Meet our new house! Best part: it sits on California land! I never realized how much I loved this place (like with all my heart!) until we left it. Getting back to the motherland might be the greatest feat of my life and I’m beyond thankful to be a resident again, let alone a resident of one of the most beautiful parts of the state, the Central Coast. I would probably live in a shack to stay here, so just buying a house at all is beyond anything. And that it’s a house I love is even crazier. The only downside is that it needs work. An amount I think we can tackle, it just may take us a few years. The long story of how we ended up with this beast after these appealing realtor listing photos… Ok, the story: The plan to find a more move-in ready place didn’t pan out, but that’s probably for the best. Deep down, we’re DIY-ers, even when we pretend otherwise. (The first indication being our “first house” that wasn’t even a house, but an old trailer. We lived in a little apartment during the first years of our marriage but spent almost every weekend overhauling a vintage trailer. That kind of crazy.)
The actual first house was 1964 split-level purchased during a 5 year exile in Durham, North Carolina. Mostly joking, it was voluntary grad school exile. We spent endless hours every night and weekend working on it. Kids showed up soon after, and then not long after that we moved to Cleveland, Ohio for 2 years and waited for a California job to fall from the sky. We opted for the most temporary living option: a rental house. The rental living was easy, except for my increasing overwhelming sadness over missing home and a home of our own to mess with. Which brings me utter thankfulness that I am, right now, sitting in this house of 1,000 overwhelming projects on California dirt.
This house isn’t my 1st choice. My dream house sold before we knew for sure if my husband had the job here. And it was 100k over budget. But that didn’t shake its place at the top of my list, where it remains. It was an amazing mid-century modern with a floating fireplace, kidney-shaped pool, fiberglass room dividers, walls of glass, and amazing views of downtown…..all in glorious original condition. I really, really thought it was going to be mine somehow. Honestly, I still do. Delusions, all around, I know. I check in with my good friend Zillow every few days. Normal, right?
My second choice was not, and has never been, as far as I can tell, on the market. Have you ever Google maps street viewed an entire town? I have: San Luis Obispo. And a gorgeous nugget of a house was brought to my attention. And I wanted/want this house so bad. It was another amazing mid-century modern on a hill, surely way out of our price range, and totally not child friendly. But dang I wanted it. At this point, slightly panicked with the slim pickings and the task of buying a home from across he country, I was preparing to cold calling (or more likely mail) the owners of the house just to make sure they weren’t interested in selling.
But then our realtor sent me this 1961 ranch house and I knew it was the one. It’s not the ultra wacky modern home of my dreams, but in this college town where garage conversions, non-owner occupied homes and new construction bans strangle the market, this house was a find. For one thing, it was actually for sale. For another, it was in our price range and actually a great buy. And it was clearly enough “us” to suffice. Slightly weird, from the 60’s, and happy. Not the strict mid-century post and beam I was looking for, but a classic kooky California suburban home, nonetheless. It reminded me of Tim Burton’s pastel wonderland in Edward Scissorhands. And who hasn’t wanted to live there? (Side note: this house won’t be “done” until there is a topiary t-rex on my front lawn.) I love lists, so here’s two…
The pros of this house:
- Right size. We wanted 2 -3 beds/2 bath in the 1500-2000 sq ft. range and this fits at 3 beds/2 baths, 1900 sq ft.
- Right year. Looking for a 1955-1970 home, preferably from the early 60’s because that’s my sweet spot.
- Mostly original condition from nearly original owners who cared for it but didn’t really change it. No lame upgrades or flips.
- Architecturally fun, cheerful and a bit kooky. It instantly reads mid-century suburban California vernacular with ranchy board and batten siding and a wannabe Dickey roof. Reminds me of the Orange Country sprawl of my childhood = LOVE.
- Funky enough interior. It’s not Don Draper’s apartment funky, but it has enough character to suffice.
- Sunken living room.
- Large dramatic rock fireplace in the sunken living room.
- Perfect family house with a great layout, spaciousness in all the right places, and a great backyard.
- Lots of windows and natural light. It has that necessary California indoor/outdoor living thing going on.
- Fruit trees galore, including a huge avocado tree that produces loads of the good stuff (A.K.A. the money tree). Even better, these reside in a separate side yard with a vegetable garden bed and storage shed. Sweetness.
- Views. Unexpected bonus.
- Located in a desirable, established, quiet, well-kept neighborhood on a hill that is far from our town’s college scene.
- Good investment. A quality custom house on a large corner lot in a good neighborhood for a great price that just needs a light(er) renovation. Hard to say no to that.
- A Strong #2. If my mid-century modern dreams were to be unrealized, this house is totally my 2nd choice.
The house cons:
- No walls of glass.
- No wood beam ceilings.
- Not an architectural Cliff May/Eichler/etc. gem.
- So much freaking yard. Yard work is the worst and I’m pretty sure this was advertised as a “gardener’s dream”. Yikes.
- Fixer upper.
- Potential money pit.
- Downtown can be walked to, but it’s far.
- Termites. So common here, so not as big of a deal as it seems.
…it was clear it would be stupid to pass this one up so we put an offer together that night, sight unseen (we were still in Ohio). We were on the verge of having to rent, which isn’t cheap in this town, while we waited the market out. Multiple offers came in because that’s how CA rolls. On our realtor’s advice, we included a note and a picture of our family along with the offer. We didn’t offer the most money but we did offer a young family (and a handsome dog) that would be invested in the house and the neighborhood. To the owners, who had strong sentimental attachments to the house, that was enough. Pinch me.
So here we are, as grateful as can be! I’ll be sharing our progress as we slowly plug away at this thing. Thanks for reading!!!