The house hunt.

When we last left you, we’d looked at 39 houses.

This thing we’ve been calling an adventure was more like an odyssey.

We saw No. 40 sometime in December. It’s a distant memory now. Another poor showing like so many others that wasn’t worth mentioning at the time. Interestingly No. 40 stood just a few doors down from No. 35, which at that time was still the most desirable on our list. … No. 39 was a dingy ranch with a kitchen that was about the size of the average bathroom. The basement was large but unfinished. The backyard, which was tiny, sloped severely into the house. Like so many others we saw, it needed a lot of work, and it was overpriced.

So we pressed on.

We kept pushing for No. 35. A two-story with a pleasant-looking façade. Good-sized bedrooms. A finished basement. An open floor plan. A good neighborhood. A beautiful yard. … It needed some updates, but we were convinced it was the best we’d seen -- and might ever see. We were getting desperate.

The problem: It was overpriced. We made an offer in the fall, but the sellers countered, and we walked away. … We kept our eyes on it, had an appraiser go through it for us and made another offer in December. The sellers countered again, and again we walked away. Even while our intelligence and research told us the home was overpriced, the sellers would. not. budge.

Kates and I were thisclose to giving up the search, settling for duplex living and making the best of it.

* * *

Then Christmas arrived.

Amid a sea of changes that occurred at the university during that week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, a couple I work with announced they were leaving for a new career opportunity. Looking to sell their home quickly and aware of our situation, they suggested it could be a perfect fit.

We took our first peek at it during the first weekend of the new year. And it was love at first sight. It was everything we had been looking for and more. The similarities to our beloved house in K-Town were striking.

A raised ranch with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a finished walk-out basement, a large fenced-in yard and hardwood floors. … But it got better. There was, of course, the two-car attached garage. The home had new windows, among several other major improvements. There also was a second below-ground basement with a bathroom, creating a whole extra level; previous owners rented the extra space to students and it was ripe for using as guest quarters, or for resurrecting my museum and using as a home office. Perhaps best of all, there's a basketball court in the back yard that was ripe for years of family basketball games.

We really wanted make an offer, but there was a slight obstacle. The sellers were not working with a realtor, and we were -- a realtor who had patiently shown us 40 houses over the course of nearly a year and was allowing us to rent her duplex at a pretty good rate without a long-term contract. … We felt bad enough about taking a look at the house without our realtor. Kates and I thought it was the right thing to stay loyal to our realtor, and we talked ourselves out of making an offer.

But when I told the seller of our decision, she left the door open for us. It was the kick Kates and I needed and -- to make our long story shorter -- our realtor graciously gave us her blessing to move forward without her.

* * *

So we moved forward. And the sellers accepted our offer. The initial discussions and then the transactions after we broke from our realtor were so smooth that the realization we might finally have a home was a little anti-climactic, almost too good to be true. In fact, Kates and I had been so tortured by the whole house hunt -- 10 months, 40 houses, four failed offers and several other close calls -- that we weren’t taking anything for granted until the papers were signed and we had the keys.

For those same reasons, we tried keeping our negotiations quiet. But in a small town like The ’Ville, it wasn’t long before people were stopping us at school, at church, in the grocery store, and saying things like Congratulations, I hear you’re buying (insert sellers’ names) house!

We kept the process moving. When it came time for the inspection, I called in “The Deal Breaker” again, and his opinion the second time around was quite the opposite of the first. Repeatedly he said, “Yep, somebody put a lot of work into this house. I wouldn’t walk away from this one!” Music to our ears.

Soon after that, the appraisal came in -- and it was lower than the sales price we’d agreed on. Under the conditions of our agreement, the sellers had little choice but to agree to the appraised value. Or the deal would fall through.

That’s when things started getting interesting. Our original agreement called for the sellers to pay our closing costs, but our loan conditions -- while the appraisal worked in our favor -- made it highly unfavorable for the sellers to pay our closing costs. Kates and I now had to come up with the money for closing costs, in addition to the 3.5 percent down payment that was already required for us to close the deal.

We crunched the numbers, got some lucky breaks, and decided we could make it work. The closing date was set for Friday, Feb. 24.

* * *

Oh, but after all we’d been through, it could not have been that easy. The day before the closing, I received a message from our bank representative saying the closing was being delayed for a week because the necessary paperwork wouldn’t be complete.

To say we were frustrated was an understatement. All parties had agreed on the terms of the contract and the bank's hold-up on the paperwork was driving us mad. … As if that wasn’t enough, I received another message Thursday that the closing date was in jeopardy again. As of 1 p.m. yesterday we still were unsure whether we’d be closing the deal or dealing with another delay.

But soon after that, I received a voice mail. It was on. Kates and I went to the title company at 3:30 p.m. yesterday ( ... Only after yet another bit of drama. Just before Kates was about to leave school for the closing, the daycare called her to report Phoebe was sick and vomited. Kates picked her up, our friend Gina met us at our duplex so she could watch Phoebe, and Kates and I went off to the closing ...)

By 4 p.m. the paperwork was signed. Finally, we are homeowners again.

Afterward, we returned to what's quickly become "the old house" and relieved Gina from her baby-sitting duties. After all, Phoebe was jumping on the couch when we walked in the door.

We wasted little time packing some sandwiches and snacks and headed for the new house. After weeks of talking about it, Phoebe finally got her picnic on the living room floor -- with strawberries. 

Our excitement is indescribable. For 15 months, we've been sitting here in limbo. Those first six months of living as a divided family were hard enough. But even after our family began living together again and we moved into the duplex in June, very little about our lives felt stable. We'd acquired good jobs, we became engrained in the community -- but we never felt settled.

We didn't have a place we could truly call home.

Now we do.

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