The decision to buy this particular house had little to do with the house itself. We had some general restrictions, like size and cost, but we didn’t have a long list of requirements for the structure or property. It all started with the neighborhood. I had lived in the Short North my first year in Columbus. My second year, I moved to the undefined area (now the Fifth by Northwest neighborhood in Columbus) between Upper Arlington, Grandview, and a little sliver of Clinton Township, for a cheaper apartment with a roommate. After three years of living in a half-underground apartment on a street with big apartment buildings, no sidewalks, and not much to walk to, I was ready to move back to the Short North.
After our wedding, Kate and I spent a couple of months looking for an apartment and quickly decided that the Short North neighborhoods (Victorian Village, Italian Village, Harrison West) were our first choice. We looked at a few places in Clintonville, a great neighborhood but farther from downtown, and decided it would have taken a place that just blew us away to make it worth leaving the Short North. We found a nice apartment on the second floor of an old 4-unit building in Victorian Village. We cleared out the weeds and trimmed the bushes in the back yard so we could have a garden. We spent lots of time out on the second floor deck. Our cats were happy to have many more windows to look out. We loved walking past Victorian mansions on tree-lined sidewalks to get to church, restaurants on High St., the North Market, Goodale Park, the new baseball stadium, concerts, movie theatres, even downtown for work. It was the perfect place for our first two years of marriage.
I was feeling pretty committed to my job and Columbus at this point, and with the economy sinking, home prices seeming to bottom out, and interest rates extremely low, it seemed like a good time to settle in for a while. Prices had dropped to the point that there was a chance we could find a place in a Short North neighborhood and keep our mortgage payment pretty close to what we were paying in rent. I had been saving since the end of grad school with the idea of doing a traditional 20% down mortgage, and all the numbers were finally lining up.
This was more than an economic decision though, as it usually is with a first home purchase. We would have been content in our apartment for several more years. Sure, we were tired of dragging our laundry down two stories into the muddy basement that we had to walk through with our heads down and backs bent forward. We were ready for a nicer storage area than our pile of boxes on pallets in that same basement. Carrying bikes down the stairs was a bit of a deterrent to using them for short trips. But those little annoyances had just become a part of life. Buying a house was part of a lifestyle I had in mind, or maybe more accurately an image I had of myself. The idea of spending the weekends working on our home felt like part of my identity. I wanted a place that I could make better and a project that would occupy me in productive work outside of an office and away from a computer. (I discovered during our first football season in the house that I wasn’t as committed to this idea as I had thought, when long Sunday runs became excuses to watch the NFL all day. I had no idea how addicting NFL Sunday Ticket would be, and of course I couldn’t miss Ohio State or Illinois on Saturday.)
So, out of this restlessness, and the right economic circumstances, I decided to peruse the real estate listings more seriously. I discovered two things pretty quickly, both of which excited me: we could possibly afford to stay in or near Victorian Village, and to do so would require either settling for a move-in ready condo or BEGINNING THE ADVENTURE of owning a fixer-upper house. You can tell my preference, and it wasn’t too hard to convince Kate.
The house we ended up purchasing was the only one we looked at seriously. It stood out for several reasons: cost per square foot, solid structure and mechanicals, two-car garage (not common in our price range), blank slate yard with plenty of sun for gardening, and the right balance of current livability and character with room for improvement and personalization. Considering that I wasn’t set on having a garage at all (and now I view it as a necessity), this house had everything I was looking for and more. There’s plenty we didn’t like about it, but I was confident those things could be fixed. Most importantly, it is in Harrison West, the neighborhood just west of Victorian Village, a half block from the bus stop, one block from a restaurant and bar, two blocks from a coffee shop, three blocks from the bike path, four blocks from our old apartment, five blocks from church, a half mile from all the activity on High St., a mile from the center of the OSU campus, and two miles from my job in the center of Columbus, on a quiet, tree-lined street.