House Hunting in East Tennessee

House hunting in east Tennessee can be quite an experience if you are on a tight budget. Fixer-uppers are always in season, and a firearm is not necessary; the houses you’ll find will probably be dead before you get there. In fact, you may have the urge to place flowers at the doorstep and give a moment of reverent silence before scratching each one off your carefully planned list. I should mention before I go any further that when Mr. Vagabond and I started our house-hunt, we had much more guts than brains or money. And we sure found more than our share of the dearly departed.

For houses that have not already walked into the light, there are a few levels of resuscitation. Emergency aid can range from just needing a hug to requiring a jolt from those electro-shock paddles that might be used if you have been hit by a bus. Although we were broke, we were not stupid . . . or so we thought. We wanted a house that needed a hug, not one that required life support, and it was my job to find it.

Not all bad properties are dead properties, though. Some are just architecturally confusing, ugly and uninhabitable. I recall the first property Mr. Vagabond and I viewed when our house hunt began.

The Realtor arrived in a rush, checking her watch as she stepped out of a shiny Jaguar. She wore what appeared to be an authentic, perfectly tailored pink plaid Chanel suit and her shiny, dark hair was twisted into a perfect chignon. Somehow, a Jaguar parked beside our old flat-black Jeep in the driveway of a 1950s handyman special just didn’t seem normal. I also think her Chanel was terribly offended by having to share space with my Old Navy. We won’t discuss the unkind looks that her motionless hairdo gave to my ponytail.

With business cards in her outstretched hand, she smiled a broad, blinding-white smile wrapped with glossy red lips. She began rattling off a list of perks associated with the little house while I made a mental note to dress better and bring sunglasses next time. I had to stifle a laugh when she mentioned the fabulous redwood deck. Mr. Vagabond rolled his eyes and grinned at me. We waited on that rotting deck, which was also the apparent storage area for a rusted grill and empty beer cartons, for half an hour before she arrived. Fabulous is one of the few words we would never use to describe it.

Although we were anything but taken with the sad little house, we decided that since we were already there, we may as well check out the remaining charm on the inside. After all, Ms. Realtor clearly went to the dentist for a whitening treatment just for us. We had to be polite. As we trekked through sticky, wet grass of the freshly mowed yard toward the front porch, I worked hard to convince myself that this would be a wonderful little house. It only needed a hug. Mr. Vagabond pointed out a great tree that he could hang a swing from for me. I have a thing for swings.

After just a few tries, Ms. Realtor managed to open the front door lock box and then entered the room with the same kind of breezy showmanship that she used to exit her Jaguar. I suppose we were a little disappointing to her, though. The layout of the house was strange, but Mr. Vagabond and I formulated our game plan ahead of time and we were sticking to it. We went off in our own separate directions to look around while she scurried behind me, reading aloud from that same list of perks. Mr. Vagabond wandered around peeking into rooms, raising and lowering the few windows that would budge and bouncing on floorboards to see if they squeaked. I sniffed the stale, musty air, wishing I had a can of Febreze and then realized that my shoes were leaving a trail of grass clippings across the hardwood floors. I pretended not to notice, and so did Ms. Realtor. Who knows? Grass clippings could prove to be better than a trail of bread crumbs.

The kitchen was my first stop. I love to cook, so I had visions of a beautiful, roomy kitchen. This one fell short. It actually fell short of even being a real kitchen, but Ms. Realtor was quick to start the diversion. I smiled politely as she opened rickety cabinet doors and spoke of solid wood craftsmanship the way a game show model would display a Brand New CAR. “They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore.” was her best line, to which I thought, “Thank goodness. There may be hope for the future.” I continued listening to her desperate attempts to illustrate this depressing little room as the future center of all my family gatherings. However, I beat a hasty retreat when she opened the sticky, stuck refrigerator door. Yes, it was both sticky and stuck. In retrospect, we both had to admit that it was stuck for a reason, and sometimes a person ought to just leave well enough alone. I will refrain from describing the contents of the fridge, especially since the electricity had only recently been turned back on.

After leaving the so-called kitchen, Mr. Vagabond and I met back up at a crooked, insanely steep staircase leading to the upper bedrooms. The view from the outside of the house already left us wondering where they put the second floor, so we had to investigate.

“How was the kitchen?” he absently inquired as he tilted his head sideways, looking at the weird staircase. I mouthed the words, “Don’t ask.”

Curiosity finally got the better of him, so he started to go up the stairs and I followed. If you have ever played the game Mother May I?, you can understand the giant steps we had to take to navigate those stairs. He entered the upper bedrooms hunched over. At first I thought he was being silly, as he tends to do, but I soon realized that he would have hit his head otherwise.

Something was missing, aside from a ceiling high enough for a person to stand upright. We looked around for a door, but none existed. I shrugged at him and he shrugged back. We admitted defeat, and carefully descended the steep incline single file.

Ms. Realtor was smart in her decision to let us walk through the upper bedrooms alone. I think she was shocked when we revealed that there was, in fact, only one room, and the ceiling was about six feet high. Mr. Vagabond is at least 6’ 1”. She suggested that it could have been a child’s playroom, which left me wondering just how a child could climb those stairs. The discovery of one almost-a-room at the top of the staircase meant that it was no longer a three-bedroom house. It was a one-bedroom house with a diminutive finished attic. And we had not even seen the actual bedroom yet.

As the three of us chatted at the foot of the stairs, I noticed my trail of grass clippings across the floor again. Then I was distracted by something else: The living room floor itself. Now, this is the part where I finally started to understand that there is not always truth in advertising, at least when it comes to real estate ads. I distinctly remembered reading the words “gleaming hardwood flooring throughout”. But this was not hardwood flooring. This was not even pine. (There is a difference.) Was it some sort of laminate? Vinyl? I knelt down to inspect a little closer.

The perfect, photographic repeat of the wood grain from panel to panel reminded me of wallpaper. As I ran my hands over the smooth surface, I discovered a lifted corner on one section. That is when I realized what we were really standing on. Somehow, between the time of the ad’s printing and our viewing of the house, those gleaming hardwood floors had transformed into peel and stick wood-look flooring. Terrific. Ms. Realtor was quick to mention how easy the floors would be to clean without all the ugly imperfections of actual wood. She did know her job; I’ll grant her that. However, she laughed uncomfortably about Mr. Vagabond’s wide-eyed suggestion that we could use it as a roller skating rink. I think she never did understand his humor.

Note to self: Train a keen and suspicious eye on future hardwood floors. They could mutate into peel and stick vinyl at a moment’s notice.

The flooring discovery may not have been the final nail in the house’s coffin, but it was our final straw. We decided that we were not interested in the house, regardless of the convenient sliding glass doors leading to the fabulous redwood deck. Our decision was confirmed when we spied the newly renovated Master Bedroom on our way out. In reality, it was just a poorly enclosed garage with a roll-up garage door and concrete floor. At least it sported nifty indoor/outdoor carpeting. I walked out the front door wondering if it ever even had a real bedroom at all.

Ms. Realtor walked us out to the Jeep, all the while singing the praises of the house. She was still smiling so brightly that the sun was envious, even if there was a little red lipstick smeared on her canines. She handed over more copies of her business cards while explaining that she would be on vacation beginning the following day until a date not yet determined. We were heartbroken.

I stuffed the stack of business cards into the glove box and fastened my seat belt. Mr. Vagabond grinned mischievously, seizing the perfect opportunity to remind me that I was the one who selected that house from the list. He started the Jeep with a grumbling roar that filled the neighborhood and then yelled above the noise, “Great job there, sweetie”. He is a man of very few words, but he still gets his point across effortlessly. However, I knew his mood wouldn’t last. Like me, he was an optimist in those days. He playfully poked me in the ribs and confessed over the growl the engine, “Well, she did have a pretty mouth”.

Genuinely confused, I replied, “The house?”

“No . . . the Realtor.”

He thinks he is a comedian.

No redeeming qualities. That pretty much summed up our first look-see. It wasn’t dead, but it needed a lot more than a hug. The whole experience was kind of like a slap in the face or a kick to the gut. I had spent so much time and effort to single out that one house for us to view. I was certain that it would be wonderful. How could this have happened?

I didn’t know it yet, but I had a lot to learn. In my mind, I had just taken a crash course in the sport of house hunting. On the drive home, I contemplated just how I would use my newly honed hunting skills to make the next viewing our last viewing. It was spring, after all, and spring is the time of new beginnings. We would be in our new home by summer. I just knew it. Everything comes with its own specific learning curve and I was taking notes. Unfortunately, what I should have been doing was making sure we were properly dressed for paying our respects to the sick, mortally wounded and dearly departed houses we were yet to see.

At least Mr. Vagabond and I look good in black.


  1. Yikes! That reminds me of a few houses we saw in Chicago. I swear I saw an identical upstairs -- with the crazy staircase and everything. This one even slanted and we both got vertigo while standing in the upstairs hallway.

  2. This was actually one of the better ones. I'll have to write about looking for land once we temporarily gave up on finding a house.


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