This month is a big one for my family. Not only are we celebrating my older daughter’s 14th birthday (HOLLA!) but that very same day marks five years since we first moved to Maine!
Five years isn’t fifty, but it’s still special. And it seems especially momentous having come here knowing no one, and now 5 years later, feeling absolutely at home. Moving is never easy. In the past five years, my family and I have rediscovered the meaning of trust, friendship, hard work, and solidarity. We’ve rebuilt our lives, found friends, created and shared many memories. I’ve thought about how I’d like to commemorate the occasion properly. And I’ve spent a lot of time pouring through old photos, at first to get ideas, and then… just because. It’s bewitching. Logging months and years through changes in your children’s height, looking for wrinkles in familiar faces, seeing the seasons pass in minutes, from snow to mud to green, then back again. I can’t believe just how MANY pictures I’ve taken over the past five years, it’s incredible! And just as fascinating is the randomness of some of the subjects.
Like houses. I mean, I like houses, especially old ones; it’s routine for me to photograph them. But five years ago, when we were looking for a new house, I took over 500 photos of houses – houses we didn’t buy – and I KEPT THEM. Stumbling onto these pics has been the equivalent of finding a forgotten photo album of guys I dated just once. It’s riveting, in a really weird way. I find myself lingering over the photos, trying to remember all their names (yes, we name houses). Ahhh Big Greenie! Oh, Big Red. Hahah! The Jolly Rancher! All the while wondering. WHAT IF??? It’s a sensation seeing something with fresh eyes and thinking about what could have been. What if we had bought another house? Would we be different?? So much fodder for one’s imagination. Oh the possibilities!
Since I’ve spent so much time on this blog detailing the house we DID buy, I thought – wouldn’t it be fun to share all the houses WE DIDN’T?! Of course! Everyone loves house tours! Especially when you’re getting the skinny on stuff! Or maybe that’s just me! Anyway, w/out further ado! Join me for a virtual tour. Revisiting the past through a visit to the houses which might have been!
FIRST UP. THE FOUR SQUARE.
We found this house online before even moving to Maine. We’d been trying to decide what to do about our housing situation, since we needed to sell our home in Philadelphia, while simultaneously resettling north. Because of the size of our family – especially our pet family, we were having a difficult time locating temporary accommodation. We thought perhaps we could afford to buy a less expensive home. Hence the search. Anyway, we found this adorable four square online, called the agent, and set up an appointment for the weekend. On Friday, we drove 7 1/2 hours north, checked into our hotel, and went to bed. Saturday morning, we arrived promptly for our house showing. We waited. And waited. And waited. Finally I got a call from the agent saying the people living in the house (which would explain the car in the driveway) didn’t want to leave, and wouldn’t let us in. I explained to him that WE HAD DRIVEN ALL THE WAY FROM PHILADELPHIA FOR THIS. BOOKED A HOTEL ROOM. HAD OUR HOPES UP. He said sorry, there was nothing he could do, and rang off. I did not kick the door in, though part of me wanted to. We returned home to Philly. I received a call a few days later from the agent saying the renters had changed their minds and he would love to show us the property! I did not tell him to kiss my ass, drop dead, or eat shit, but I really really wanted to.
THE JOLLY RANCHER.
Because of the aforementioned drama, the Jolly Rancher was actually the first house we looked at in Maine – and by looked at, I mean, actually set foot in. The realtor was so-o-o-o-o nice, and not just because she kept our appointment. As I said, we were frantically scrambling for someplace to live – we were moving in less than a month! – and the realtor really took the time to not only show us this house, but listen to us. Her kindness was in forgoing a commission to do the right thing. Although the Jolly Rancher is a sweet little house (and I LOVED the retro pink bathroom), it really wasn’t right for our family. She saw this. And she was honest enough to say so. The agent called me after we’d returned to Philly, not to hound or pressure us to buy, but to discourage us from doing so. She urged me to find a nice rental for 6 months. Get the lay of the land. Sell our house, and find a new one – one we could then afford. I will never forget her, truly. We did precisely what she advised, and it worked out not just well, but perfectly. God bless you, Jane Reynolds! You are a gem. I mean it.
Big Greenie is HOT. I mean, look at those curves! WooWee. Apart from his stellar good looks, Greenie is parked right on Main Street in Saco, making him super hard to miss. I saw him weeks before we’d ever even moved here, the first time my husband took us to see his new (old) work (UNE). We drove past and it was love at first sight. I wanted Big Greenie BAD. So I lusted after him from afar for the first few months, while working up enough courage to call his realtor and make a DATE. Unfortunately Greenie was under foreclosure. And another couple got to him before we did. For a steal! Lucky. I hope they’re polishing his woodwork the way I would have. Hubba hubba.
Next up. CAT PEE HOUSE.
The only thing more surprising that the actual smell of this house, is the fact that I don’t have a photo of the front. Which is probably a good thing, since someone has likely purchased it and would prefer their home not being advertised as the CAT PEE HOUSE. The photograph above was taken from the back. It is very cute. Unfortunately, the house hadn’t been maintained for roughly ten years, except by the cats – and they hadn’t been kind.
(STUCK) IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE (WITH YOU).
As you might guess from the name of this house, its location was a bit of a mystery. Particularly to a family moving from Philadelphia to the new and unknown land of Maine. The commute seemed a bit much. 30 minutes south of Portland, then another hour west. The large group of grown men hanging out on ATVs at the gas station down the road, on a workday, was a definite novelty. As was the skunk that greeted me in the driveway . Although the house was absolutely beautiful, brick! BRICK! A novelty in the pine tree state. It just couldn’t make up for the remoteness of its location. Also, the skunk just wouldn’t go away. After 30 minutes pacing back and forth in front of me, I started wondering if it was rabid. The only plus? Being in the middle of nowhere, skunk could spray me and no one would know. (I did add this to “PROS” column.)
Lil Yeller is in Saco’s historic district. We’d driven past a number of times, and eventually set up a meet and greet. A very cute house, overall, perfect for a couple or smaller family. No big issues, just not the one for us.
Like Big Greenie above, Big Red is also located on Main Street in Saco. Although the house is HUGE it had the look of needing serious TLC. The exterior was chipped and peeling, and there were a number of mismatched or missing clapboards. Inside, the to-do list continued. And continued. That said, this house was amazing. I mean, WOWZA. Original woodwork. Gorgeous mantled fireplaces. HUGE rooms. Three full floors of fan-freaking-fabulousness. Big kitchen with woodstove and keeping room. Original walk-through butler’s pantry. Grand front staircase. Wood-paneled cloak room (really!) I lost count of the bedrooms and bathrooms. Downsides? It had previously been foreclosed so in addition to lacking original fixtures such as bathtubs (which had been taken), it also lacked doorknobs. No doorknobs in the entire house, not even on the front door. I am not kidding. Bottom line? The asking price + restoration costs + ongoing heating & maintenance = waaaay out of our budget.
For a week, five years ago, I truly thought my marriage might end. WHY? Because of the farmhouse above. My husband and I were divided on whether it was THE ONE. He for, I against. This little farmhouse had a lot going for it. A huge, secluded yard, with private pond, and an in-ground swimming pool. A beautiful kitchen, with cherry cabinets and granite counters. Completely updated bathrooms. A lovely screened-in front porch for whiling away the hours. But it also needed a new septic system. Most of the rooms were small and cramped. The house gave me the feeling of being suffocated, despite its updates and charm. When I imagined myself living there, I started having panic attacks. When I told my husband I couldn’t go through with the purchase, he was livid. As in not-talking-to-me, barely-looking-at-me, for almost a week. That decision – which now seems so distant and inconsequential, was, at the time, anything but. And the only reason I’m even remembering it is because of these old pictures. CAH-RAZY!
LIL GRAY VICTORIAN.
This house isn’t small, but compared to the other Victorians we’d seen, it felt tiny. I liked it quite a bit, but my husband didn’t at all. His first complaint was the neighborhood. Mostly because the adjacent apartment building had tenants sitting outside smoking when we pulled up. And also when we left. Regardless, the house itself was nice, and extremely affordable. It was in Portland, and although not in the heart of the city, definitely walkable – especially to a nearby park. We looked at this house the week or week after I put the kibosh on the Farmhouse, though, and my husband was having NONE OF IT. Next!
THE UNFINISHED McMANSION.
This was a neat property, with a lot of curb appeal. Unfortunately that didn’t extend to the inside of the house, much of which remained unfinished. This had been a builder’s home – or was to be, before it went into foreclosure. The master bedroom, basement, office, garage, and more still needed finishing. One thing that had been installed? A hot tub in the master suite. Not in the bathroom. No, in the room. Next to the bed. For convenience. *wink*
THE KENNEBUNK FIXER UPPER.
Pretty, isn’t it? The outside got me SO EXCITED!! But the inside LEFT ME RUNNING! When the best and only thing going for a house is its township, keep looking.
THE HORSE FARM.
What a charmer! Country location, but not so far away to be daunting. Working horse farm with house, large barn, and in-ground swimming pool. POOL! BARN! VINTAGE! IN A GOOD WAY! House oozed charm, but its super low ceilings would have left us oozing something else. My 6’6″ brother-in-law would have been decapitated.
THE SMOKE HOUSE.
It ain’t called the smoke house for nothing, buster! Even before we entered, the overwhelming stench of nicotine permeated the grounds. Which as you can see, are in need of some tending. There are fixer uppers, and then there are buildings that should be razed to the ground and buried in a two-foot thick cement tomb. This is one of them. The house was interesting, filled to the freaking brim with possessions, even a full suit of armor. But it was also depressing. The hellish odor, compounded with the yellowed walls, curtains, pretty much everything that could be dyed from prolonged and excessive tobacco smoke, left me begging to leave.
YET ANOTHER FIXER UPPER.
When we got to this house, located in a charming area near a favorite local swimming hole, I was ready to fall in love. Unfortunately the house said otherwise.
HOME SWEET HOME.
They say the average buyer looks at roughly 10 houses before making their final choice. It took us 14. Guess we’re a little above average?
We’d actually seen our house online weeks before we ever drove to take a gander in person. I’d put off suggesting it to my husband because it was a little out of our price range. And the taxes were high. Basically, looking at this house, I somehow knew we’d have to have it, and we’d be eating rice and beans the rest of our lives. The irony? It’s true. The minute we saw it from the street, pulled into the driveway, and stepped out of the car, we knew our search was over. Like finding your soul mate, it’s a feeling; you just know when it’s right. We peered in the windows. We staked the grounds. And the next day, we came back. We brought hoagies, and sat on one of the low stone walls, gazing at the house and dreaming out loud about what it’d be like to live here. I still get verklempt thinking about it. After two visits, an offer, a home inspection, and a stream of days that seemed to drag by infinitesimally, we signed the paperwork and were finally home. Again.