Friday, July 11, 2008

The Beginning

It's been a busy month.

Less than a month, actually--around this time in June, my husband and I had taken a look at the current housing market in our hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, scrutinized our finances, and resigned ourselves to a few more years of renting the Squirrel Hill duplex where we lived. We'd been seriously looking for a house for about nine months, but things hadn't been going entirely well. We fell in love with the first house we looked at in September, a beautiful, eccentric blue home whose only flaw was that it was beside a highway on-ramp, only to learn that someone had made an offer right before we toured it. And this past March, we went as far as making an offer on a crumbling old Victorian fixer-upper whose disturbingly low price was due to structural instability and impending foreclosure. After a few weeks of tense negotiation and immense frustration, we lost the house to the friend of a friend.

That brings us up to June 14 and our decision to abandon the house hunt for a few years. It seemed like several factors had converged to make this not the right time. The housing market in general wasn't doing well, academic politics and budget cuts at the college where my husband works were making finances uncertain for the fall, and we were realizing more and more that we'd have to shell out a lot more than we could then afford to remain in our chosen neighborhood. Squirrel Hill is a beautiful, safe area, bracketed by two parks and full of restaurants, stores, and the mingling of many cultures. It also claims some of the best public schools in the City of Pittsburgh. As such, real estate runs in the range of a few hundred thousand dollars--a pittance compared to housing prices in other cities, I know, but more than a young married couple just starting out can handle. We weighed the benefits of continuing to rent or moving out to the suburbs, and our stubborn love for the city and preference to live where our income taxes are going won out. We decided to settle down for the moment, and even to consider eventually buying the duplex where we were living.

Then our realtor--who has been awesome and indispensable throughout this whole complicated process--casually sent us a listing in a neighborhood most people have never heard of.

Four Mile Run, also known as Russian Valley or Russka Dolina, is a tiny area sandwiched between two of Pittsburgh's many hills and largely underneath an I-376 overpass. Some people know of it because of St. John Chrysostom, the church where Andy Warhol was baptized. Others have heard of Big Jim's, a modest bar and restaurant that serves gigantic portions. Many have seen it under the bridge while driving on the Parkway, but have no idea how to get to it. We were somewhat familiar with it, being fans of Big Jim's, and having had a cousin who briefly lived down there. It seemed pretty far out of the way, too far to be walking distance back to our favorite places in Squirrel Hill, but the price inspired us to take a look.

A twenty-minute tour of the house decided the issue. We immediately told our realtor that we wanted to buy it.

The story of how we ended up doing so is probably pretty standard, so I won't recount it right now; maybe later, or maybe not at all. There were negotiations, moments of sheer panic, and sleepless nights. But they accepted our offer on June 18, and we set about the insane process of trying to close in less than a month, on account of we had a lease that ran out on July 31st, and the sellers had to get busy making a cross-country move.

So here we are, five days before closing and mostly (we hope!) packed. My husband and I are both writers and like to share our lives with the entire Internet, so we talked about the possibility of branching out into a houseblog. The house, while awesome, is more than a century old and is going to require some work, and I've been exhausting all of our friends with house hunt details for so long that I thought I'd isolate that content here. :)

A little about the house: it was built in 1900, is covered in seafoam green asbestos cement shingles, contains a secret room that (according to our creative but unproven theory) may have been used by bootleggers during Prohibition, and is one of the longest houses I've ever seen (another reason for the blog name.) It has three bedrooms with a potential for four more due to a three-room add-on and a partially finished attic, a front porch that seems like it's doing its best to fall off the house, and Eastern European religious figurines stuck in the foundation.

A little about us: I'm a 29-year-old writer, currently of annotations for an economics journal, but maybe one day of fantasy and science fiction. Adam is a 29-year-old physical anthropologist and archaeologist by trade, also a writer, and currently an adjunct professor of biology teaching at three different colleges. We're also total geeks, and have been participating in two regular D&D campaigns for between 10 and 20 years.

And that's it for now, until next Wednesday, when we exchange a big and scary check for a tiny set of keys.

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