Episode 2: Portland’s Housing discard bin
Our realtor is a very kind, very patient woman. She’s been doing this a while, so she didn’t even hesitate: she told us there was lots of time, she’ll help us find the perfect house and she’s never had a client be homeless because there wasn’t enough time to find the house they wanted. Mostly I believe her, but our first day out was surreal and disheartening.
Right now, in Portland, the housing market is so tight that if something has been on the market more than 2 weeks, there’s probably something wrong with it. But it might be something wrong that we could fix or just something weird that we’d actually enjoy. Like built in floor to ceiling bookshelves painted fuschia and teal. That would put a lot of people off, but a day with sandpaper and paint and we’ve got a dream study. Or a yard thats just a muddy mess with junk scattered all over. A weekend of work and a couple trips to nurseries and we’ve a yard that looks good and has the bones for us to work with over the next couple of years. We were looking for a diamond in the rough. What we found was a bin or cracked agates and a couple of pieces of fools gold.
Nothing we saw on our deathmarch discard bin tour day was fixable. Really really not fixable with our time and budget. But I can say this: Portland is keeping itself weird inside peoples houses all over the city.
The Cute Green House
Its a light green on the outside with two porthole shaped windows in the living room. The yard was even nice. We opened the door and the strange started happening. 3 feet directly in front of the door was the stairway to the basement. I could just imagine walking into the house, having a cat or dog trip me and tumbling to my death. A death which would have been witnessed on one side by fish (probably) and on the other by a bear. Mounted to the banister of the stairway was a 50 gallon aquarium so overgrown with algae I wasn’t positive there were living fish inside. Opposite the tank was an 8 foot bearskin complete with glass eyes and teeth gaping a horrifying welcome towards the front door. As an added touch, the bear skin was mounted on a frilly cut red and black flannel backing. It was like the hunters crafty wife had tried to soften the look and just made it look like the bear could still bleed.
Off to the right of the entry was the perfect kitchen. Seriously, I covet that bakers, entertainers perfect kitchen and dining room with a view. To the left of the landing was a little living room with a glass block wall divider and a pellet stove in cream enamel. We slid through the fish and bear gauntlet to the basement where all 3 bedrooms were. The deep pile emerald green carpeting was a little smelly and when I mentioned it to our realtor she told me that there was a $1,700 allowance in the house listing to replace the carpet after the current owners left. Bit of a red flag there: If you’re advertising that the carpets must be replaced, $1,700 is not going to cover the damage under the carpets and probably in the walls. Cat pee being what it is… But on we went, because we had to see it all.
The master bedroom had the bed area and a little hallway with closets that led to the master bathroom. It was a pink bathroom complete with light pink toilet, but whatever, we can fix that. Then I realized there was no bathroom door and the closets on both sides of the hallway made adding a door not-simple. Someone deliberately designed their master bedroom so that when you open the door you’re looking down the closet hallway at whoever is enthroned at the moment. When I pointed it out and laughed, our realtor said its a pretty typical design. Who does that?! No matter how good the kitchen was, it wasn’t worth the house it was attached to. Off we went to the next house.
The House Filled With Guilt
We drove down a ‘private’ drive past 4 houses one of which had a condemned notice on it. The house we were there to see was one house past the condemned one. The renters and their small children were still inside which adds the perfect touch of ‘Yes, we’re the assholes considering making you homeless, please leave your home while we evaluate it for our needs’. There were adorable pictures of their children all along one hallway. The yard was lovely, and the house was ok, but, honestly, it would have had to be a mansion sold for peanuts to make it appealing after that.
The Drunken Escort House
This house had a gorgeous front and back yard: perfectly manicured, not too big, not too small. It even had this lovely archway in the back with bird feeders on it. I’m not a big fan of bird feeders and I thought it was lovely. The problems were inside and started with the guy who needed to escort us into each room of the house. His lady friend swayed along behind with her 1pm glass of wine and ice cubes that she rattled and swished with every step. The other guy just stood on the porch and chain smoked. Highlights of the tour included: their geriatric cat and his 6 unchanged cat boxes, basement windows that were boarded over “because the windows broke too often” and asking me what nationality I am when I got a step too far behind my husband and our realtor. I told them I’m an American and walked away in a ‘did that just happen?’ haze. I could hear them whispering and giggling which just made the encounter stranger. I thought about it afterwards and the best guess I’ve got is they don’t trust ‘them damn Irish’. The basement portion of the tour was a tidy version of a hoarder’s paradise. Pseudo rooms packed with canned goods and furniture. At one point I thought we’d gotten to the end of the basement and the old guy moved a piece of wood paneling to showed a hidden wood panel room with the windows boarded over. Cause, y’know the windows get broken too often. That was when I started wondering if the windows weren’t being broken from the outside and made a barely polite march back to sunlight and our car. We waited just outside the door long enough to make sure our realtor made it out too.
The Dead Animal House
From the outside it looked a little worn and was right next to a school but it might have been awesome on the inside. The living room right next to the front door had couches so broken down they looked like they had a ‘free’ sign taped to them on the sidewalk for weeks before they were claimed and brought here. And they were right next to a beautiful baby grand piano. The carpet going up the stairs to the bedrooms was worn and so dirty I don’t know it had ever been vacuumed. The bedrooms all had at least one bed, at least 2 musical instruments and rumpled everything. By the time I came back downstairs and saw the picture I already knew: single dad and 4 teenage boys. There probably wasn’t anything we couldn’t fix, it all looked like it just needed a lot of elbow grease, so we kept looking. The family room had 6 or 8 dead animals mounted on the walls which wasn’t weird all by itself. What was weird was that everything that had eyes was mounted to stare directly at the chair in front of the computer desk. Deer, pheasant, small mammal so dusty I couldn’t identify it…all staring. How could anyone work with all those dead eyes staring right at you?! I walked through the accusing eyes and opened the door to the garage where I saw the only clean, new rug in the house. It sat proudly in the center of an empty garage with a gleaming, perfectly polished black Harley Davidson parked right in the middle. I took a last turn around the kitchen and opened the pantry door to see how much actual storage space there was and found that last straw. In the pantry was a monitor with a live feed from cameras mounted on each external wall of the house. So you can make dinner while watching all approaches to your house. I don’t have to live in a neighborhood that requires me to spend more money on a security system than on all the combined furniture in my house. I’m really grateful I have that choice.
Double 41s And A Squatter
Our realtor was away so she got us a sitter to see a few more houses. We headed up to the house we wanted to view and waited in the driveway for her to join us. Eventually she sent a text asking if we were lost. After a ‘who’s on first’ text conversation that almost gave me a nosebleed, we discovered that there were TWO houses with the address 41 on streets with the same name but one of them was ‘Place’ and one was ‘Street’. After I mapped the address she was at, we walked the half block to where she was waiting for us. The house was not the one we were excited about, but cost a lot less money so we thought we’d look around anyway. There were hardwood floors and a 6ft free standing painting of a boat in the living room. There was a 15 ft concrete wedge that separated the back yard from the neighbors yard and the concrete folded into what looked like a bomb shelter attached to the basement. I went down to investigate with our backup realtor and walked into a wall of cigarette smoke so thick I thought I was going to get addicted to nicotine on the spot. In the dimly lit basement was a wall of windows, a backpack and a tidy bedroll ready to be used. Each of the rooms off the basement were closed and as our backup realtor opened the first one I thought to myself: “This is how horror movies start”, directly followed by “don’t be a weenie”. I let her open each door and feel around for the light switch in each of the 5 rooms while I stayed where I could see the exits. We didn’t find the squatter and we didn’t try to buy the house. There wasn’t an actual bomb shelter, so I was too disappointed to buy it anyway.
The Farm House
It was a super long shot but we had to see it to be sure. We knew it would need a lot of work because of the price but it might have been an epic opportunity. It was a turn of the century farm house with all the cool built ins anyone could want, tons of space inside and half an acre outside. It also had not one but two outbuildings that needed to be pulled down. The property ran parallel to an active railroad line 10 feet beyond the fence. And to make the decision even easier: everything inside would have to be fixed. Never mind comfortable, it was so neglected it wasn’t livable. The stairs to the bedrooms were so broken I’m surprised they let people walk on them without signing a liability waiver. If we had buckets of money it would have been worth it. That house is going to be gorgeous if it gets restored. Without those buckets of money though, it would be a horrible reenactment of The Money Pit.
So the hunt continues.
Stay Tuned for Episode 3: Wherein our intrepid house hunters discover that ‘low inventory’ is the new code word for playing Calvin ball with housing in Portland Oregon.
Our realtor is buying a lion. Several of the houses we looked at had mounted heads or antlers. One of them had a pair of deer heads and a series of antlers. I mentioned offhandedly that if I had them I’d need to hang Christmas lights from them. She responded: “I’m buying a stuffed lion from a antique shop for my bar. I’m going to call it Mittens and dress it up for holidays. There’s an alcove above a couple of the booths that he’ll fit perfectly in”.
It sounded like a very strange decor choice right up until I thought about all the quirky things my favorite restaurants in Portland have: Ghosts painted on the bathroom walls, trains around the top of the dining room, pie holes, voodoo donuts, it’s a long list really. So: long afterlife to Mittens the bar lion.