The rental market here is insane here in Florida right now. Finding a decent place literally meant checking Craigslist, the paper's site and MLS on an hourly basis and going to go see the place the second you could coerce the landlord into meeting you there.
At first, we had nothing but a price range. We looked at detached villas in "Town Center" type communities where you never have to leave the gates. It sounded like fun for a minute, like a permanent vacation, but then I began envisioning myself in this "Children of the Corn"-type neighborhood where everyone knew your business and the average age was 60. Reading their clause about "nuisance" dogs deemed "obnoxious" by the neighbors being evicted made me realize that it might not be the best choice for us. Also, you did have to leave the gates for school and I wasn't thrilled with the school district. I'm pretty sure the gates would have done a better job of keeping me in than others out, and the new goal is to be less anti-social, so I got over the idea pretty quickly.
We also looked around here, within walking distance to Big Kid's school, but the thought of driving past the same landmarks and being so close to what was "home" stung too much. I did find one really big house with an amazing rental rate and begged the agent to please choose us, after jumping through crazy hoops just to be able to see the house with three other couples, all of us negotiating for it there and then in the kitchen. She told me she went with someone else and then called me back several times in the next couple of weeks begging us to take it when that fell through, but by then I realized I wanted out of the whole area.
We finally decided that this had to be a total life style change. That this was our chance to be in the school district we wanted in an area that we liked. We wanted to live in town and near the beach, and had a specific school in mind for Big Kid.
My mom and I got in the car and drove up and down every single street that met our criteria. We stopped in one place 5 blocks to the beach, a teensy little cottage with a white picket fence that was built in the 30s. It had warped wood floors and the low ceiling would only work for a vertically-challenged family like ourselves. It also had a loft with a library ladder and I could easily see little kid tumbling face first onto the sloped, scratched floors below. For just Mr. Ashley and myself (and maybe even Big Kid), it may have worked, but I knew between the questionable electric and the loft, little kid would surely find a way to kill himself.
We found another place, not downtown but in a great neighborhood, that had four bedrooms, a great layout and a built in murphy bed and office in one of the rooms. We met the landlord there and I loved the big screened lanai, the fenced yard, the skylights, the big tile...everything. The only downsides were HIDEOUS concrete countertops and a tiny, tiny master bathroom. I had Mr. Ashley meet me back there that evening and the landlord fell in love with our family and seemed eager to rent it to us. We went out for beer and tacos that night and decided to rent it, ugly countertops and pathetic bathroom situation and all.
Up until this point, Big Kid seemed pretty unaffected by house hunting. He would hop in the car with his notebook of lists of what he was looking for in a house: he wanted it to be light orange and have either a farm, a treehouse, a studio or a pool. He would point out houses along the way that might fit our criteria, whether they were for rent or not. He skipped through empty houses happily, fine with all of them.
A few days later, I looked over at him and saw him teary eyed. I asked him what was up and he began blinking rapidly to hold back the tears and told me that he didn't want me to live in a house without a nice bathtub. My heart melted and I hugged him and told him that a bathtub was not important and my home will be wherever my boys are, and he cried that he just wanted me to have a good bathtub, that I need nice baths. It completely broke my heart.
He had a similar reaction about my job. He must have overheard me on the phone, because when I hung up he said, "What did I hear about you losted your job? How did you losed it?" I told him that he misunderstood, I didn't lose it, I was just going to start doing it less and that would be so nice because I wouldn't be as busy now and we can hang out more.
"But you love your job, mom. We hang out all da time, you should dest still get to do your job." I promised that I would still get to do it but that it would be awesome to have more time to play. He looked doubtful. I swore that I was happy and that this was a really good thing. He continued to look skeptical.
I realized then that he was absorbing more of the truth than we intended. We tried not to discuss anything but the fun stuff in front of him, and I only cried alone in the car after dropping them off or out by the chicken coop, but he was obviously worried about things.
Mr. Ashley ended up not faxing the application back in time and that house was rented to someone else. Let me tell you--hell hath no fury like a woman who has already mentally arranged her furniture and fallen in love with a school district. There has only been one other time I've ever been that mad at Mr. Ashley. He knows that when I'm that mad, I tend to stay awake and fantasize about punching him in his snoring back as hard as I can, and lying back down and faking sleep as he wakes up in pain. Seriously...I was mad. MAAAAAAAD. He slept on the couch for his own safety and I put myself into an anti-anxiety drug induced coma for a weekend of sleep.
He woke me up Sunday to tell me he had found a 3 bedroom three blocks from the beach and near my favorite downtown park. I broke my vow of silence to go see it and he feigned excitement as I stood on the terrazzo floors and imagined life within those wood paneled walls, watching a snake slither across the rotting back deck. If you sat on the toilet in the master bathroom, your knees touched the pedestal sink and you were staring at your washer and dryer. The wind whistled through the 70s style jalousie windows and I gazed at the mansion across the street and imagined them as my neighbors, having to look at my kids' bikes in the driveway.
Sure, my children would go to the best schools, we would live in the ultra exclusive downtown area for cheap, we could walk to the finest restaurants in our city, enjoy jazz bands in the city park on Sundays and go to the beach three times a day if we wanted...but the thought of my knees pressing against that cold porcelain sink base and living without closet doors or proper flooring in this musty old house made me want to cry. Location was definitely not everything.
The next day, I found a tidy little house back in the non-downtown neighborhood I liked. The landlord was nice, the place was immaculate, but it only had 2 bedrooms and 1200 square feet. I could imagine a nice little life there though, and I was exhausted by the search for houses. I told the landlord to give me 24 hours, fully intending to sign the lease.
Wearily, I did one last search on Craigslist and found something in an area I hadn't really considered, but wasn't opposed to. It was as big as our home is now, totally renovated and in a country club community well known for its family-friendly atmosphere. It was within 5 minutes to Target and 5 minutes to the beach (both big factors). It was zoned for a new school with good reviews and what they claim is a more individualized curriculum. I was hopeful. I called the landlord and my parents and asked them both to meet me there (another fun house finding fact--my parents, as helpful as they are, really really really wanted to see every house we seriously considered) and I knew upon walking in the front door that this was the house for us. I told the landlord I wanted it before we finished the tour.
The layout is fabulous, kitchen is fabulous, bathrooms are fabulous--it is great. I can imagine living there for years and the landlords would like for us to. They may be a little bit neurotic, our contract negotiations got a little wacky, aggressive and invasive, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it was just pre-renting jitters and not long-term nuttiness or anything. Luckily, they'll be long distance soon.
So, I sign our now thoroughly negotiated lease tomorrow while we get our kids together to play. I go part time March 23rd. Our move in date will be April 4th.
New life starts soon whether I'm ready or not.