The Way To Fly - Part 1 - Daedalus Descending
The Way To Fly - Part 2 - Opportunity Cost
The Way To Fly - Part 3 - Why Not Travel?
The Way To Fly - Part 4 - Fulcrum
The Way To Fly - Part 5 - The Conflict
As we left Maine, we had hoped our story would end with our dream of building our own home. By the time we got to New Jersey, it had a new ending.
PART 6: THE ENDING
I stepped out of the realtor's office with our returned deposit check in hand and got in the car with Erin and the kids to drive to New Jersey for our next two-month house sitting gig at Erin's parent's house, taking care of our own pets.
We were leaving Maine, and with it our dream of building our home. There were no other well-located lots we could afford. We had walked through one other promising lot to find it was all wetlands.
This dream of building a home seemed impossible before we left for our life abroad. But once we admitted it was possible, it seemed almost inevitable until it eventually fell through.
This experience of traveling has changed us, and changed the way we think about the things we want. We are better able to articulate what we want, to challenge what we think we need, to commit quickly to big decisions, and to trust ourselves to see them through. We had decided a year ago to give everything up. What more did we have to lose?
So we didn't mourn the loss of our land deal for long as we hit the road for New Jersey.
By the time we crossed the border into New Hampshire, we had gotten pre-approved for a home loan. Our realtor sent us a purchase and sale agreement as we passed into Connecticut. By the time we crossed the Tappan Zee bridge in New York, we had submitted a signed offer.
And when we arrived in New Jersey, we
found out that our offer had been accepted to purchase a house in Kittery, Maine.
Ten days earlier, when we had decided not to extend our land offer, we also decided to start looking for homes to purchase. We couldn't afford anything in Wells with vacation rental potential, so we started looking closer to Portsmouth, NH. We couldn't afford anything in Portsmouth (although we strongly considered a modular home park), so we looked at surrounding towns like Dover, Newmarket, and Durham.
"What about Kittery?" suggested my sister, who we were staying with in Portsmouth for the week.
"Is there anything there besides the outlets?" I asked.
"Yes! There's a cute little downtown area, parks and beaches, and the schools are excellent."
She spent the last year teaching at the elementary school, so she should know.
Kittery is the first town in Maine directly across from Portsmouth, over the wide Piscataqua River where it empties into the ocean. Besides its outlet shopping, it's the home of a naval shipyard on the Piscataqua that is a major industry in the region.
The need to house military families coming through the shipyard has generated some dense neighborhoods with small lots and modest houses, making them affordable despite their proximity to Portsmouth. This also creates a chronic shortage of rental housing, which means we could rent our house for a profit when we decide to move on again.
Five days earlier, my sister drove me through Kittery to get the lay of the land.
Four days earlier, Erin drove through on her way home from working in Boston.
Three days earlier, Erin contacted a realtor to set up walkthroughs for four properties in Kittery. We weren't planning to buy anything but wanted to get familiar with the market so that we could keep our eye on it over the next year.
One day earlier, we drove through Kittery together for the first time, before the walkthroughs. We saw the quaint downtown with its collection of restaurants and shops, looked at the schools, and admired the high-end homes along the waterfront. It felt like the kind of place we could see ourselves living.
We walked into the first house expecting to find something wrong with it.
The location was superb, a half mile from downtown Kittery and less than a mile from downtown Portsmouth over the bridge. It was on a little less than a half acre of land, more than any other property in our low price range. It had a two-car garage and full-height unfinished walkout basement, giving it potential for adding space.
We saw it as soon as we opened the front door. The carpet. Wall to wall. "Teal" didn't begin to describe its garish iridescence. That was the chink in the armor.
But if there was wood underneath, and as we walked through the house we didn't see any other major issues. There were things to be repaired and remodeled over time, but once the shockingly abhorrent carpet was removed we could live in it as is.
The living room was surprisingly open for a house of its age, and with a few swings of a hammer we could open it up further to the kitchen. A long second floor bedroom could be divided in two, making it a three-bedroom house. The basement could eventually be converted to an office and guest bedroom, and possibly rented as an AirBNB unit separate from the house.
The other three houses were in the dense neighborhood with the military housing units. They were cheaper than the first house, but after replacing roofs and furnaces and gutting bathrooms and kitchens, they would all cost about the same.
One duplex was interesting for its rental income potential, but none of the houses had nearly as much to offer as the first house. It seemed like such an anomaly in our price range, and it seemed to have everything we wanted.
As we made the decision that night to make an offer, our biggest concern was that we would like living in the house so much that we wouldn't ever want to move out. So much for our aspirations of building a rental property empire to replace our employment income while we spend the rest of our lives traveling. I guess I'll eventually have to go back to work.
We discussed our offer with our realtor on our way down to New Jersey the next day. The asking price was just above our desired price range, but had just been lowered $20,000 a few days earlier. It was priced to sell. The seller's realtor said two other parties were planning to make an offer. It would be off the market in a matter of days.
We wanted to offer $10,000 below asking and let the seller negotiate up to $5,000 below. But with two other pending offers, we didn't want to leave $5,000 on the table and not get the house.
So we made a full-price offer with no inspection. The house had been pre-inspected by a trusted company and we had reviewed the report. We didn't need to sell our house first, which made our offer more favorable than anyone who did.
The only way someone could beat our offer was to pay cash or offer more than the asking price. At our realtors recommendation, we made our offer expire at six o'clock that evening to avoid a bidding war.
When we arrived in New Jersey, we found out our offer had been accepted.
We've spent the last two months sorting out details of the loan and insurance and starting to plan and budget our renovation projects, starting with carpet removal.
We've also been finding more to like about Kittery. We can walk to a butcher, green grocer, and bakery. There are two yoga studios within walking distance. A nearby Indian restaurant is considered one of the top twenty in the country. The community recreation center offers numerous classes, kids activities, performances, and gym facilities at an annual cost that rivals the monthly cost of some other gyms.
We think we'll have more amenities within walking distance than we did in the heart of Somerville. If that's not enough, we'll just bike over the bridge to downtown Portsmouth.
Beyond these amenities, we're looking forward to becoming a part of this small town community. Despite the density of the town, there are less than 100 kids in each grade so we feel like we'll get to know everyone. We've heard that the whole town uses the rec center, making it a unique informal central meeting place that many towns lack. There are also events like a summer block party for the whole community to celebrate.
This sense of community is something we've experienced while traveling in places like Portugal, Panama, and the Dominican Republic. It's something we've wanted to be a part of wherever we end up. We're hoping to find it as we start to build our new life in Maine.
We close on the house this evening. Tomorrow we'll drive a rental truck to Somerville to get some of our belongings out of storage, and tomorrow night we'll spend our first night in our new home.
A year and ten days after we left our home, we finally have a place to come home to.
That seems like as fitting an ending as any to this book of stories we've been writing over the past year. While we've enjoyed our spontaneity and are looking forward to more adventures in England this spring, it's nice to know now what the ending will be.
Because, after all,
I'm writing a book.