It’s been my experience that once you settle on a house, you’re immediately struck with a premature and hyperactive case of buyer’s remorse. It’s a perfectly sensible and understandable reaction; a house is an enormous purchase with all kinds of repercussions in the realms of taxes, credit, and one’s ability to chastise the people living upstairs by slamming a broomstick against the ceiling. But for me this sensible doubt was also tinged with a little anxiety-fueled irrationality. As the last day for backing out of the purchase approached, I became obsessed with the possibility of getting the house and finding out too late that it didn’t match us.
“Matching” is my term for the popular but little-voiced opinion that a house should be reminiscent (physically or symbolically) of the person who lives there. As a home-buying concern, matching is only applicable to people who don’t recognize the “potential” of a place. My husband, who is the sort who sees everything through a film of Home Depot possibilities, thinks that matching is a crock. Regarding its more refined manifestations — including my own belief that I could never match a two-story house because they are inherently fancy and I am inherently not — I tend to agree with him. Or rather, I agree with him whenever we aren’t personally in escrow
But even in times of rational thought, matching has some undeniable appeal. A proper match has to satisfy present circumstances as well as future plans; a house should have a sufficient number of rooms and parking spaces to accommodate the people and cars that will live there. As someone who just moved out of a three-bedroom house where two of the bedrooms were categorized as space for as-of-yet undetermined hobbies, I can’t stress this enough. Of course, the danger involved in planning for the present alongside the future (when you’ll be filthy rich, professionally successful, and rife with hobbies) is that the present is often a bit less picturesque.
When I was still actively looking at houses, I saw a house owned by a man who had obviously ignored the theory of matching. Structurally, the place wasn’t remarkable; it was a rare specimen with hardwood floors in our price range, but the porch sagged and the garage walls had several gaping holes where the yellow fuzz of insulation showed through. I knew the house wasn’t right for us — there was a pervasive, musty smell and the bay window lauded in the advertisement didn’t shed much light into the dark living space — but I was curious, so I held my breath a little, feigned enthusiasm, and continued the tour.
With the exception of the living room (which sported the funky-smelling carpets and a big screen TV) the house was set up like an exhibit at some low-budget, period-ambiguous museum. Maps, magnifying glasses, and other outmoded scholarly tools crowded display tables in a dark “study,” and the walls were covered with gaudily-framed prints of medieval people engaged in fox hunts or famous beheadings. On the bathroom counter, a Victorian vanity set was arranged beside a safety razor covered in cobwebs; modern hygiene was represented by a cheap plastic toothbrush crowded to one corner of the grimy sink. Scarier yet was one the dark guest rooms featuring a child’s brass bedstead: a baseball mitt, stiff with newness and dust, sat smack in the middle of the comforter.
The owner and sole resident was a guy in his mid-forties who spent the duration of my visit pacing the overgrown backyard with a lawnmower. Home-owner mismatching makes people nervous — think Girl Scout with a Rottweiler — but I was determined to give this guy the benefit of the doubt. Sure, he might be a serial killer. But he also might be a hopeless romantic who never got married, had a kid, or grew enough facial hair to need all of the room and antique grooming supplies his optimism had furnished him. The mismatch between his projected needs and his real ones created an illusion of craziness which would have prevailed even on the slight chance that he wasn’t completely nutso.
During escrow I thought a lot about that house and the man who lived there. As my own negotiations settled down and I regained some semblance of rationality, I was able to admit, yet again, that matching is a fairly silly concern. Houses, after all, can change almost as quickly as circumstances and pretensions; the sad fellow in the musty house could have filled his spare rooms with pinball machines and keg-fridges as easily as he filled them with antique linens and creepiness. Matched or mismatched, buying a house is a commitment to a space and structure and has no bearing on sanity or identity.
The house we’re buying is a little small, and the owner’s financial situation is complicated; we aren’t sure when, if ever, we’ll be moving. The delays aren’t ideal, nor is the fact that the lighting fixtures look as though they came from some Trekkie’s clubhouse, but I console myself with the knowledge that the house doesn’t yet resemble the set of a Bergman film. Because when I think about walking through that musty house, I’m still a little surprised that every door only revealed more dust and more misguided décor. Matching may be a crock, but in a house like that I was expecting to find someone more tragic than a guy with a lawnmower.