The Project, Pt. 1: Love It or List It?

I suppose it’s time to talk about the house.

In the background during all the misadventures noted in this column over the past year was (and is) the ongoing drama of our remodeling job. We’d been saving our money literally for years to remodel our current home. It’s a great house, don’t get me wrong -- a fantastic house located on one of the best streets in Omaha, the undecipherable J.E. George Blvd., an address guaranteed to get your mail lost every time.

In fact, most online ordering systems don’t even recognize J.E. George Blvd., instead auto-translating the address to Jegeorgeblvd, which I assume is a province somewhere in the former Soviet Union where a nice stack of my undelivered Time Out New Yorks sits untouched on some Russian’s coffee table.

Anyway, after years of scrimping and saving, the bank account finally reached levels that could actually attract the attention of a general contractor. We had one of the city’s best architects come out and look at our house to see if there’s a way to expand our tiny, submarine-galley sized kitchen, a kitchen so small that two butts cannot pass each other without brushing. Our minuscule kitchen has been the site of too many “get-out-of-the-way” arguments involving me holding a menacing butcher knife over my head. Add two dogs at your feet and you’ve got a potential homicide situation on your hands.

The architect silently strode through the kitchen, then to the adjoining room, then outside, then back into the kitchen, then outside. “We could blow out this wall, and this one, too. Knock out that stairway, take out that bathroom and combine all three,” he said with a sweep of his hand.

He painted a picture of a grand, glorious kitchen so big that it could be used as a studio for televised cooking demonstrations. I imagined myself behind the granite center island, pots hanging handsomely from the ceiling, preparing the greens while watching a giant plasma television, my wife propped up with a drink on a bar stool, the dogs quietly sleeping at her feet on the new slate floor.

So how much? Surely $100k would cover it. A squinty expression crossed the architect’s face as if he just swallowed a jagged taco shell. “I’m thinking at least one-fifty, and a minimum of six months.” Which, of course, really means $200k and eight months or more.

Holy shit. $200,000 for a larger kitchen and the inconvenience of living nearly a year in a house covered in dust, sharing our breakfast every morning with construction guys who resemble Quint from Jaws. And in the end, we’d still be stuck with our shoebox-sized garage, another source of endless feuding since we moved to jegeorgeblvd more than a decade ago. When everything was done, the actual value of the house probably wouldn’t budge. It would be money down a sinkhole, but at least I’d be able to chop onions in peace.

That’s when we began looking around for a new house. Not a “new” house, a new used house, located in our neighborhood. One with a big kitchen, a two-car garage and a swimming pool (or with room in the backyard to build a small lap pool). We quickly discovered that what we were looking for simply didn’t exist for less than $500k and would mean moving to a section of the neighborhood where I imagine people “keep” servants and dress up in tuxedos or furs when they go outside and pick up their copy of the Sunday New York Times at the end of their driveway.

The other option, of course, was to buy a house somewhere west of 72nd Street, more likely west of 132nd Street, in a neighborhood of treeless streets with no sidewalks sandwiched among concrete islands of supermarkets and strip malls that house the usual collection of always-open convenient stores, GameStops, cell phone kiosks and combination Subway/frozen yogurt/fast food outlets, with a Carlos O’Kelley’s or Texas Meathook Smokehouse stuffed somewhere in the always-lit parking lot. Oh yes, there will be plenty of parking.

Does anyone really live in west West Omaha, or do they merely drive back and forth from there on their way to and from work? I say this knowing that most people who work in my office love their West O lives tucked safely away from their neighbors behind their 6-foot privacy fences. They don’t mind spending an hour a day in their monstrous SUVs driving back and forth on the freeway where their biggest challenge they'll face when they go out at night is finding the absolute closest parking spot.

It’s a different sort of lifestyle than we're used to, a lifestyle that doesn’t include sidewalks that lead to bike paths that lead to old-growth parks filled with giant burr oaks and maples, where a cup of coffee or a pull of microbrew or a good meal is just a summer walk away, where the biggest challenge is finding an empty space on the rack to lock your bike.

We were ready to pick up the phone and call the architect to green light the plans when we discovered a house just three blocks from jegeorgeblvd on Sunset Trail -- an appropriately named street for what we hoped would be our last house, a street where there was no chance that our mail would ever get lost.

From the outside it looked like a blue Brady Bunch nightmare, but it wasn’t until we actually stepped inside the turquoise-carpeted, wood-paneled time machine that we saw what we would be in for, and discovered why it had been on the market for more than a year...

Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

posted at 04:16 pm
on Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

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