When I started looking for a house in 2005, I felt myself gravitating towards the Akron area. More specifically, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I had the fondest memories of my life with Mike there–we used to hike some trails, ride along the towpath, hang out in Peninsula. When Mike died, I found hiking an activity that grounded me and gave me meditative focus, a place to put all my pent up sadness, anxiety, frustration, and I would spend hours hiking various trails within the Cuyahoga Valley. My relationship with the park was both joyful and bittersweet. I was ready to face it again after I went through the whole process of leaving the area when I sold the house I shared with Mike, moved to the east side of Cleveland for a little over a year, moved to Colorado, and then returned again Ohio and the east side of Cleveland. Since Mike’s death, I have struggled with finding a place I could call home and feel like it was truly home. I think all that moving was symptomatic of my inner turmoil. I was just trying to find a place where I fit.
I ended up moving back to the same town where I lived with Mike. In fact, less than a mile from the condo we shared. I felt like it was proof that I was through the roughest part of my grieving because the memories of my life in that town no longer haunted me. The ghosts had dissipated. The town had actually changed just slightly. Some restaurants we enjoyed were gone, replaced by new ones. I spent some time re-remembering the back roads to all the useful places one needs to go.
And, of course, I returned to the Cuyahoga Valley. This time, as a cyclist. Cocky and full of the spirit of a Coloradoan, I was convinced that I could take any hill in Ohio on my bike because I’d spent hours climbing passes on a scant few rides in Colorado. The Cuyahoga Valley told me that I had a lot to learn. My first road was Quick and it was painful. I remember thinking, “How is it possible this hill is so hard?” I guess I never realized that while long, the roads in Colorado tend to be less steep than the windy, abrupt ascents (in some cases, “walls”) that line the Cuyahoga Valley.
But I explored the Valley quite a lot those first couple summers. And along the way, I discovered this quiet little rolling road in the woods with a dozen or so houses nestled in the trees. People lived here! “This,” I thought with a smile, “would be an awesome place to live.” The same thought always came to mind as I cycled along that road on various rides with my bike club–some of them in the mysterious darkness of the late fall–for the next seven years.
Fast forward to 2012. Crow and I are starting to look for houses together. Nothing formal, just looking things up on Zillow and then driving by to check them out. If they were vacant, we’d peer through windows, walk around the yard, try to imagine ourselves in those houses. We had an idea in our mind of what we were looking for and we hadn’t found it yet in our cursory, informal search.
Our Tuesday night club ride has the same route every week. And every week, it goes along that road. I told Crow more than once how cool it would be to have a house on that road because I was still thinking it every time we went down it. He shared my same enthusiasm for the thought. But it was useless to wish for something impossible. So we continued looking at houses from afar.
And then one Thursday night Crow and I went for an evening ride on a warmish spring evening using that very same road to get to a hill we wanted to climb. The miraculous happened–one of the houses had a For Sale sign up that had not been there when we road by with the club on Tuesday. I saw the sign but was slow to react. Crow had already stopped and was pointing. We dismounted our bikes and walked them halfway up the driveway until curiousity urged us to leave the bikes behind and walk around.
The house was vacant so we looked through the windows.
There appeared to be three bedrooms. Check off one requirement.
Two car garage. Check.
Spacious kitchen. Check.
Ranch style. Check for Crow who has spent several years living in the top floor of an apartment and had no desire to have to lug groceries–or anything–up stairs again, ever.
Huge open living room with vaulted ceilings. Check for me. I’ve always wanted vaulted ceilings or a loft.
Big windows facing the beautiful property. Check, check.
A screened-in porch! Bonus points all around.
We walked the yard a bit. It appeared as if the yard bordered the national park. There was wide open space in the back, a little hill behind the house, and some ravines on both sides of the property. My head began to fill with visions of snow-shoeing out the backyard in the winter.
It was hard to hide our excitement. I took a picture of the For Sale sign for the agent’s phone number. Crow called the next day and we saw the house from the inside the very next day during my lunch break at work. I hate to say it, but I fell in love.
I tried not to fall in love. Because, you know, there could be hidden problems with this house. And also this house’s location was definitely desireable for anyone who has a love of the outdoors and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It was a really nice layout on 2.9 acres of land.
We learned that the house’s water is provided by a cistern–a strange concept for this city girl. Apparently, wells were are not popular in this particular area because the water is supposedly very high in iron. I soon warmed up to the idea of a cistern, though, when I realized that it is filled by collecting rain water–a commodity in Ohio–that falls into the gutters from the roof. (The water undergoes a purification process from equipment in the basement, of course.) How green is that?
I’d have to get used to a septic tank. Totally typical for just about all of the places Crow and I desired to live. Heating oil for the furnace and hot water tank. Again, pretty typical (though some use propane, and we agreed we could later switch if we wanted). The only “city” utility provided is electricity. So very rustic. For me. Crow, who spent some of his teen years on a farm with the same conveniences, was completely calm about all this. Which helped.
Small sacrifices, I think, for the location. One of the rationalizations I used to get past my unsure feelings about such a setup was that all the other houses on the same street had similar situations. From all appearances, those houses were in good shape and lived in. I also got the sense from the realtor that the seller–a trustee to the estate of the original owner–had a love for the house.
The interior of the house itself is in decent shape. There are full bathrooms–one full bathroom in the master bedroom, check!–that are in desperate need of some TLC and updating. A full basement with an extra room for storage or a work room. Wood floors in the living room and hallway. All three bedrooms have old carpet in desperate need of replacement. It definitely was going to require some fixing up. But even with all those imperfections, I could see what the house was and what Crow and I could eventually make it into.
We spent the weekend doing everything we could to get our ducks in a row so that we could put an offer in on the house–getting loan pre-approval, signing a real estate agent, and, believe it or not, evening visiting a few open houses in the area.
We put a bid on the house the following Tuesday.
Our offer was accepted after going back and forth the obligatory few times. We got it at a very reasonable price given all the updates the house would most definitely need.
We went through the whole long and drawn out process of inspections, appraisals, and waiting on the loan to go through. It was a long month. We missed our original closing date by over a week. We were on needles and pins for weeks, saying nothing to our friends or family about the house out of a shared paranoia that something would go heartbreakingly wrong.
But finally, that day came. We signed all the papers.
We got the keys on Monday.
We’ll be spending the next week preparing the house for us to move in (painting, wiring, cleaning) and then packing the stuff at our own places.
We’ll move in June 23-24th.
Our dream house is no longer a dream.