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Real Estate Guide 2018: The House That Love Built

One couple embraces imperfection in a search for a new home.

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In the basement of my house, there’s a wall with a small bow in it—the result of a long-departed tree’s roots having grown into the foundation. The practical part of me knows it needs to be fixed at some point. But there’s a piece of me that’s grown attached to the flaw because it reminds me of why I married Dave.

Not long after we met, Dave and I learned about “wabi sabi,” the art of embracing imperfection. The philosophy has origins in Japanese culture: When cups and bowls became cracked or chipped, instead of replacing them, artisans mended them using lacquer and powdered metal. The faults were beautifully highlighted, as if in celebration. As Dave and I muddled through our courtship, discovering each other’s quirks and foibles, we adopted the mantra. It seemed like a healthy approach to life and love.

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When we got engaged in the summer of 2017, we made plans to elope the following spring. But by that autumn it looked like Dave’s son might come to live with us, and our little Uptown apartment was no place for a full-time family. We needed a house—fast. So, as Denver’s hottest housing season in recent memory wound down, we geared up to inspect the inventory that was left over, livable, and within our price range. In other words, approximately four houses.

We found a cute bungalow near the University of Denver, but shortly after our offer was accepted, our lender called us with some difficult news: In order for us to apply for a Veterans Affairs loan together, we needed to be married. We hung up and discussed our options. Dave could move forward with the loan on his own, and we could add me after we were married—and pay refinancing fees and risk potentially higher interest rates. Or we could just sign the paperwork now. We printed a Colorado marriage license and put it on the kitchen counter. We moved forward with the inspection process. Every night, we stared at the document—and each other. It felt like a game of matrimonial Chicken.

In the end, neither of us yielded. Rather, on November 14—two weeks before our closing date—we stood in front of our closest friends and, in the name of wabi sabi, inked our names.

Four days later, the house deal fell through.

I would like to say that what came next was a painless process. Instead, weekends were spent looking at closet-less bungalows in desirable neighborhoods and beautifully finished piles of siding in shitty ones. Had the couple who owned a modest Tudor in Berkeley not been so eager to sell, we’d probably still be house-less. But they were, so we aren’t. We’ve got a small, cozy home that’s both closer to Dave’s office and in a more walkable neighborhood than the house that fell through. We also have too few outlets, a second bathroom suited for Oompa Loompas, and a bowing basement wall.

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I don’t care. I love our imperfect house and the opportunities it presents to create something beautiful with Dave. Do we simply install an egress window where the bow is or remodel the entire basement into a swanky entertaining space? We’re still figuring it out, but I do know that I don’t regret going off-script and getting married early—and not just because interest rates are already a percentage point higher than they were in December.

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