Adventures in Homebuying: Down to the Wire

Choosing between two houses in East Falls.


The very night I stood on the regional rail platform at Temple and found out we’d lost the house on which we intended to make an offer, we were actually scheduled to see another one directly across the street. In fact, we’d scheduled the showing just to be sure we weren’t missing anything else in the neighborhood before buying.

That night we tore through the house in a semi-blur. The bamboo floors seemed nice. The exposed brick was fine. In the 7 p.m. darkness, the backyard seemed good enough. We were morose. We were running late after ogling another house around the corner and could see the owners outside waiting in their car. We mostly wanted to go home and sulk. And eat dinner.

We went home. We sulked. We ate dinner.

And we talked about the other houses still on the market. We agreed that we both liked the one we’d seen earlier that night. As well as another we’d seen during our marathon Sunday. Then doubt crept in.

Should we expand our neighborhood search? East Falls was the perfect sweet spot in terms of proximity to work for both of us while keeping us just a few minutes away from everything we loved about Center City via regional rail. Whereas earlier in our search we’d had too much time, it struck us that at some point (probably several weeks later), we might be on the opposite side of that dilemma.

We panicked. I don’t know which one of us said it out loud first. But we thought we might consider … Manayunk. My husband was not raised within the Jim Gardner catchment. But I was. I had visions of pastel popped collars. “We just need to make sure we’re with our people,” I said. I was willing to keep an open mind. I was willing to concede that the last time I had really hung out in Manayunk (excepting a few dinner dates), had probably been during my high school days. Which puts us in the ’90s. Safely in the ’90s.

Despite my visceral reaction to the MNYK signs along Main Street (I may have quoted George Bailey. Again.), we saw a lovely home with a beautiful Juliet balcony and a lovely deck. On another visit, we gaped at the most beautiful claw-foot soaking tub we saw during our entire home search. But Manayunk was not for us. Although I will happily point out that it was not the Manayunk of my high school memories, I can also report that it never clicked with us the way East Falls did.

Which left two homes. The one across the street from our intended and one around the corner. We scheduled a Sunday visit to both. I am a believer in gut instincts. I was desperate for one to appear. The across-the-street home (we’ll call that House 1) didn’t have the lovely porch that around-the-corner home (we’ll call that House 2) had. But then House 2 didn’t have the lovely back yard that House 1 had. House 2 had an amazing second bathroom. House 1 featured upstairs laundry. House 1 had a killer kitchen. House 2 had parking for two out back. Our pro/con lists went on for half a steno pad.

Ultimately, our decision did come down to a gut instinct. On a neighbor. At lovely and charming House 2, we met the neighbor on our second visit. The first thing she did as we walked up the stairs onto our coveted porch was to ask whether we knew “two black guys” had been parked out front the day before. The longer this conversation went on (and it went on well beyond polite conversation and past the point at which our realtor had extracted the key from the lock box), the more I could feel anxiety welling up in my stomach. I did not want to talk to this woman for another five minutes.

The rest of the conversation revolved mostly around her displeasure that the homeowners at House 2 had left lights on a timer while the house was for sale. So she had unplugged them. We went inside and were cowed – again – by the beautiful finishes and the amazing second bathroom. But we went home and the only thing we could say to each other was that we were not excited about the neighbor. There was a gut instinct after all. If we could not talk to her while fumbling for keys, did we want to live with her for years? Decades?

Still, would we really make this decision based on 10 minutes with a stranger? Next up: we make an offer.