Development World

They’re all around us. Crawling up from the river at the bottom of the hill, to the south of us on Ludwig Road and just around the corner to the north of us as well. Surrounding the grocery stores where we shop and lining the roads in all directions. Weaver Road was mostly hills and woods and large yards when we arrived a year and a half ago, but there was a clearing marked out with rows of wooden rods sticking up out of the ground to mark out plans. Now dozens of homes have not only been built here but the majority appear to be sold, with cars in their driveways. Even deep in the wild woods to the east of town where I once aspired to live, you suddenly find yourself at a grand gateway with an elegant-sounding name and rows of houses stretching out behind. Developments are everywhere.

Our reaction has always been: yuck! Cookie-cutter houses with tiny yards, neighbors a few yards away, all in shades of beige, gray, and off-white. The jokes about how you could go home to the wrong house by mistake if you weren’t careful. We don’t always agree about what we want in a house, but we agreed about this: No developments!

On the other hand, we’d done a drive-by visit to virtually every house in Snohomish or Lake Stevens that was anywhere near our price range and had found very little to love. But a lot of development houses seemed to come closest to combining our space and budget requirements and so our resolve had begun to waver.

“You know,” I said on Saturday, “There’s another open house going on in Snohomish today if you want to go look.” This house sounded like it had a lot of what we wanted. A decent, if not large, yard. Plenty of bedrooms and bathrooms, yet right in Snohomish, close enough that I might even walk to downtown or at least to the post office. And–maybe just barely–in our price range.

We got there and it was huge. A dreamy kitchen a nice living room with a fireplace (yay!) a family room with a wood stove (double yay!), more bedrooms than we’d know what to do with, which is to say quite a lot. A perfectly manicured yard that would take some work to keep up with, a deck off the kitchen and a balcony off the bedroom and…it was in a development.

Was that us? We were not development people. And yet we liked the house. We liked the neighbors too, having met some of them during our lengthy visit. Although when we talked to the lady next door, who loved fussing over her garden, her concern over finding a buyer who would care for the lawn gave me pause. Back in Snohomish, our lawn was hair-raisingly overgrown. We’d struggled to find someone to cut it affordably or to repair the riding mower Norman had left in the shed. Not that we were wild about living in a hay field, but it was nice to have neighbors with enough problems of their own that they didn’t care about the state of our yard.

Would this house make sense for us? Bill said he would manage to keep the lawn properly mowed. I was pretty sure I could handle the fairly modest plantings. And my anti-development bias, I knew, was a form of prejudice, as if living in cookie-cutter houses would somehow transform us into cookie-cutter people. Besides, these weren’t cookie-cutter houses: They’d been built in the 1980s with more variation among them than you typically see today (and likely more solid construction as well).

We stayed an hour, checking things out thoroughly and chatting with the real estate agent. God helped us, we liked the house. Maybe we could make an offer and they’d take a little less. For the amount of house, right in Snohomish, even the full asking price would be a really good deal in today’s market. We went home and called our real estate agent to ask her to look into making an offer. I spent the weekend hiking around the neighborhood, checking out the walk from the house to nearby Blackmans Lake.

The next morning I woke up feeling shaky. Being in a development felt all wrong. And the price. It was hard to tell in this topsy-turvy real estate world what we could and couldn’t afford. Low down payments had somehow become the norm–the lenders just tacked on mortgage insurance to cover themselves–and historically low interest rates would keep the monthly payments manageable. Even so, would it make sense to take on that level of debt?

I voiced my concerns to Bill, even though I knew he liked the house. “I’ve been thinking I should talk you out of it,” he responded. We called our broker and the point was moot because other buyers had already bid up the price into the definitely-unaffordable stratosphere.

We looked at each other and breathed a sigh of relief.

Image: LancerE via Creative Commons

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