Three weeks ago, we stuffed our brand-new tent and a bunch of blankets and sleeping bags in the trunk of our car, filled several paper grocery bags with things like dried pasta and ketchup and a loaf of bread and a jar of pickles, then waited until afternoon rush hour traffic was done and drove up I-5 and over the freshly opened North Cascades Highway into the Methow Valley. We braked for deer more than once (I still don’t understand why they forage at night, when cougars are out, and especially why they choose to do it near major highways). We also stopped to buy firewood along the way which we ended up not needing, and as a result, those two bundles are still sitting on the floor of our car, wedged between the backs of the front seats and the back seat, because there is literally no room for them at all in our small apartment, unless we place them under the coffee table in the living room.
Previously, our trips to the Methow Valley have been “for fun” only. Of course, while enjoying the outdoors, we were also getting to know the area, but, strictly speaking, there was no “business” to take care of. The one partial exception was our Thanksgiving visit last year, when we semi-successfully tried to self-tour a couple of snow-covered lots of land for sale, but that was not the main purpose of our trip. This time was different: I had arranged to meet with a real estate agent as well as two local residents who had agreed to share their experience of moving to and living in the Methow, so we were talking to a new person on each of the three days that we were there.
Describing the entire trip would make for a very long post. There were many experiences, learnings, thoughts, and feelings. Some were exciting, some were pleasurable, some were wondrous (like hundreds, if not thousands, of bugs simultaneously mating all over a bush, as can be – sorta – seen in the photo at right), and some were tough. I had a very challenging moment at one point when I realized that building a house involved a lot more labor, expense, and complications than I could have ever imagined, and was out of reach for us in the foreseeable future. This was such a difficult realization to stomach that, briefly, I felt that we should not be making this move at all. I coped by climbing into our tent for the rest of the afternoon/evening and drowning the pain in my backlog of New Yorker issues. Unbeknownst to me, potential solutions were already percolating in my brain while I sulked and read about things happening far away, off the Somali coast, on the slopes of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, and in a somewhat fictionalized New York City.
In short, here is the new idea (nothing radical, really): for now, we try to buy rather than build. We also expand our search, previously limited to just Winthrop and Mazama, to Twisp, which tends to be more affordable, and also happens to be pretty cool. Maybe we even move right into town, as opposed to living outside of town, which was our original idea. We buy something small and inexpensive but with “potential” – a good location (next to the river, a good view, something along those lines), a thoughtfully designed and constructed home, the ability to add a bedroom, a nice parcel of land. We live there for a few years while getting to know the community, settling into our new life, and saving money. If it works out, we like it in the Methow, we want to stay, but still feel strongly about wanting to wake up every morning surrounded by trees or meadows, and are financially and psychologically in a good position to attempt building, then we use our savings to fund all or most of our purchase of land. We then build as we are able to, whenever we have the extra cash and the physical and mental energy to do so. Have a couple thousand dollars? Put in a septic system. Scrape together 10K? Build a foundation. If we get to the point where it looks like the house could be livable in the near future, then maybe we take a chance and put our existing house on the market and, if it sells before the new house is done, then we rent or just camp out on the new property while completing construction.
While it is sort of sad to be limiting our options, it is also necessary and, in a way, liberating. Sure, making a decision means that we are leaving behind “the road not taken,” but it also means that we can begin taking concrete steps in a specific direction. I’ve already put in a request to the real estate agent to expand our search area to Twisp, and I’m attending a homebuyer education seminar next week. Also, I learned that a couple of local banks, including one with a branch in our neighborhood, offer USDA Guaranteed Loans, which seem like our best financing option. I will be making an appointment with them for after the homebuyer seminar, once I’m a little better-versed in the process and the relevant terminology and have a better idea of what questions to ask. We also plan to travel to the Methow a couple more times this summer, hopefully at least one of these times with friends and maybe (very much a maybe) even family. I feel like this whole process of laying the groundwork for our move is beginning to pick up speed, and wonder if that means that my posts will get more frequent as there are more developments, or if, on the contrary, I will be too busy to post. We shall see!