What is a house anyway?

Went definition hunting and found these:

House: a dwelling that serves as living quarters for one or more families; a building in which something is sheltered or located

Home: an environment offering affection and security; family: a social unit living together

Each of these definitions can be found for either term.

One of my pet peeves has to do with the interchangeability of the words “house” and “home”. When I was a  kid, we’d go out for a Sunday drive, or to visit family / friends. If my mom or dad saw a house that was particularly appealing,  I would hear, “What a lovely home.”

No, it might have been a lovely house, depending on your architectural preferences, but it may or may not have been a lovely home.

Home has further implications. Home is about more than the structure in and of itself.

Is it a home if no one lives in it, or is it just a house? If the people living in the house are having difficulties with relationships, do we say it’s an “unhappy house situation?”  Don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say, “He comes from a broken house.”

So what?

We’ve been talking to real estate agents since the beginning of May about putting our house on the market. Makes sense; we don’t live in it, but we’re still paying the mortgage. The general consensus among the different agents was that it would sell eventually, but it would sell quicker if we put some work into it. Paint every wall “safe beige”, (don’t you love that phrase?), replace the porch railings, replace the deck, fix up the landscaping. Last year we gave the house a new roof, new siding, new windows and new garage doors. We are out of “fixing up the house” money.

We talked to contractors, got estimates on the suggested improvements, thinking that maybe we could do one or two small things.  Still couldn’t afford to do the work, and afraid to put the house on the market unless we did.

Last week we took a deep breath and, Thursday night, listed our house. The real estate industry is almost exclusively internet-driven these days. The listing goes into some magic database and voila! Overnight it’s visible to every prospective home-buyer in the civilized world.

See that: I said “home” buyer, not “house” buyer.

There were four or five hits on our listing over the weekend. No big deal.

Monday afternoon I got a call from an agent, requesting permission to show the house Tuesday afternoon between 4 and 5. “Of course, go ahead, it’s vacant.”, I said, while my brain was screaming in terror at the thought of someone looking at the ratty deck, the walls in desperate need of paint, “safe beige” or otherwise, the outdated bathroom fixtures.

Tuesday night I got a call from our listing agent. We had an offer on the house, a serious offer, from the guy that looked at it the day before. The very first person to look at it. Buyer has sold his house, closing the 29th, and wants to close on buying our house on the 30th.

Of June.

So, last night we signed the seller’s contract documents.

I know the butterflies won’t go away until everything is completed, so I’m remaining calm about it. Really, I am. There’s still the inspection to be done, and I’m sure we’ll have to fix or negotiate some things. We had already dropped the price to compensate for deck and porch, but it ain’t over til it’s over. However, the thought of not having a mortgage, in light of current economy and future economic trends, is almost incomprehensible in appeal right now. I should be thrilled at the prospect.

I mean, it’s just a house, right? An empty house.

This morning I had Wubby go over and move the remaining stuff stored in the basement away from the walls so the home inspector can get to them, just in case we can’t get the 1-800-GotJunk people to come before the inspection. (Why do we call them home inspectors? They don’t inspect the intangibles that make “house” become “home”; they inspect structural issues.)

And I started thinking.

We bought that house 20 years ago, when I was pregnant with Wubby. We were so excited to have bought our first house that we spent the first night there sleeping on the living room floor in sleeping bags! One of the things we liked about the house was that one of the rooms was already painted as a nursery, with big stenciled teddy bears on the walls. Yeah, we painted over them once Wubby left baby-hood. The house also had 2 working fireplaces, one in the living room and one in the basement. One day we were going to finish that basement room and make it a library / office / whatever. Never got around to it, though. Little girl came along, work got complicated, being “sandwiched” between our kids’ needs and our parents’ needs got very complicated. My health got very, very complicated.

In other words, life happened while we were thinking about those plans to finish the basement, rebuild the deck, paint the walls.

As we signed the contract last night, it occurred to me that we closed the deal when we bought the house on June 30, 1989. And exactly 20 years later, crossing my fingers as I type this (which is quite a talent if you think about it), we will close another deal on that house, and it will belong to someone else.

And the tears won’t stop.

I’ve lived in that house longer than in any other dwelling in my entire life. For the 28 years prior to buying that house, I lived in 11 other dwellings. Never stayed in one long enough to get emotionally attached to it.

Until now.

It feels like I’m losing a dear friend. I’ll still see the house almost every day; it’s only a mile away. But we won’t be friends any more.

Maybe it’s because that house is the only one that intersected with my life for more than a few years, or months even.

Maybe it’s the 20-year thing. For a generation, I had a house that was mine, love it or hate it. And I did both.

Maybe it’s because it was my kids’ first house, and they actually lived in it long enough so that, when they go off to live their own lives, they will remember that house as the one “where they grew up.”

Maybe it’s some weird mid-life issue. I seem to being having quite a few of those right now.

I can’t really explain it. I just know that, when I think about it all, I tear up and get all stuffy-nosed. Kids think I’m having terrible allergies.

So, this friend I’m leaving behind, was it just a house or was it a home?



One response to “What is a house anyway?

  1. This is a lovely blog! It is, indeed, an important distinction between a house and a home. I hope the sale went well, and I can understand your mixed emotions.

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