I have always felt slightly out of step with the rest of America in terms of timing. I graduated from college in 1980 and those of you who are old enough to remember would be hard pressed to find a worse period to enter the modern job market until 2008. After college I worked weekends for a wedding caterer, and I finally received two full time job offers after an extensive search. One was organizing greeting cards in a local pharmacy, which I didn’t take, and the second was working for B. Dalton Bookseller. The greeting card job paid a dollar more an hour but I thought a job in a book shop offered me more prestige. After all, I was a college graduate and I had my standards. I earned $2.90 an hour and after taxes I cleared a little under four hundred dollars a month. My rent was $105.00 a month and I didn’t own a car, so I got by. By 1984, Reaganomics hadn’t trickled down to me yet so I headed back to school to get an art degree- something that would really secure my future.  I mention all this because some of it was timing and some of it was choice, like most things in life. The trick is to make astute choices when the timing is all off.


Early Spring

Last week I was working out on the elliptical at the gym and listening to music on my phone. HGTV was on the television above me and the dialogue was in closed caption so I inadvertently followed along. The couple on the screen were searching for a first house. The agent brought them to six different houses and inside each one they looked for their list of “must haves.” For example, they wanted four bedrooms even though they were childless.

“We need room to grow,” the wife cooed with a smile.

“I need a two car garage,” the husband stated emphatically, as if he couldn’t even consider a house with a single garage.

They wanted a great room, space to entertain, modern kitchen and baths, a master bedroom and a big yard for a dog that they did not yet own. At one point they saw a house with a fenced in yard and the woman said, “We can get the dog right away if we choose this house.”

“Two dogs,” the man said.

The words “laughter” flashed on the screen and the couple and agent all looked happy.

They considered the street, the schools, the walking environment, the potential neighbors and above all the resell potential. I was blown away. When did this culture of home shoppers emerge, or were they always around but this show brought them into focus? According to Wikipedia, as of August 2013 approximately 98,229,000 American households (86.01% of households with television) receive HGTV. To the remaining 14% of television households, that stands for Home and Garden Television. I am one of the 14%. This is important for no other reason than that I always get the feeling there’s something I don’t know about.



In 2000, when we started to search for our first home, once again the timing couldn’t be worse. It was the top of the market and the inventory was slim to none. We waited in a line to see a beat-up colonial in White Plains that needed to be gutted. We contemplated a small house in West Harrison with a cracked foundation and dead rodents in the sink. Some friends in a similar situation moved in with parents and started to stash cash for a better day. Bidding wars and a total lack of know-how sent us to the back of the pack. I saw a small ad in the Penny Saver with the heading: “The Loon Calls. Pull your canoe up to your very own dock.” I dialed the number. I still remember the first time we drove into the Putnam County lake community following the agent in her car

“This is nuts,” I said. “I’m never going to move here. This is a waste of time.”

I saw a man who resembled a member of ZZ Top work on his monster truck next to a yard filled with rusty junk. When we pulled into the garage-less driveway I begged Rob to keep driving.

He sighed. “She’s waiting for us and this was your big idea. We’ll look and leave. Because in the end it’s all information.” Rob often gets the big picture when I don’t or can’t.

We stepped through the front door. There was little to no entryway and we stared at a living room you practically fell into.  The next stop was a child’s bedroom. The walls were covered in fake vinyl wood paneling that had been painted poison green and caulked together with silicon gel. The bath next to that had border wall paper that was peeling off and revealing mold. We walked through to the back of the house and found two picture windows looking out on a wooded lot and a lake beyond the yard. The kitchen had a large island built up against one of the picture windows and the dining room off of it was narrow and small. We didn’t see all the work involved we only saw the lake.

Besides a kitchen and bathroom and at least three bedrooms for our family of four we never had a list. I feel like if we had we wouldn’t have bought this place.

The couple on the show had found their dream home without any compromises and paid the same amount we paid back in 2000. All because they had a “must have” list or because the timing was right or both. True, they lived in South Carolina but you can’t have everything.

I often think back to that day in late May when we walked through the house that is now our home and out onto the lower deck. A warm breeze was blowing through the trees and warming our skin. The lake was glistening below. Our daughter was swinging on a tire swing and our son was lying face down on the dock trying to fish a snail shell out of the water. Rob and I caught each other’s eye and in that instant I now know having a list wouldn’t have mattered.




  1. Doris Martel Hernacki says:

    Beautifully written, Phoebe! I am one of the 86% who watch HGTV and I often think: this is the young couple’s FIRST HOUSE?!!!! I settled for a 3 BR, 1 bath small ranch because I really wanted a back yard…something we did not have in our previous 2 apartments. Our ” starter” house is still my home – 28 years later! Like you, renovations really made a difference. Your lake and my yard have brought us much pleasure…..
    Thanks for your lovely blog, Phoebe.

  2. Susan says:

    If only life came with 2 guides. one for raising children and the other for buying a house. i have bought 4. you would think the list would be more complete with each buying, but no. each one has the same impulsivity or rather the list of desire and immediate need over the long term list. so it is. not good not bad. just is.

  3. Christine Herzog says:

    You did it again. I am astonished at what people expect from their new homes. I keep thinking: wouldn’t you rather do it yourself?
    Your blog is again so writerly yet so easy to read; true to life and honest.
    I love love love the photos as well. Thanks

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