Next Saturday, a retired couple of their daughter will be moving into our future home in Coupeville, on Whidbey Island. It’s bitter-sweet.
At the moment, it’s feeling more bitter than sweet. A few years from now, it’ll be super sweet. Saccharine sweet! Gooey chocolate cake sweet!
Our getting the house was unexpected, and definitely not something we planned on happening.
As many readers may know. When Rich and I lived in Texas, we strategized on how to get back to the Pacific Northwest, having previously lived in Portland, Oregon. Our solution was to purchase a 1.5 acre lot in Anacortes on Fidalgo Island in 2003. Located on a hill, the lot had a view of Padilla Bay and March Point, where at night, the lights of the oil refineries twinkled like a fairyland. During the day, tankers arrived from Alaska, laden with oil, which was pumped to the refineries via large pipes that extended across the bay to the ships.
We’d planned to build our retirement home on the lot, and live happily ever after. However, as time passed the trees started to grow, obscuring our view. Other homeowners were faced with the same diminishing views. Going against the neighborhood covenants, several homeowners chopped down select trees to improve their view. This created friction between other homeowners, most of whom were high enough on the hill so their view wasn’t affected or had purchased a view corridor (i.e. right to cut down trees that blocked their view).
Years ago, Rich and I should have “secretly” chopped down trees that were destined to block our view. Nevertheless, last year, Rich and I had hired an architect to sketch some house plans, based on our vision for the perfect house. It instantly became clear we’d need a three-story house in order to see over the trees. More telling, it would cost at least $500,000 to build a basic house. Landscaping, adding a lengthy driveway, and choosing higher-end interior finishing would add to the costs.
We therefore decided to sell the lot. And starting in the fall of 2014, we would explore houses north of Seattle, up through Bellingham. Rich wanted with a house with a west-facing view of the Puget Sound (preferably the shipping lanes), along with room for our motor home, and preferably in a rural area with few covenants. I wanted a “nice” house with space for a vegetable garden and fruit trees, a fabulous kitchen, and a room where I could do hobbies.
Bike Ride to Nix Island Life
In April, Rich was browsing through Zillow and saw several houses on Whidbey Island. I was against living on Whidbey, which is 35 miles in length, making it the fourth longest and fourth largest island in the contiguous United States. You have two options for getting on and off the island: Drive north to Mount Vernon, head west for 20 miles, and then cross over the Deception Pass Bridge or you can take a short ferry ride from Mukilteo (20 miles or so north of Seattle) to the southern tip of Whidbey. The ferry, however, is usually very crowded with waits between 30 minutes and two hours!
Once you get on the island, you need to drive quite a distance to get anywhere. Plus, the largest city, Oak Harbor, is kinda’ grungy and sad. The main “industry” is the Whidbey Island Naval Station.
Nevertheless, the houses on Whidbey were appealing with amazing views of the Puget Sound, large lots, and affordably priced, as compared to other waterfront properties in the Seattle and Everett metropolitan areas.
I decided that I was being narrow-minded about Whidbey and Oak Harbor, and agreed to tour the area via bicycle. The first weekend of May, Rich scouted out a route along the waterfront. As we headed up a huge hill, I noticed a “for sale” sign and realized it was one of the houses Rich had shown me on Zillow.
And a few minutes later, we came to another house for sale.
Then it occurred to me, Rich has planned the route to purposely pass by the houses for sale. Sneaky.
The third house we came to had everything we were seeking. It was about an acre in size with room for the motor home and garden. Plus, it had a cool two-level deck with a hot tub on the top deck. It was located on a bluff overlooking the Puget Sound, and was 15 years old with a nice kitchen, from what we could see from the window.
Using my cell phone, we left a message for the realtor, and decided to continue our bike ride until she called. Down the road, we stopped at a fourth house, which was out of our price range. However, Rich struck up a conversation with the next door neighbor, who turned out to be a mortgage broker. After indicating we were interested in the house down the street, he made a call to a friend who was a local realtor.
Later in the afternoon, we chatted with the realtor who told us the house we were interested in was under contract; however, if we visiting his office, later that afternoon, he’d be happy to show us a couple of houses in the area.
Because he couldn’t meet for several hours, we decided to grab a quick lunch, drive back to Mount Vernon to drop off our bikes and take care of my mother, and then return to Oak Harbor.
One, Two, Three… Done
The first house we visited was three stories with a master bedroom and bathroom on the top, kitchen and great room in the middle, and two small bedrooms, a bathroom, and small den on the bottom. The house had been beautifully refurbished with hardwood floors, modern light fixtures, soft colors, and attractive window coverings. However, we realized we’d have to significantly downsize since the great room was barely large enough for a small sofa, a couple of chairs, and a dining room table.
In addition, the house was behind a large sand bluff. It was obvious that over the years, acres of sand had built up around the house. The picnic table and benches outside one of the lower bedrooms could no longer be used with the tops of the benches nearly covered with sand.
The second house was down the road in Coupeville. I’d studied the pictures of this house on Zillow and was intrigued by its Asian-influenced design, and a large cupola on the top, which offered a 360-degree of the area.
As we turned the corner, by the Lavender Wind Farm, the house came into view. It was splendid with interesting architecture, sun-bleached wood, and the large oblong cupola, perched on the top of the house. I could hardly wait to get out of the car.
The realtor prefaced our viewing by saying the house was part of an estate. We entered through a side door off the garage, and were greeted by mouse traps on the floor, worn cabinets, and grimy floors. While the kitchen was large, it needed significant work with scruffy oak cabinets, older appliances, and Formica counters. The dinette had a lovely sunroom-like window, but looking at the ceiling, you could see extensive water damage.
While the design of the house was amazing, it was disappointingly in disrepair. Walking to the master bedroom, on the main floor, we passed by a small guest bathroom with a mauve toilet and sink, and matching wallpaper. The master bedroom offered dirty carpet and a dark walk-in closet.
The staircase to the second floor was like the inside of a lighthouse with a circular staircase, and paneled walls. As you descended, you wondered when you’d reach the top. It was claustrophobic and musty. The second floor had two bedrooms (one with a missing window), a large, airy den, which overlooked the dining room below, and a bathroom, which was ghastly. A small door to the right of the toilet was open, and you can see the attic, littered with mouse traps. Excellent selling point!
The circular staircase continue to the cupola, which would have been the house’s third floor. The view was spectacular. You could place a couple of chairs in the cupola and look every direction. However, even though it was cool outside, it was very warm in the cupola. And from the cupola, you could see the many issues with the roof, which was badly in need of immediate repair!
Even though I loved the design of the house, Rich and the realtor labeled it as a “project.” It would cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace the roof, flooring, fixtures, and the many other issues, which plagued the house. Even the greenhouse, attached to the side of the garage was caving in with broken windows and rotted shelves.
The next house we visited was three door down. We’d already pointed out to the realtor that it was out of our price range. However, he insisted we see it. The owners of the house were there and invited us inside. We toured quickly, which was enough time for Rich to decide, “This was the house.”
While I hyperventilated, Rich chatted with the realtor. Monday morning, Rich’s 61st birthday, he worked with mortgage broker, we’d met on Saturday, to put together the papers for the loan. We were immediately pre-approved. That afternoon, Rich made an offer. The owners counter-offered. Rich came back with a number, and they accepted…
…as I continued to hyperventilate.
The next thirty-days flew by with Rich liquidating assets, attending the home inspection, and completing additional paperwork on our finance. With scarcely an issue, the house closed on June 6th. A few days later, we picked up the keys and I got to see the house I’d barely seen earlier.
Welcome to Coupeville
Sometimes “things” happen for a reason. If Rich hadn’t looked on Zillow, and I hadn’t suggested we ride around Whidbey… and if we hadn’t stopped to look at another house where we met the mortgage broker, who connected us that day to a realtor, and if Rich hadn’t been hasty to make an offer two days later, we would have never gotten the house. Because six days after it closed, Rich was laid-off from IBM.
We would have never qualified for a loan with Rich out-of-work, and me working as an independent contractor. And we certainly won’t have considered looking for a house until Rich got another job.
The day we got the keys to the house, a Saturday, we were a bit doubtful about our decision. Once we opened the door, however, and stepped inside, we knew we’d made the right choice. The design of the house is perfect for our lifestyle and future aspirations. It’s one-story with only a few steps to get in and out of the house. It has a two car garage, with a third, taller garage for a small boat,
our kayak… trailer, and Rich’s substantial collection of tools.
I’m thrilled with the laundry room, which will be the location of kitty litter boxes, and cat chow! It has a large master bedroom that looks out over the water, along with two other bedrooms. Plus, it has a nice office off the front door, where Rich and I can work. The kitchen is sizable with a great view, and lots of work space. In addition, it has a built-in desk with bookshelves for cook books.
There’s plenty of space for our furniture and collectibles so I won’t have to figure out what to leave behind.
The best part, however, is outside. Not only is the view spectacular, but there’s lots of room to plant a garden and fruit trees, along with space for a chicken coop (can you say “brown eggs?”). In the backyard, I plan to tear up some of the grass for lavender, salvia, irises, hydrangea, and other sturdy flowering bushes.
For the past few weeks, we’ve watched a parade of ships passes by including Victoria Clipper, cruises ships coming from and going to Seattle, tugboats pulled barges laden with goods, pleasure boat of every size, and commercial vessels.
Overhead, we’ve marveled at the jets from the Naval Air Station and seen countless small Kenmore Air seaplanes, shuttling passengers to-and-from the Puget Sound and Gulf Islands, Canada, and Washington.
We’ve also seen bald eagles swooping across our yard, and out over the bluff, rabbits scurrying between the bushes, quail, doves, and numerous other birds. In the field across from our house, we’ve seen deer, and one evening an owl.
Weighing our Options
While we’d planned to lease out the Coupeville house until we were ready to “move,” we didn’t anticipate having to do so immediately. We were hoping to enjoy the house through the summer. But, with Rich having lost his job, we escalated our plans, and listed the house on Friday, July 5th. Within a day, we have three potential renters.
In addition, the people chosen by the rental agent, wanted to move into the house with two weeks. Eck!
For the past few weeks, Rich and I have been scrambling to make repairs to the house, including cleaning and painting some of the walls, repairing toilets, replacing the range hood, replacing the mailbox, repaired a cabinet door, replaced towel bars, steam cleaning the tile in the kitchen… fixed leaking gutters, and spending half a day trimming overgrown bushes, uncovering stepping stones hidden under layers of sand, removing thistles from the far end of the property, and much more!
The good news is that our house will be leased a month before our first mortgage payment is due. AND the lease covers the mortgage, lawn care, and a touch of the taxes. In the end, the house will cost us a few thousand dollars a year!!
We’re hopefully that we’ll be able to move into the house in a couple of years! In the meanwhile, we’ll be finishing the remodel of our Kirkland house so it can be sold, crossing our fingers that our Anacortes lot sells, and maintaining our Mount Vernon, where my mother lives.