Sunday, February 27, 2011

We're moving! Again! And more cute baby pictures!

It's official! Finally. We are moving into our own house on Saturday. Yes, I know, we moved less than a year ago. And less than a year before that. And the year before that. And the year before that. And the year before that. It's not that we love to move--most of those were completely necessary moves that are a normal part of graduate school and new-professorhood. The move we made last summer to our current apartment was completely voluntary but we were very excited about it. We'd spent a year prowling the neighborhood and trolling Craigslist for a rental that could be made accessible for Joseph. We wanted, if possible, a home all on one floor and, most definitely, an outside door low enough and with enough surrounding space to add a ramp. You would not believe how much space a ramp takes up. It's incredible. So last May when we found this apartment that was all one floor with only a few steps from the back door to a spacious patio and was even less rent we were thrilled. The landlord's agent who showed the apartment to us assured us that a ramp would be no problem. We moved in after our big road trip last summer and finally got around to building the ramp in September.

The ramp was actually a pretty fun DIY project for Eric and me. We studied lots of ramp and deck plans, Eric did all the math to come up with the design and we had at it. Just the two of us built it over two weekends and the end result was a nice, solid ramp that even looked nice. But far more wonderful than the satisfaction of building something together was seeing Joseph use the ramp. He was, then, almost six years old and for the the first time in his life could get in and out of his own house independently. We cried watching him finally able to follow his 18-month old brother in and out. It was incredible for him and for our whole family. I'm crying now remembering it, if you want to know the truth.

Just a couple of days after finishing the ramp, and on Margaret's birthday, our landlord ordered us to remove it immediately. It would take pages and pages to relate the entire story of our fall from that point but it was ugly. The ramp, as it was, had to be torn down though we do, of course, have a legal right to accessible housing. We explored lots and lots of options for recourse and solutions but over the course of the fall it became clear that for accessibility reasons, and other reasons that I won't enumerate here, we had to move on from this apartment. We were subjected to unreasonable demands on all sorts of unrelated issues, harassing encounters that frightened our children, and--I don't think coincidentally--stolen property. We briefly considered moving quickly into some sort of emergency housing but then decided that the situation wasn't that dire. What we did do, instead, was figure out how we could buy a house.

The nice thing about having our own house (other than not having a completely unhinged landlord) is that we can modify it any way we like for accessibility. But you'd be surprised how many houses cannot be made accessible no matter how much you own it. If we lived in the suburbs the housing stock would be a bit more amenable to ramping but one of our many reasons for living in the city is because the outdoor space is all accessible. Yards and wheelchairs are not a great combination. Our current neighborhood is also one of the most affordable places to live in North Jersey. Eric's commute is definitely shorter than average among his colleagues. But the need for "rampability" and a bathroom with at least the potential for accessibility really limited our options. We also had a strong preference for having all--or at least most--of our living space on one level. We didn't want to create a situation where everyone except Joseph had a bedroom upstairs. In the city where houses are built "up" more than "out", this pretty much ruled out all single-family homes. Two-family homes tend to have bigger floors.
A two-family home also, of course, greatly increases buying power because of rental income and in our neighborhood they tend to be the norm and don't cost any more than the available single family homes.

So once we established our price range and found a realtor we looked at the two dozen or so two- and three-family homes on the market. We ruled out several of them as "unrampable" right off the bat. Several more were fake short sales a common--and very frustrating--situation these days where a home owner in trouble is "listing their home for sale" to buy time with the bank but mysteriously becomes unreachable by phone if you want to actually view the property. In the end we got inside about a dozen homes and seriously considered three of them. Our first choice turned out, on a second look, to be more of a fixer-upper than we wanted, our second choice sold while we were thinking about the first one. So we ended up with our third choice home. In retrospect, as often happens, this one now seems like it should have been the obvious first choice all along and we are quite excited about it. We decided that trying to move quickly would not allow us to search for the "perfect house" but we are confident this house will serve us really well for long enough to make buying it a sensible move.

Getting a mortgage these days is a nightmare. The banks are skittish and picky but everything was finally settled last week and we are closing this Friday, moving in on Saturday. We are all very, very excited to be moving into our own place and into a place that is permanent. I'm looking forward to indulging my furniture making hobby once again (first up--adjusting the floor to ceiling bookshelves for the new dining room). Margaret is looking forward to having an entire finished basement to herself for nap time. Joseph is looking forward to the ramp. Eric is excited about having a home office in the attic--two whole floors away from the chaos that always interferes with his work on days he'd rather not go into campus. There's a lot of excitement all around.

I'll post a photo tour as soon as I can. Until then, I better get packing!


Heidi said...

I love the random cute baby pictures interspersed throughout this post. It appealed to my ADD tendencies! Good luck with the move! How exciting!

Angela said...

Congratulations on the new home! I hope you have a productive week with the packing and a smooth move. I am very glad you will be done dealing with landlords!

Vicki said...

Congratulations on buying your new home. It sounds like adventures all around. Good luck with all your packing and unpacking.

Anonymous said...

I simply cant imagine the turmoil you've experienced over the past couple years-mostly referring to mr. awful landlord. More importently, I am inspried by your discernment process-it seems the Lord has blessed you because of it. May this season for your family be full of assurences that you are where you are suppose to be.PS I cried reading about Joseph wheeling in and out of the apt.What freedom he must have felt! Just last week Naomi walked outside to the van and hopped in by herself! One may not be able to tell by watching her that she requires braces somedays....But then she shouts at the top of her lungs in Target "HEY!!! I have spina bifida!"

Emily said...

SO exciting!! Thanks for the great post - can't wait to see the pics of the new place once you have "zupped" it all up. Oh and Gregory is just precious. Such a Johnston baby - I love him already!!!

Robyn said...

woah. Who ARE all these people, Q??? I feel like you should make introductions or something! I know who Emily is...but that's it! And I love "by the time I count to 3's" name. Very clever!

hmm...I had forgotten what I was going to say because of all these comments. Totally stole my thunder! ;)

oh right.

I was just thinking through how you and Eric often make decisions about your living arrangements (placement of things, which rooms are which, etc.) with a lot of thought and care. And you usually end up making decisions that a tad outside-of-the-box for various reasons. I just wanted to put in a vote for lots of posts about the set up of the new place. And why things will be as they will be.

ok. That'll be all. ;)

Susan said...

Robyn, you are so funny :) I will try to give you lots of posts detailing the over thinking that has gone into every furniture placement decision. You know us well :) As for the rest of my fan club, here . . . Heidi--wife of my Music History prof at Gordon, now lives in MI, her kids were in our wedding. Angela--pretty sure this is the Angela I was friends with in MN but her profile isn't showing up :) Vicki--friend from high school By The Time--Elizabeth, old friend of Eric's from MN whose third has spina bifida though it presented pretty differently from Joseph. And Emily you know :) Does that satisfy your curiosity?

For the rest of you, Robyn is a friend from college who lives in Brooklyn, has an awesome blog, and keeps me supplied with cute pictures of my kids in an effort to get me to blog more. You can thank her by visiting her blog: and leaving her a compliment on something she has made :) She's a rock star mom and is the main reason I have not lost my sanity the last few weeks :)

Brett said...

I'll be the token guy commenter... :)

Loved the pics and narrative. So happy you guys will finally have a place to call your own, and Joseph a ramp to wheel himself down.