Recently I gave myself permission to look at some homes online, and then I gave myself permission to actually start looking at them. Synchronistically, my realtor appeared who sold me the house I’m currently living in, and is used to my picky house-buying ways. The goal this time is to downsize, use less space and energy, and save money. After giving it a lot of thought, I am deciding to wait on living in another country for a few years. I have just started a business and am still at the peak of my earning power, and it would be a good idea to give that a few more years to run yet before making a total break.
Of course, downsizing and still finding a decent place to live isn’t all that easy. After looking around in five counties online, I came to the conclusion that for the money I was willing to spend, I could have a very cool cabin way out in the woods somewhere, or a small craftsman bungalow in Olympia or Tacoma, WA – one that was nicely renovated and in town. What part of town was the question. I ruled out Tacoma as I much prefer Olympia. Today I went out looking at the two types of choices, and found a surprising third option that I am really working on making a decision about.
It turns out that I can indeed afford a nice house in the woods, one with a nice view of a lake even. It would be at the upper end of my price range, and I would be highly tempted toward further renovations that would cost even more. But the major downside would really be the commute. It would be so far out that it would be at least an hour to anywhere, two hours to many places I would go. The more I think about this, the more I feel about it as I did another country – maybe someday, but not now. Not while I’m forced to drive to meetings in various cities all over the place at early hours of the morning. I have traffic where I live now that drives me crazy and makes me very tired – and these places would have the added disadvantage of being out where logging trucks, cattle, floods, snow, or just plain country drivers could really slow down traffic or require long detours.
Then we went into Olympia and looked at the bungalows on my list. Nicely renovated, definitely – cute houses. But the neighborhoods were not great, and the properties had serious flaws not mentioned in the listings. Then there is the fact that for the same size space, older houses don’t necessarily have it arranged the way you need it. Add a lack of modern wiring and cabling and there would be a few issues to deal with. So that was discouraging. They were definitely in convenient locations, but all in all, not really right. I’m not good at fixing things that aren’t in good shape, nor keeping up with a lot of yardwork, nor dealing with loud barking dogs, noisy neighbors, and lack of privacy. Nothing nice to look at out the windows, either. Chain link fences, dog pens, weeds, junk in back yards… you get the picture.
Which brings me to the last, most surprising option. On a whim, we went out to see a new development, a green-built community, because I was curious about it. There aren’t that many of those around. Developments are not really my thing, but the more we looked at it, the better I liked it. You can see the houses here: Summerwalk Village. Here’s a sense of the general look and landscaping:
Weirdly enough, I’m actually considering one of the townhomes. They only connect at the garage so there is not really a noise issue. It has a nice vaulted ceiling, two-story with loft arrangement that is very spacious and open, with lots of skylights and high windows. For just over $200,000 I can have two large bedrooms, plus an office loft area, and a kitchen to die for. Not to mention really beautiful floors, countertops, gas fireplace, energy-efficient appliances, and separate dining and living rooms spaces, connected as one large great room on the first floor. It’s the perfect amount of space and arrangement for me.
Other advantages – there are cool little wetland swales all around, and the whole place is landscaped with native vegetation and rock. The houses are all really nice looking and all different. There are something like 250 different facades, plus color schemes and elevations, so that it doesn’t look all boxy and repetitious. It is really enjoyable to walk down the street – much nicer than my current neighborhood. The houses are all in earth-tone shades that I like. Small parks are already in, larger ones with training and exercise circuits are planned. It’s within walking distance of the grocery store and restaurants.
It’s about 5 minutes away from the Dept. of Ecology in Lacey, one of my biggest clients. It’s only 15 minutes to downtown Olympia, and if I need to go to Seattle or Portland, the train station is just a few minutes away – I could skip the drive! There are lots of state parks and recreational areas nearby. And, broadband internet, of course. Add to all this the advantages of working with a builder. I’d have time to sell my current home, which in this market is no small thing (the unit I want will be ready this summer). If for some reason it didn’t sell in time, I could just wait for a later area to open up.
So, what’s not to like? A very small back yard, no forest behind my home, no view except of the general neighborhood, streets, commercial areas. I’m angling for a lot with some large evergreens behind it that are part of an apartment area next door, but that’s the best I can do. That’s it. That’s all that’s wrong with this place. Yet, these requirements have been so central to what I’ve chosen over the years that it’s hard to imagine giving them up.
I’m giving this a lot of thought at the moment. Part of what I’m thinking is that the really beautiful surroundings I’ve chosen for my homes over the years are part of what’s kept me so isolated in them. It’s not as if this community isn’t attractive – it would be a very nice place to walk around in. I need to give up the selfish need to have MY forest, and get out of my house more into the world. There are plenty of forests, parks, walking trails, and other countries to visit. I’ve been lazy and I don’t get enough exercise. Maybe this would be a way to make sure I do that – have my home be my home and my office, and have the outdoors be more where it belongs – and go visit it more. Just looking at it out your window is nice, but it’s not like getting out into it.
And of course, this is the new design that we’ve asked people to live in, to benefit the environment – more communal homes and communities, less private space, green and energy-efficient designs. While driving the backroads I’ve seen what most people do with THEIR forests, and it ain’t pretty. Maybe I’d actually come to know some of my neighbors – what a concept. Not to mention I’d be saving nearly $10,000 a year in mortgage and utilities, and a lot more of my mortgage payment would be principal. I could do a lot of traveling (and a lot less work) on that much money.
With my little back yard I could still have a nice, small, manageable garden, maybe grow some vegetables and have a place to sit out by the roses. I’ve sort of been depending on the kindness of those who love me to get my yardwork done anyway, and I can’t do that forever. I have to admit that I can’t easily manage the house and yard maintenance by myself. There, a lot of it would be taken care of and I’d have just my own little bit to do.