Adventures in Home Buying: The Gender Stereotype Edition

Little pink houses


Image courtesy  ellesmerefnc via Flickr.

Looking back, it is actually hilarious that we thought simply identifying the best house in our price range would be the most difficult part of the home-buying process. After we got through that, we were certain that the real hardest part would be going through the negotiation phase. Poor, sad fools, Shannon and C. of October 2013 to March 2014.

Obviously, the absolutely worst part is the inspections and the appraisal, which we’re in the midst of now and which I’ll come back to if I can bear it. But allow me now to digress to one of the other worst parts of buying a house: gender stereotyping.

At first I thought my comparison of buying a first house to an engagement was pretty clever (and yes, after both we really did immediately adjourn to a Thai BYOB). In my personal case, it was not that the act itself was an overwhelming surprise. (I mean, obviously). But in some ways it coalesced unexpectedly fast and we were excited to share the news with our friends and family. It felt like a big first step–a bigger one than getting married did for two people who had been cohabitating with mingled belongings for so long.

Then – much like the period after our engagement – small talk with our outer-circle acquaintances moved our shared news into two distinctly gendered categories. That’s when things started feeling familiar. Instead of dress talk, it was paint colors. There were knowing looks when I mentioned empty bedrooms that for now will serve as an office and a bedroom for our out-of-town friends and family. “When are you going to start having babies?” someone asked me. The answer isn’t much different now from when we got engaged in August of 2010.

I went home and laughed with C. about it. In his world, talk centered mostly on the drive from East Falls to King of Prussia. To be fair, that issue was purely his (no one who knows me would ever ask about driving). And it probably doesn’t help that on the housing front my interests skew to decorating and a long-held desire to grow tomato plants. So when close friends asked what color I was planning to paint the as-of-now electric banana third bedroom, it was out of genuine interest. But when veritable strangers asked me the same thing, I couldn’t help but feel a little pang of … something.

The something came into sharper focus during and after our round of home inspections. The man who inspected the house for structural soundness was a very nice guy (I even had a laugh with him on the phone over our shared frustration with people who call rowhouses townhomes!) and we are confident that he did a great job with the inspection. Afterward, we both felt sure we knew the exact condition of everything he’d examined.

The problem was that he had reported those conditions basically directly to C. I was tempted throughout the conversation to interject with “Eyes over here” or “Dude, I can hear you too,” but mostly I wanted to absorb the information and avoid disposing our inspector toward hating us. I told myself maybe I was being hypersensitive until we got in the car and C. asked me if I’d noticed. Had I noticed? My two best uncompensated talents are silent judgment and identifying appropriate outlets for feminist indignation.

The truth is, there is no grave injustice here. More like run-of-the-mill gender stereotypes. But I continue to wince when people ask me about paint colors (event though I really am excited for a tray full of grey paint) because it feels sort of like I’m playing into predetermined roles. And I hate obvious answers whether they are gender-related or not. So I’m trying to steer those conversations more toward the basement joists and the chimney liner. And I’m calling for homeowner insurance quotes. I won’t be driving any time soon but that has a lot more to do with being an avowed Septa rider and pedestrian than anything related to being a woman.

I’m lucky to be married to a feminist who doesn’t hew to those roles any more than our mortgage lender or our realtor do. But just like during our engagement, I find myself looking more and more forward to what comes next. No more planning questions. Just unpacking and existing together.