My husband, realtor, sister-in-law, and I toured 18 houses one day in July, a personal record for my agent who was duly impressed with my list of homes in geographical order. House #1 set the standard, with a panoramic ocean vista from the kitchen sink. The street was overcrowded with cars, our minivan barely fit in the driveway for the single car garage. The subdivision was built in the 1960’s, the houses ten feet apart, eerily similar to the “ticky tacky boxes on the hillside,” of Daly City that Malvina Reynolds wrote her song about. This was a blue one. As soon as we were inside, we could forget the claustrophobic street scene. The bank-owned home on Imperial Avenue had been recently refurbished with new cabinets, wainscoting, paint, fixtures in the downstairs bath, until evidently the owners ran out of money and a job, and the bank foreclosed.
My husband can remodel and repair anything, given the time and money, so the new cabinets didn’t mean that much to me, but boy, did that view from the sink. I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time at the kitchen sink, continual nibbler and water drinker that I am. The view got even better at the rear of the yard, which bordered a tot lot––and, not a small thing, the San Andreas Fault. Would I risk folly for that view? If we made sure the foundation was properly bolted, yes. And while we were at it, we’d have to add a sliding door and balcony to an upstairs bedroom, and make it the master so we could look out on the Pacific while prone. But truthfully, my husband was more interested in the house next door, one that had been abandoned mid-massive-remodel, Tyvek wrapped walls and in-progress stucco had him squeezing through the fence, peering in windows. Having just finished building his mother a studio apartment below one of his sister’s houses, the desire to flip a house was overwhelming. Buy this one, and the one next door, live in one, sell the other, make a livelihood from speculating on remodeling.
“Flipping” was something to consider as we toured houses #2 through #17. Some took only seconds to cross off our lists. I cannot wash dishes facing a solid wall. For the past eleven years the view from both my office and the kitchen sink has been a walnut grove and Betsey the Cow, a fat Hereford and neighborhood attraction who entices stroller pushing moms, pierced teens, and even drivers to stop and call out their moos, petting her if she lumbers to the fence. For thirteen years before that I looked out into the redwoods, the forested hillside behind our cabin home. My husband can transform the interior of anything, hovel to mansion, but you can’t pick up a view at Home Depot and install it yourself.
Then came house #18 on Grand Avenue. It had an old-school lock box, not the modern swipe key. We didn’t have the combo, couldn’t get in. But while we waited unsuccessfully for the seller’s agent to respond to our calls and text messages, we took full measure of the view. The ocean, not flat and infinite, as it had been on Imperial Avenue, but the actual beach, the coast, the surfers in their wetsuits, black blobs in the water. We could see the open space and subdivisions of Pacifica and the curve of beach, the waves breaking on the shore. And we could hear those waves break, less than half mile away. The street was quiet, quieter than the one we live on now in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and it extended only a few houses past the one we were looking at. And the last shall become first. We wanted in number #18. This house had possibility. Located on Pedro Point, it was built in 1941 as a vacation home on a street where each house is different, in an area where some homes are indeed grand and others are decaying, certainly not a subdivision, and not an area of the city like many we saw where speculators have rushed in to flip foreclosures. The neighborhood is loaded with trees and borders an open space being restored with native plants after motorcycles and OHV’s have degraded the landscape.
We weren’t able see the interior of Grand Avenue that day, but we returned two days later, with my husband’s mother and dinner from the Taco Bell located on the nearby surfing beach—it has a walk-up window for the wet-suited. We ate a picnic on the deck while we again waited for instructions to open the lock box. We were only able to see part of this house, which has been subdivided into three units, in all its glorious dilapidation. The two-car carport leans at a precarious angle, the apartment under the house has walls and shower so moldy they should be condemned or used as the set of a movie where the psychotic killer hatches his plot. The upstairs has punch stained carpets, a patterned-carpeted kitchen with long-dead in-counter appliances, but the most amazing view from the kitchen window, and if the window were a slider, would’ve let in the sound of surf.
There are mature plantings on this half-acre lot. Against the entryway window is a small Cecile Brunner rose ready to climb. Amid the choking non-native ivy in the steep hillside bordering the adjacent street are hydrangeas and succulents. There are miniature pale-pink Fuchsias near the carport, and bottlebrush trees that a hummingbird was frequenting. There were banana slugs galore, and no sign of hoses or sprinklers anywhere, evidence that the pervasive fog provides sufficient water. In every home that Kevin and I have lived, we have landscaped from scratch, and I have dreamed of living in a house with an established garden. This isn’t quite the vision, but close. The plantings however haphazard are firmly rooted.
We wanted this house. This house that wasn’t in a box in a subdivision, that had breathing room from the neighbors and an ocean view that might not rate as spectacular as Imperial Drive, but was audible and intimate, even if glimpsed over the neighbor’s roof. Plus, my husband, who had pulled back a corner of the filthy carpet in the living room to reveal oak flooring, could exercise his formidable remodeling skills. Better yet, after tenting for wood-boring beetles, we could live there while he worked his magic. The bathroom is serviceable, the plywood kitchen cabinets, although dull and boring, are level and clean. We could be in this project, this next part of our life, fully together.
There’s much more to say about why I wanted this house, bigger and worse off than I thought I’d choose and the vision that came to me about how to offer hospitality out of it, and why we chose the city of Pacifica. You’ll read about those in future entries.
For now, though, know that in late July we made an offer on Grand Avenue, contingent upon the sale of our home and were rejected. Today, hearing there might another offer in the wings, we have drafted an offer for a lease with an option to buy, not knowing if my husband will procure a job in nearby San Francisco or not. Not knowing if we will find a buyer or a renter for our house in order to make our offer financially feasible. Suffice it to say that my husband and I both feel destined to live in this crumbling home on Grand Avenue. Anxious to be good stewards of that land and house, wanting to give it the fullness of life and appreciation it deserves. I have been combing the multiple listings daily. My husband drove by five more houses on Monday, saying no to them all, and here we sit, whether or not it is wise, whether or not we are ready, but feeling led, feeling it in our guts and souls, waiting and praying that these sellers, who we have never met and never will (they are absentee landlords), will say yes to our longing, to our vision.
p.s. The photo of the coast at the top of this blog is the view of Pacifica from the deck of Grand Avenue.