The House We Didn’t Buy

maison-arbreLook!” my wife cried.


“Where?” I asked.

“Right there,” she said, jabbing at a cluster of mailboxes.

“I don’t see a thing.”

“Pull in the driveway.”


“Now, lean out the door and read the sign.”

“What sign?”

“The one that reads OPEN HOUSE.”

“Oh that.”

“Let’s take a peek, it will be fun.”

The last thing I wanted to do was peek at an open house but like so many things I do not want to do, moments later I was doing it.

The realtor greeted us as we squeezed into the kitchen.

“The kitchen is small,” she conceded.  “but if you were to take out this wall.” She waved her hand as if to magically make it disappear. “You would have an ‘open concept’ kitchen.”

Certain words affect people in strange ways.  The words “open concept” work on my wife the same way ‘free beer’ works on a thirsty paving crew.

“YES!” she gushed, “we could…”

Holy Cow! How did we get from “take a peek’ to ‘we could’?

For the first time, I took a hard look at the place. It was an older two story farm house, located about six miles outside a small city – which in rural Minnesota means close to shopping.

It had a barn.  A big plus for me though I did not like the way it flinched from the prevailing wind. The outbuildings were both plumb and square, and had remained so without the benefit of proper footings – but the house was what concerned me.

“The garage is attached, “ I noted, “but how do you get from the house to the garage? There is no connecting door.”

The realtor fielded the question and pitched it to my wife, “You could move the master bedroom to the other side of the house and make an entryway with a mud-room.”

“You need a mud-room,” my wife informed me.

With dollar signs whirling before my eyes, I fled downstairs to inspect the bones of the house. What I found mortified me.

The plumbing was a stunning piece of abstract art fashioned from odd bits of rusted iron, cobbled copper and pasted PVC. Hot and cold water lines chased each other recklessly in and out of joists, repeatedly crisscrossing paths in a madcap game of tag across the basement.

But that was the least of the issues.

The wiring really worried me. It is rare to find a fuse-box in use these days – but this place had three of them. All home wiring – and not one box bore an inspection sticker – but they made up for it with a lot of spare change used in lieu of fuses.

The furnace sulked in a dark corner.  I tried to approach it – but quickly and wisely reversed course.  Fleeing up the stairs, I found the ladies whirling through the house blasting away walls and tossing major appliances about with their imaginations.

It is when I got a weird sensation..

Imagine being at the top of a ski-jump. All around you is bright blue sky and glistening white snow – but when you look down, you see a ramp plummeting toward a place where there is no ramp – and then you feel an almost imperceptible movement – no more than a twitch – and you are on your way.

If I did not stop this, we would be buying a house.

The realtor sensed my fear.

“Why don’t you check out the water feature?” she suggested, pointing toward a line of cattails nodding in the wind beyond a low-slung building.

So I went out to explore the water feature. Whatever that was.

It was peaceful out there.  A stiff breeze burnished the brackish water and a pair of geese glided over the windbreak.  As they cleared the last pine, they set their wings to drop onto the water – but flared away instead. Perhaps I spooked them.

Soon the ladies joined me.

Approaching the water’s edge, my wife asked, “What’s that?”

“Oh, that’s the water feature,” the realtor said.

“Water feature?” my wife exclaimed, “I grew up on a farm and I know what a hog-manure lagoon is.”

“Really?” the realtor remarked, “oh well, let’s head back into the house and see what we can do with the upstairs.

“I don’t think so,” my wife said – then turning to me, she hissed, “I’ve seen all I want to see.”

Author: Almost Iowa

42 thoughts on “The House We Didn’t Buy”

  1. Ever thought you’d be so happy for a manure pit? Wow, drive faster so she can’t see the signs anymore. Your basement description slayed me!

  2. My husband and I have always bought fixer-uppers, but what you described in that basement would have scared us off, too! And ours were in the city, so we never had to deal with a pond/hog manure pond, thank goodness. I also think I am one of the few people left who doesn’t want “open concept” in a house. I don’t understand wanting to live in one giant room, as I feel no need to be in my living room, dining room and kitchen all at the same time.

    1. Hey, I am glad that brave souls take on fixer-up projects. It’s a crying shame when a house falls into disrepair. I fixed up a few…but don’t have the energy or patience for it anymore.

      Believe it or not, the house we live in now has an ‘open concept’ kitchen dating from the 1950’s…. I want to put up a wall.

  3. Your water feature reminds me of the realtors here who specialize in “water views.” More than a few water views have ended up being tiny lots on drainage ditches. Yes, they’re connected to Galveston Bay, but only in the most legalistic sense possible.

  4. Love it! We didn’t have the hog manure pond, thank goodness, but anyone who has lived in a farmhouse with outbuildings would feel a certain nostalgia (tinged with a shudder) at this piece, Greg. Your descriptions of plumbing, wiring, basement, realtors, wives, husbands, … It’s all spot on.
    Makes me yearn to be back in our farmhouse ( for one day).

    1. Old farm houses are wonderful to visit…and I will leave it there. It is sad though, too many grand old houses and barns in the region are being left in the care of Mother Nature.

      1. Yes, sadly Dad had to let our huge barn crumble because he didn’t have funds to keep it up. It’ll be a post one of these days. Lots of family fun in that old barn.

  5. I really love this story, Almost Iowa.

    Because I am afraid of money holes, if The Boffin says the house would need a million and one repairs, I would reject it no matter how charming it is. We had our money pit in Massachusetts with the basement that you described with the exception of the electrics. Never again.

    1. When I redid the roof on my old farm house, I found bark on the edges of the joists. I showed this to a friend and he told me to come over and look at his place. It was one of the oldest houses in Minnesota. He took me down into his cellar to show me, tree trunks as posts and split logs as lintels.

    1. I get a kick out of the casual way HGTV says, move those walls and I keep trying to explain the difference between a bearing wall and curtain wall to my wife. She just doesn’t understand that something has to hold up the roof – especially when it is covered by snow.

  6. Genius, this piece. Mail it anonymously to every realtor in the county.

    Now to get specific: Your description of the basement is absolutely splendid descriptive writing. You can write, Sir. And well.

    1. I always loved that term “water feature”. It is exactly how a Realtor once described a hog manure pit to us. We still snicker over it. This story is dead-on accurate, though it is an amalgam of our house hunting experiences.

      Those paragraphs on the basement wrote themselves from memory.

  7. “Men and women see things differently…” and “Holy Cow! How did we get from peek ‘just peek’ to ‘we could’?” – just a few of my fave lines!

    But the end! yip yip! Oh your wife is wise! But then – you know that – eh? 🙂

    1. Of course she is wise – but I am wise enough to never admit that. The moment I do, well it will be like I described on the ski jump and everything after that will be a wild downhill ride.

  8. Wise to leave the place I reckon! Having recently purchased an 1899 old Victorian lump I find the costs of restoration far greater than I’d planned for!

    1. I paid my dues on an old farm house years ago. There wasn’t a single square or plumb line to be found in that house. We moved to a new townhouse in the suburbs and to my horror I found there wasn’t a square of plumb line to be found there either.

  9. Well played. You contained your fear and didn’t have to exercise the one ‘veto’ men get in their married life. Old houses might be charming, but plumbing and electrical problems aren’t. And hog manure ponds, yeah, I don’t even know what one does with that. If the geese won’t land in it, I’d say the place doesn’t belong on the short list.

    1. “And hog manure ponds, yeah, I don’t even know what one does with tha”

      Hog manure ponds are why God made Caterpillar D9 bulldozers – and for some strange reason, all my neighbors have them.

  10. Phew, close call. You avoided not only the money/manure pit, you managed to save the blog. Because, let’s face it, “Almost Southern Minnesota” doesn’t have quite the same charm.

    Another excellent contribution, sir.

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