around him think, know, and feel, and somehow not really get around to asking if someone wants to see a different program. After all, if they want to see Downton Abbey, can’t they just ask? Or maybe stage a coup?

Remote use is clearly indicative of larger things than merely how the TV will fit into the family room and family life. Suffice it to say, the fewer rooms, the more likely those “larger things” will have to be resolved in order to peacefully co-exist, but the less likely there will ever be the privacy to come to that resolution.

On the other hand, if there are a great many rooms, each with a plethora of screens of all sizes (like LED Nesting Dolls?), and (by the way) a private bathroom for every individual, the family will be able to evade all of those difficult questions and challenging issues.

Clearly, a house with many rooms and many bathrooms solves those issues, but even a palace of rooms with baths en suite will not solve The One-Butt Kitchen Issue.

Profound Home Truth #3: The One-Butt Kitchen Issue

Everyone has heard about The Triangle of good kitchen design. That is, the pathways between the stove, fridge, and sink should imply a triangle. There are rubrics about how long each of the triangle “legs” should be for optimal culinary success. But who remembers numbers when you shop for a house?

I think a better mnemonic for how to tell if a kitchen is right for you is to ask, “How many butts fit comfortably here?”

If you and one other person you know can easily whisk around a kitchen preparing your sundry snacks without crashing into one another or constantly having to say, “Sorry, excuse me, I need to get in there. Could you shut the oven so I can get into the fridge?,” then you can confidently say that you have at least a two-butt kitchen.

Of course, the gluteus maximi, as it were, are not just any rear ends. You must consider the backsides of people you know. You can really only judge whether a kitchen will fit you if you consider the specific keisters you are likely to meet by the ice-maker.

It behooves me to be forthright about this. Domestic tranquility hangs in the balance over this awkward issue. If I and all my kith and kin, for example, wear the same size bloomers as Queen Victoria (post-partum), chances are I will need a bigger triangle than a pair of passionate marathoners would require.

Probably, one-butt kitchens should, for the sake of safety, become a building code violation. I mean, two or more people in the house will inevitably cross paths in the kitchen. Think of all the sharp objects in there. Graters. Knives of all sizes, of course. Corkscrews, maybe. Forks, chopsticks, or even pointy spoons. In a space bristling with terrifying utensils, if there is not room for two people to make their peanut butter sandwiches and fetch their glasses of milk without having to hip-check each other, that kitchen should be declared a health hazard.

In Conclusion

I have learned that shopping for a home, even way before the paperwork and finance parts loom into view, is a thrilling, labyrinthine and unpredictable challenge. In the coming weeks, I hope to report on a few scintillating moments and surprising twists and turns, and one or two things I learned along the road. For example,

  1. House-hunting is like online dating. Places never look just like the pix you saw on the internet. The rooms are not where you thought they would be. The hallways, which were not depicted, do strange things.
  2. But that verisimilitude is not your main concern. The main thing is to try really hard to imagine your life with that place. And be honest with yourself.
  3. Don’t minimize problems you find. There are things you just can’t fix. A sketchy foundation, for example.
  4. And there are other things that may be too problematic to bother with: rusty and sluggish plumbing, appliances that don’t work, cracks in plaster like gaping maws of doom, stuff like that.
  5. And, of course, always carefully consider location location location. Luckily, shoppers want different things. For example, that woman who bought the house next to a 10-acre parking lot – she’s into skateboarding or unicycling. Or how about that man who wants to live miles and miles from any other house –it turns out he’s not doing anything illegal. He raises non-GMO ferrets, minks, and sundry other rodents that make close neighbors nervous.

Yes, looking for a house is an adventure. I have not even touched on the issue of Upgrades and Flips, a fascinating aspect of house-hunting. I look forward to sharing more exciting episodes and pearls of incomparable wisdom very soon.

Lynne Schneider earned a doctorate in the frozen north, after which a miracle occurred: Alabama State University offered her a faculty position and she happily relocated to Montgomery where she teaches literature and writing, and where lovely people play tennis all year long!

 

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  1. Linda Kim says:

    I may have to steal “One-Butt Kitchen” to use in my daily life.

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