First Time Home Buyer

“You’ll break it!” I shout.

My father, ever the engineer, is wiggling the rusted iron stairrail before he’s even gone into the house.

“Hmmm.” It’s a noncommittal sound, more of a grunt than speech. My father’s common form of communication.

“Katie can fix it,” I say quickly. My best friend is a metal worker. “Knowing her, she’ll make some elaborate thing that’s better than that.“.


I’m craning my neck to look down the street for the white Ford that is my longtime boyfriend, Nathan. He is late to look at the house.

“What are you looking for?” My dad asks as I dig into my purse.

I glance at my cell phone.

“Time,” I reply.

Nope. He’s not late. We are 15 minutes early. A miraculous feat for the Staley women, only made possible by the presence of my father.

“Let’s just go in.” I smile in anticipation for him to see the inside. “He’ll catch up.”

The front porch has a cathedral ceiling and a skylight. I envision my wok chair in the window overlooking the waterfall pond. A shelf of my antique lanterns above the door. Wrapped in a blanket with cocoa as snow falls outside.

“Look at that,” dad says. “They put one of those remote controlled fans in.”

We go into the foyer. Dad’s eye sees the scuffed walls, which my mother, the real estate agent, is quick to explain away. He kneels in the doorway and picks at the frame, where somebody moved some furniture past and scraped it all to hell.

I see the unique antique mirror forgotten by the last tenant. “If it’s not, I’m asking for it,” I tell my mother. “Because it fits that wall perfectly.”

“Oh my, what a nice kitchen.” My father steps into the next room. I see the endless storage, the bar, the perfectly maintained tile.

“I don’t know why the last buyers hated this room,” my mom says as she peers at the bronze covered light plates above the counters.

“They were crazy,” I reply.

It may not be granite counters, but I don’t care. The form is perfect.

My father plays with a drawer that’s off it’s runners and mutters to himself.

The back room for entertainment – exquisite. No one has a bad word to say about it. We see TV and sofa and the overhang from the bar as a great place for parties. I like parties. I fantasize I will hold my wedding reception in this space, knowing full well it would never support all the people.

We go out back. There is slight termite damage to the deck and the hot tub needs a new motor. (“we can negotiate in closing,” I rationalize.). The gutter drain is disconnected from the roof, and my father reconnects it.

“It needs a screw to stick, is all.”

I stare at what will be my domain. The place I will take over in the summer for parties and play. The fire pit they are leaving. The barbecue. “Hey, that’s a smoker on that there.” My father leans in to look.

I see a pergola I will build and hanging wisteria. I ignore the cherry tree dead from over pruning – new ones can be planted, and this one will be home to woodpeckers and owls.

I go to the edge of the canal while my dad inspects the supports under the deck.

I watch the red fire bushes rustle in the afternoon wind. I step all the way to the edge. “Needs a fence,” I say to myself, although I picture the moment my friend Katie and I will sail a canoe upriver to New Hope dressed as pirates. I slip in the mud and return to the main yard, wipe my dirty shoe on fallen leaves.

Nathan arrives. I take him back through the first rooms while my parents go over the dining room. Nathan is silent, nodding, looking at everything.

We join my parents in the basement. It used to be finished, but flooded once. Ironically not from the canal but the street side when the town’s sewer systems went wonky for a day. It is no longer finished but the struts and wall frames are still around.

“It would be easy to refinish!” My mom bubbles with enthusiasm. She doesn’t see the look my dad gives her from the breaker box.

“My friend Jan is in construction,” I chirp helpfully.

We debate on if it’s oil or gas heat and decide it’s hooked up for oil but could be converted to gas someday. I reflect it’s something I never would have cared about as a child but now I think I will buy space heaters in the winter and leave the house cold. My poor harp.

We talk dogs and cats. And frogs. And wildlife outside that might get adopted.

“You can watch the ducks on the canal,” my dad says. “You can see the water from that back deck.”

Upstairs. The second floor.

“That’s exposed installation there!” My father’s back is sticking halfway out of a crawl space closet, where I plan to put all my clothes. “They should really fix that. Put paneling up or something.”

Nate’s head hits the wall as he backs into the low ceiling. Dad does too. They’re too tall to hug the walls as they walk up here.

“Are we okay to make this a bedroom?” I am genuinely concerned if Nate can fit.

He laughs. “Yeah, I just won’t walk right here.”

My mother and discuss sanding down the exposed wood and staining it. Putting down a shag carpet my father has been keeping in the attic since Algeria.

I smile and find myself getting excited over things I never would have pictured as being worth getting excited over. Double sided shades on the windows!!! They can go down from the top too!!! Skylights!!! A Radon filtering system!!!

My father notes the instability of the stair railing here too. He wiggles it hard and my mother yells at him for potentially breaking her seller’s house.

“Well, it will be empty for a while,” Nathan says to me softly from the corner. “I mean, we don’t have a lot of furniture or anything.”

I chuckle. “Honey, you haven’t seen the furniture I’ve been keeping in my parents basement. Trust me, we won’t want for furniture!”

We all stand around the downstairs, agreeing the middle of the house is the best made.

We stand out front. Nate plans how he will redo the pond, making it like the one at his parents house. My mother notes how we could put shutters up, but with vinyl siding we don’t want to do much else. I see gardening and landscaping.

“It’s a starter home,” my mom says. “When you have kids you can move. Don’t put too much money in.”

Nate is looking longingly at the canal; thinks aloud about fishing every day.

My father is wondering if the lamp post out front is still functional. He agrees with me that the boxwood has to go. It’s cluttering the yard.

“You think it’s overgrown now,” my mom laughs, “you should have seen it before.”

Nathan goes back to work and the Staley clan returns home, talking mortgages and loans and what it takes to sand a floor.

My father hugs me before he goes back into their house and my mother and I return to the office.

“Dad sure saw a lot wrong.”

“Nah, he loved it. He told me to talk to my broker at work.”

“You get both ends of the deal,” I realize. “You will get awesome commission on this.”

“Except we are offering lower than what they’re asking. I will have to cut my commission on it. But at least they will like the new people moving in,” my mom says.

“At least you’ll like your new tenants. I hear they’re kinda crazy artsy types.”

“Definitely crazy!”

Later in the evening I sip hot tea and look at one of the ten “first-home/Eco-home/Eco-gardening” books I have taken out from the local library.

I get a text from my mother.

“Dad is in. We’re going to try getting your house.”

I picture a pergola with wisteria hanging in the midsummers and sigh wistfully as I think of the morning runs along the canal.

My father texts me.

“You will have to mow that lawn.”

I smile, and can’t be happier to have a family that’s moved (probably) about 100 times. They know how to see more than what’s apparent in a house. Despite what it seems, My family sees the home within.

I sit up in shock as the thought hits me like a semi.

“Nate!” I shout it through the apartment.


“What?” He stumbles out of the bathroom, flings the door wide.

“Christmas in the hot tub!”



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