Our dream home came on the market. Then a nightmare followed
It took a terrifying family emergency to halt our house-hunting obsession
There followed one of those surreal slow-motion scenes of emergency: a fire engine and ambulance outside our rental house. Photograph: Getty Images
One balmy summer evening a few years ago, my husband convinced me to take a break from my usual “Escape to the Chateau plus a stiff Baileys” Saturday night routine. We dropped our two-under-three to his eternally kind parents and strolled from their house to the seaside village of his youth.
We needed a night out, but he was also subtly giving me the hard sell – like everyone from this place, he had a longing to return – telling me about all the buzzy restaurants, the famous writer who frequented them (intriguing), the pub where people allegedly went in search of extramarital activity (slightly creepy).
As we passed one of the village streets, we stopped in unison, struck by the sight of a period townhouse lit up like a lantern. People passed inside the sash windows, laughing and drinking wine at what looked a very sophisticated, grown-up party. Probably not a dismembered Barbie or brimming potty in sight. It seemed to us both an ineffably cool place to live.
We went on with our evening and our lives and completely forgot about the party house. Until last summer. In June, after 13 years of waiting, we finally made the leap from our west Dublin starter home to a rental on the fringes of the seaside village, and the hunt for a permanent family base began.
At first things went swimmingly. I quickly found and fell for a turnkey semi-d with a writing desk in the bedroom window overlooking a safe green – I’d be able to finish the great Irish novel while keeping an eye on my children as they happily practised native sports together (admittedly, both scenarios are equally unlikely). The only problem? My husband wasn’t feeling it. He had a point: the location wasn’t ideal for us. Plus prices were softening. If we held our nerve, something really special might fall into our price bracket.
The party house
And so the viewings went on. And on. (And on.) The house with the writing desk sold. The supply of second-hand homes dried up. It began to look like we’d never find a property we could agree on. Then one day, I did my usual half-hourly check on properties for sale in the area, and there it was: the party house. Behind the exterior of an early 20th-century townhouse was a Tardis-like interior – completely modernised, sleek and glossy and minimalist. And it was within our budget, albeit at the very, very top end.
I emailed my husband, “Your dream house just came on the market.” When he called, I heard it in his voice: he had fallen under its spell. We both had.
After years of raising tiny humans in an often deserted cul-de-sac, and relying almost entirely on the checkout staff in Lidl for adult interaction, the idea of living in the centre of a bustling village by the sea was beyond exciting to me. I could walk our children to school and then head to the library or a cafe to work on my laptop. I’d get to know everyone in the village (apart from those racy pub-goers). It would be like an episode of Gilmore Girls. Plus it was a minute’s stroll to the train station; my husband would shave almost an hour off his daily commute.
It didn’t have designated parking; it was behind a pub; it just wasn’t a family home. Did we listen? Of course not
“Obviously it’s completely unsuitable,” a (very honest) friend said when I sent her the link.
It’s true it didn’t have a garden. But my husband is allergic to pretty much all flora and fauna, so we saw that as a plus.
“But what about when the kids are teenagers, wouldn’t they sneak out?” she asked.
Teenagers can sneak out anywhere. My friend and I grew up outside a midlands town where people cycled along pitch-black country roads to get to the teenybopper disco. And besides, maybe our children’s friends would all congregate in the party house, given how central it was.
“You’d have to be a lot more craic.”
She had a point. A single Bailey’s nightcap and an early turn-in mightn’t cut it with these hypothetical teenage hordes.
In fact, none of our friends thought the house was a good idea. It didn’t have designated parking; it was behind a pub; it just wasn’t a family home. Did we listen? Of course not. We put in a low-ball bid, 10 per cent under the asking price. And then we waited. A month dragged by. Finally we rang the estate agent – he said our bid wasn’t going to cut it. We went up by €10,000. No counterbid, just a vague “no good”. We said we’d have to walk away. Radio silence.
There were many late-night strategy sessions at the kitchen table – should we go higher? Or really walk away? Or play the waiting game? Eventually we decided on a radical course of action: we would go directly to the owners. They wanted to sell; we wanted to buy. Surely a deal could be done.
Then something happened
But then something happened. One evening, our four-year-old became suddenly and seriously ill. There followed one of those surreal slow-motion scenes of emergency: a fire engine and ambulance outside our rental house, me sitting on the stairs, our little boy passed out in my arms, paramedics crowded into the hall.
He was fine in the end, thank God, and was soon back to his happy little self. But something had changed. We stopped driving past our dream house, stopped imagining how much more exciting our lives would be if only we lived there, stopped talking and thinking about it altogether. Suddenly it seemed too risky, too expensive, too family-unfriendly. The obsession was cured.
A few days later, an estate agent rang and tried to pitch me a few properties, but I politely declined. “To be honest,” he said, “I don’t really know what you want.” But I did: a warm little hand in mine, chubby cheeks with the pink colour returned to them. Bricks and mortar, no matter how beautifully arranged and located, just can’t compete.