Tag Archives: houses

How the Library Helped Me Buy My First House

I found The House by accident.

I have always been curious about houses and how we interact with them. When I saw a handful of houses for sale on Penn Avenue, I wondered how much they cost, and what was inside. But when I got on realtor.com to check, I got lost in a browsing black hole checking prices for each neighborhood and marveling at the staggering amount of wood paneling that can still be found in Pittsburgh houses.

That’s how I found our house. As soon as I saw it, and the yard that came with it, I said yes (despite the wood paneling in the living room).

You see, I’ve always wanted a space I could lay claim to. When I was a child, I never dreamed about my wedding. I dreamed about the house I would someday decorate with all my Star Wars collectibles and artwork (this involved putting sand down in the basement to make it look like Tattooine).

Normally my husband discourages my house hunting, because we are not exactly wealthy individuals. But when I showed him this house, he said something like, “Wow. We could actually afford that. And it looks nice. And the yard!”

We saw the house. We loved the house. We decided to buy the house. But we didn’t know the first thing about making such a huge investment, except that we needed a real estate agent.

So I did what I always do when I want to learn something. I checked out a stack of books from the Library, some physical, some electronic. These three helped me the most:

The Just Right Home by Marianne Cusato (print and eBook)
justrighthomeThis book taught me so much about how we interact with our most personal spaces, and how houses function within the context of their streets, neighborhoods, and cities. It also addressed the issue of whether to rent or buy by using some sort of math that produced a ratio–the lower the number, the better it is to own your home instead of renting. Pittsburgh was one of the lowest cities listed. Reading this book helped me figure out what I actually needed out of a home, and reconfirmed by good feeling about purchasing The House.

Buying a Home: The Missing Manual by Nancy Conner
missingmanualThe Missing Manual series is similar to the For Dummies and Idiot’s Guide To books. It’s not as chunky as most of those books are, which I appreciated while I was traveling over the winter holidays. It takes you through the entire home buying process, from checking your credit for any surprises to searching for the right home to the mortgage application process to closing. This was a good workhorse book. Nothing fancy, just the information you need to know.

100 Questions Every First-Time Homebuyer Should Ask by Ilyce Glink
100questionsThis book also takes you through the entire home buying process, but organizes it as a series of questions. The book’s only major flaw is that it was written before the housing bubble burst, so it’s very optimistic about how much your new home will appreciate in value (though in the author’s defense, she does caution her readers that most homes do not appreciate forty percent in one year). She’s also all about adjustable rate mortgages, which scare the heck out of me. I want to know exactly how much I’m going to be paying every month! But the organization makes it easy to jump around and find answers to specific questions you might have.

I learned a lot about buying a house, but I never did discover how much those houses on Penn Avenue were selling for.



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Of Houses and Presidents

I love history and architecture. And in recent years, it seems I’m taking (and planning) vacations that feature the history of American presidents.

Presidents are kind of like our country’s royalty, even though our founding fathers fought hard against this analogy. But I find presidential history fascinating and have read several wonderful books about some of the most interesting people.


Thomas Jefferson

As you read this today, I am visiting Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s beautiful home and estate in Charlottesville, Virginia. History geek that I am, I bought tickets for the behind-the-scenes tour, which includes a multi-level tour of the house.



I often travel home to Michigan and have seen a sign on the Ohio Turnpike for the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, which I would love to visit if I could just find the time on my visits home. Did you know that more presidents–eight of them– come from Ohio than any other state?


Rutherford Hayes

And, since I  live in Pittsburgh–on a street that is named for his family’s British ancestral home–I’m not far from George Washington’s Virginia estate, Mount Vernon, which I hope to visit next year.


Mount Vernon

In July, I also enjoyed a (too brief) visit to Washington, D.C., where I visited The National Portrait Gallery. Of course, my favorite room was the presidents’ portraits. I plan to vacation there again very soon to see more.


A favorite painting of Abraham Lincoln in The National Portrait Gallery

And I’ll also have to consult this fun list for future presidential history trips.

~Maria, who is from Michigan, which can only claim one president: Gerald Ford. Pennsylvania also has only one: James Buchanan.


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ISO: 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom home

Preferably with large windows, hardwood floors and enough room in the kitchen for two cooks.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask, is it? 

It’s not as if I’m looking for a cantilevered house built over a waterfall, or an 8,000-acre estate in the mountains of North Carolina with grounds designed by Frederick Law Olmstead.  I don’t need a house with a séance room and a host of secret passageways; in fact, the fewer secret passageways, the better.  And who wants to clean 61 bathrooms?  Not me.  Nor do I do windows.

And while I can appreciate historic homes of all sorts, no one famous needs to have lived in or visited my [as-yet-undetected] house before, whether a founding father or a king.  I certainly wouldn’t complain about an apartment in a building inspired by marine life and bones by one of my favorite architects, but truly my sights are set in a more practical, and local, realm.

Lastly, I may be a bit of an environmentalist, but I’m realistic enough to know that my chances of finding an earth housestraw bale construction, or a home made entirely of scrap and salvaged materials to rent within the City of Pittsburgh and closely-neighboring boroughs are pretty darn slim.  Nor am I ready to go off the grid at the moment, not too likely anywhere I’m looking.  I’ll just keep exploring the latest options here at the library until life takes me somewhere I would never expect.



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