We kept looking. Here in the Seattle area, there’s a website and app called Redfin that blows Zillow and all the rest out of the water. It’s integrated with the MLS system real estate agents use, such that whenever a new listing appears, or an existing listing is taken off the market, it updates automatically. In this heady real-estate market that means there are new listings to review several times a day and Bill and I both had our accounts set for alerts whenever anything new came up. There was always something new. There was always something to look at. We would always go look. And even when we weren’t looking, we had enabled email and mobile notifications, so that Redfin was constantly alerting us to deals it thought we should consider.
We spent most of our free time on drive-by visits to homes we’d found on Redfin, checking out the site and the neighborhood before we bothered a real estate agent to schedule a tour. We cared more about location and setting than the insides (which we figured we could always change) so we didn’t call for many tours. But we visited countless houses in all directions. Of course, that’s pretty normal around here: Eavesdrop on conversations in restaurants and bars and half of them will be about real estate, either buying and selling or making improvements. The entire region is real estate-obsessed. That’s one of many, many signs that the area is in a bubble, that at some point the madness will stop and prices will fall. That it would, perhaps, be smarter to wait, except that neither of us much liked the idea of moving into another temporary rental and having to move again in another year or two.
All Bill talked about with our musician friends (many of whom are also contractors) was different houses, different areas. They were being patient, for now, he said, but at some point they weren’t going to hear it anymore. Too many drive-arounds was beginning to cut into my work schedule. There was Redfin, always beckoning with another house to go visit. But if we didn’t come up with a winner in the next crop, we agreed, we would dial it back.
We took one more drive-around in Lake Stevens, then headed back to Snohomish for one of our rare real-estate appointment viewings. Heading down a side road, as the GPS directed us, we passed a real estate sign pointing up a small dead-end street. “Want to go see?” Bill said. And then we both remembered that a house on that street had come up in our Redfin searches. It was within our budget. Bill had even placed it on his long list of addresses to visit, although neither of us thought much would come of it. It was a low-looking house, surrounded by a chain-link fence, with a description that made it sound like it needed work. Still, here we were, practically driving by, so we turned up the street. We found the owner working on the deck.
“We don’t mean to disturb you, we’re just house-hunting,” Bill called out.
“I would love to show you my house!” he answered, so we got out of the car.
My online searches had led me back to this neighborhood again and again, where there were still large yards and grass and trees, a relief from the endless developments in every direction. Up on the deck, you were literally overlooking Route 2–as in looking over the top of it so you couldn’t actually see it. What you could see was Ebey Slough, a tributary to the Snohomish River, and a tiny speck of Mount Rainier poking its snow-covered top up between the trees and…more trees.
There was a vegetable garden, strawberries, blueberries and grapes, some amazing trees called golden chains so named because of the beautiful strings of yellow flowers drooping from them. There was a large yard with a giant sweet gum tree and a fire pit. (Fire pits seem to be de rigueur in the Pacific Northwest.)
I had been yearning for well-established plantings. Bill had been yearning for a view.
There was a hot tub on the deck. Bill would say later that the house seemed to encourage funky decadence–having been built in 1965 and remodeled in 1967, it kept a lot of that 60s character. The kitchen was finished with mahogany in an odd assortment of mostly one-off cabinets that open in unexpected ways. The no-longer-existent Lake Stevens Junior College woodworking students had done it, the owner, whose name was Karl, explained. We were thoroughly charmed.
Then I poked my head into the bathroom off the master bedroom. There was a shower stall. “There’s no bathtub!” I called out to Bill. A bathtub is one of those things I truly don’t want to have to live without.
“Oh yes there is!” the owner said, and opened the door to a second bathroom a few feet down the hall. Here there was a baby blue bathtub with a shower handle attachment and a matching baby blue sink and toilet–and wall-to-wall carpeting. Funky decadence, yes!
So of course, we bought it.