I was the one who, exasperated by a slovenly landlord, had initiated the search for a house. Weekday mornings after George left for the train, I bundled our almost two-year-old twin sons into the car and set out. My search began in southern Westchester County, where we were renting, and moved steadily northward, seeking something we could afford – northward and northward until it seemed the next stop would be in Canada. I crossed the Hudson and stumbled upon Montclair New Jersey. The tree-lined streets and roomy old houses looked like heaven, and prices were much lower.
I liked Montclair, but this house was a mess.
Still, the neighborhood was nicer than I’d dreamed possible. The pink and green Tudor was one of the smaller houses and the only one in disrepair. Traffic wouldn’t be an issue; we hadn’t seen a car pass since we’d arrived.
A tree that would be perfect for climbing when the boys were a little older stood beside the driveway. In the backyard, there was a little stand of pines around a fishpond plus plenty of space for playing ball. Behind the garage would be perfect for a garden. As for the house, a second look only added to the list of needed repairs, but I could see the potential, and maybe the problems were just superficial. George had worked construction summers during college. He was handy. He really liked this house.
“The neighborhood is great, and so’s the yard.” I tried to focus on the positive.
“Come warm weather, you’ll really enjoy this screened porch,” the realtor said.
“What screens?” I muttered. They hung in tatters or were missing entirely.
“Easy to fix.” George was already picturing himself on the porch, lord of the manor with a cold beer in his hand.
The realtor suggested an offer contingent upon a professional inspection, which, he assured us, was standard procedure and would protect us from any unforeseen problems. On our way back to the office, he drove us past the bus stop, the train station, and the elementary school – all within a five-minute walk.
“The three most important things in real estate are location, location, location,” he said.
We smiled and nodded at this wisdom, which, bless our naïve little hearts, we’d never heard before.
Within the month, our offer was accepted, the inspector said the structure, systems and roof were sound, and the bank approved our mortgage. We were barely twenty-five years old, the parents of two little children, and the new owners of a three bedroom one bath plus a toilet in the basement house that needed work.
This was late winter of 1968. We paid $21,000 for that house and owed the bank almost $17,000, an amount neither of us could contemplate without feeling the cold fingers of panic. We’d sold everything that wasn’t nailed down to raise the down payment, but we had our own house.