Our realtor knows us pretty well by now. She knows she has to bring snacks in the car or else I’ll get cranky and that Zack will only consider homes with basement storage so that he can have his bikes and beer brewing. The man wants a man cave, and I don’t blame him. We’ve only been looking at houses for a little over a month, but it feels like a lot longer than that. The listings have started to blur together. Row homes are cool because they feel adult and complete. Condos are enticing because there’s less of a commitment in the event that we want to leave Philly. We’ve probably seen two dozen places.
Liz has a bright personality and a deep, throaty laugh that catches you a little off guard because she’s so tiny and high-energy. I met her when I participated in Le Grand Continental, and she gave me her card after our last performance. “Standing up to serve you!” The card has a cut-out of her body that flips upward. She orders new ones when she changes her hair color.
We go looking on Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons, mostly. When we get in the car Liz blasts pop music and grins. “Are you ready to find your house today?!” We have lists and lock box codes and open houses and rating scores. Most places rate a six or seven and we’re striving for that nine-point-five. There are three things we want the most: closet space and outdoor space and counter space. Oh, and a decent block. Gotta have a decent block. Liz says when you buy a house it’s gonna be 80% of what you love and 20% of what you’re going to have to make your own. We understand. A small bathroom isn’t a deal breaker. A crack corner is. “You can change anything about a house except it’s location.”
We circle blocks and listen to Siri give directions. You think you know this city like the back of your hand, but then you forget about the side streets that only exist on one side of Broad. Liz constantly touches the talisman that hangs from her rearview mirror. She got it in Asia and she says it brings her good luck when it comes to finding parking spots. I believe her.
Last week we fell in love with one of Liz’s “wild cards,” a house on Madison Square, which is a historically certified block in Graduate Hospital. It’s one of those streets you can’t drive on- there’s a wide brick walkway and a well-kept garden that runs down the center. I had never heard of it before. It amazes me how much Graduate Hospital has changed in the past three years. Zack and I lived on 21st and South when we first moved to Philadelphia and there wasn’t much south of South. I know gentrification gets a bad rap, but I think it’s pretty great.
Madison Square was the first place we saw that I felt could be ours. The second time we walked in I got butterflies, like I was in the same room as a middle school crush. It was wide with high ceilings, loads of charm and character, counter space and outdoor space and a basement. No central air, but it wasn’t a deal breaker. Not a lot of closet space, but we could make it work. It was out of our price range, but it was vacant and had been on the market for almost three months. Liz said it was overpriced and we should give it a shot if we wanted to, so we put in an offer that night. I was terrified, but it was thrilling. In a matter of weeks, my entire life savings could be gone and Zack and I could own a house. I started pinning ideas on how to make the most out of a small bathroom.
The seller countered our first offer, slept on our second and denied our third. There was a $10,000 difference between our highest and his lowest, and I wish so badly that he would have just accepted it. I know everything happens for a reason, and what’s meant to be, will be, but goddamn, I wanted those built-in bookshelves. I wanted that dining room, I wanted that crown molding.
“You have to think about how you’re going to live,” Liz tells us often. “It’s going to be your house. How will you live in it?”