We slowly grew apart, dear house

Posted: November 13, 2011

The magic is gone. We no longer have anything in common. There are trust issues.

So now, in this most impossible of real estate markets, I often wonder: Do I want a divorce from my house?

My mortgage is not underwater, though these months of rain have left my spirits a bit damp. After editing all the articles for The Inquirer's recent Home Price Survey, I know that the median value in my town is down 19 percent since 2005, but I bought before the last housing bubble started to inflate.

Better, surely, for me to sit and hold a bit longer than try to sell and move just now. Still, relationships are more complicated than that. Breaking up is always hard to do.

It was 16 years ago, November 1995, that my house and I met, two vintage-1955 beauties in our own way. My new husband wanted a place we could say we had bought together, a private, wooded property that was also close to his business. My son, then 10, wanted to stay in his school - heck, he wanted to stay at the same bus stop. I wanted harmony between my boys. So I settled for less than my heart's true home desire.

Eventually, though, I grew to love our third of an acre, shaded every summer by Japanese maples and other lovely deciduous trees I never have learned the names of, and blanketed in white after winter storms. The lack of trick-or-treaters at Halloween - no sidewalks, you see - was balanced by the fact that we didn't have to dig out much when it snowed.

Eventually, I learned I could find peace on the deck outside the master bedroom, which I decorate every spring with flowering plants and brightly colored cushions on the Adirondack chairs, the better to read in the sunshine with a cat or two on my lap.

And eventually, I discovered that if my boys and I ate around the coffee table in the living room, instead of in the dining room or at the breakfast bar I initially despised, we would spend a pleasant hour or more over dinner most nights, debating politics or points of rock-and-roll history or other oddball topics. The TV was on, but we would talk and talk over it.

Times change, of course, and circumstances, too. The once-noisy nest becomes much less so. The grounds that seemed so serene now seem so hard to maintain. And the house - well, I will say immodestly that it's showing its age even more than I am.

It's not that I want to abandon it in favor of a younger, prettier trophy house. I'm just not sure I want a house at all anymore. I am forever making lists of its pros and cons, in hopes of answering the question I wake with every morning:

Should I stay, or should I go?

For all its warts - and there are many - my house is still, as the old song says, a very, very, very fine house. In a good school district, though the taxes are high. Close to the city, though perhaps not to its higher-end neighborhoods. Convenient to shopping, though not located on a very walkable street.

The house sits up high, above the creek across the street, though the occasional hurricane (like Irene) brings the waters about 50 feet into my driveway.

The front and back yards are relatively flat, good for kicking a ball around or playing badminton, though mowing the slopes along the side and at the rear of the lot can make for strenuous exercise.

The breezeway between the kitchen and the room over the garage that my husband once used as his office is a calming refuge where you can sit in a rocker and watch light rain fall or leaves swirl, though you have to chase after pillows and plants when fierce winds blow through.

But more seriously, the roof is leaking somewhere, and the cellar needs more than a few coats of waterproofing paint, and the carpet in the living room must be replaced.

All of which feel like more love than I have to give this house. Even if it is still home.

Contact real estate editor Joanne McLaughlin at 215-854-4177 or jmclaughlin@phillynews.com.

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