Almost Paradise, Home EditionPosted: January 19, 2013
We used to have good housing karma. Andrew and I have lived in some pretty great places; the two-story apartment in Adams Morgan with a balcony, the loft in downtown Burlington, the $400/mo penthouse apartment in Santiago with a view of the Andes. I thought we had a gift. Things have taken a turn since our move to Colombia. Maybe the kids have messed with my instincts. I haven’t loved any home I’ve seen in Medellin, but Andrew and the boys were so excited about this place, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
We moved into the house on a Friday night in September. Just as it got dark the power went out. No power in this house also means no water, no heat, and no easily opening the security gate. The four of us huddled on a mattress on the floor, totally unprepared. Andrew and the boys were thrilled. The next morning the propane ran out. I knew then that I had made a big mistake. The place is a pain in the ass, and the kind of house that, in Colombia, is designed to include a full-time staff.
All the signs that had seemed like the universe telling us we were supposed to live here started to indicate the opposite. The sweet neighborhood dogs at our house all the time, one of whom has the same name as my dad’s dog, eventually killed our cat. (R.I.P Ruby.) The sweet neighbor from Scarborough, Ontario turned out to be not so child-friendly. The soaring ceilings, a gift to Andrew after living in a little bungalow for so long, turned the house into a cold echo chamber. And the beautiful countryside so reminiscent of Vermont is being carved up into pieces for real estate development. The trees are now being cut down to widen the road.
At its best the house is like high-class camping (cold showers, massive spiders, hanging laundry outside, unreliable to nonexistent internet, and the lack of an address or even a generally agreed upon street name). At its worst, the glass palace is a death trap. The combination of poor electrical work and the choice of extremely hot, low-efficiency bulbs throughout the house has resulted in melting wires and several electrical fires, two of which occurred in the boys’ bedroom. The lights would pop and fizzle so we just stopped using them for a while. An electrician repaired some of faulty wiring and said they’d come back later to finish the rest. Right. The house leaks when it rains- sometimes into light fixtures. The latest debacle was a burst pipe in the upstairs shower that caused it to rain inside for 5 days until the plumbers could find the source of the problem. All that water caused some major damage and eventually the ceiling outside of the boys’ room collapsed.
Meanwhile, things with our house in Takoma Park haven’t been any better. I’ll spare you the details, but due to a series of ridiculous events we lost our tenants, lost our property manager, almost got sued, received a citation from the city and our house was almost condemned. In just five short months! Impressive, no? The sort of good news there is that the situation is mostly resolved. The house is legal according to the city, but only as a one-bedroom. We have a new, very competent property manager, but no tenant yet.
I reached the depths of my new crappy house karma one day in November when Bank of America told me they had returned our most recent mortgage payment in a check that was now criss-crossing the US. We didn’t have enough money in our US bank account to reissue a new payment that day and they were basically drafting the foreclosure letters. (And getting cash from a Colombian account to a US account is so difficult it would probably be easier to get on a plane with a pocketful of cash and deliver it to the bank in person). While I was losing it on the phone with Bank of America, some random man showed up at the door saying he need to do an inventory of the house because our electricity bill was so high; the electric company had determined there must be something terribly wrong. Having a random man show up at your door in Colombia asking to inventory your house is not a good thing. And being told that your bills are so astronomically high they have raised red flags is not a good thing, especially when you’re having financial problems. (And they were right- our next electricity bill was $488.)
Andrew was in Australia when all this was going on and the kids were on school break so I was already in a weakened state. The events of that day pushed me over the edge and right then I started the process of moving out of the palace. I researched leases in Colombia and how to break them. I drafted a letter to Carlos, the owner of the house, to explain why we had to leave. And I asked a friend who was moving to put me in touch with her realtor. And that was it for me. I was done. (That was several months ago and we’re still in the house, but nothing happens quickly here).
Andrew was not so eager to leave. He still loves the house and the countryside and finds it a relaxing place to be after being in the city all day. However, as things have gotten progressively worse at the palace, he’s starting to come around. He’s also excited about the prospect of being able to walk to work (and restaurants) when we move. But really, what finally pushed him over the edge was the curtains. We had to get curtains for one side of the house because the glass palace had no privacy and was totally visible from the road. And it is a long stretch of road on which there is absolutely nothing else to look at except our house. Anyway, I wanted curtains kind of like this:
But what we ended up with was this:
A sweet old lady made them for us and I didn’t have the heart to tell her they weren’t what we had in mind. (And of course my crappy Spanish is partly to blame for the outcome). Andrew calls them the 1970’s prom dress and hates them with a passion. Each curtain is one huge piece of fabric and because of the supports at the top of the curtain rod, they can’t actually be opened. I agree they are pretty ugly- they give the place a Ramada conference room vibe- but still better than being stared at all the time. After the curtains went up Andrew was on board with the move.
I hope to be saying goodbye to the glass palace before it completely collapses around us. I will miss Martha, one of our neighbors, and I will miss seeing the baby cows every day. (I never realized how adorable and frolicky baby cows are). But that’s it. I wish it all the best.
Now that I know I have no particular real estate gift, perhaps even a curse, I have lower expectations for our next place. I just hope it is warmer, cheaper and a little less complicated. And keeps my kids safe. Ok Universe? Thank you.