The first apartment we looked at was enormous. I didn't even once think about how I would clean it. It did imagine myself doing the waltz in the foyer, it was that big. Next I wondered why it was so cheap. I soon discovered that we couldn't view one room because Babcia was in that room dying and that the funny building across the street was a prison, but no worries, when criminals break out of prison the apartment across the street is not their ultimate destination. We did observe a 3-year-old child going to the store alone to buy a loaf of bread and a pack of smokes, so a top rate neighborhood overall.
Another apartment we looked at was located in a beautiful historic building, ok, potentially beautiful. It wasn't as large as the first one, but the living room was curved with the building, and the apartment had a very funny little balcony characteristic for the building. Ok, you couldn't go out on the balcony. It was prohibited for safety reasons, and you couldn't shut the bathroom door if you happened to be sitting on the toilet. And the grand staircase smelled of urine, but whatevs. I didn't know it then, but the building still had bathrooms in the hall on every other floor, hence the smell and the reason behind the extremely small bathroom. If I had known then what I know now (that children don't let you go to the toilet with the door closed), we might have bought it.
Another apartment was rented out to students who had made provisional divisions of the rooms that were most certainly illegal and definitely a fire hazard. We informed the owner that we were interested in seeing the apartment in the original skład and without the half a kilo of pigeon poo on the balcony. It must have been a sellers market because the owner didn't agree.
In the end, we settled on our little apartment in what was then considered the suburbs and what is now considered The City. We took a small mortgage and paid it off. The lady at the bank couldn't believe we didn't take more money, I mean, the bank was offering more but we took less. "You could buy a bigger apartment," she urged. I know it is attractive. If the bank thinks I can afford, then I must be able to afford it, right? Luckily I was raised by the financially paranoid, so I see only black scenarios. Ok, we would have a bigger apartment today that is true, but at the cost of our peace of mind. It may be small, but it is all ours.
Houses were another story. Some were big, others were small. They all had serious problems. But we were just looking. Just doing a favor for our friend who had just got her real estate license - needed to practice her spiel. You may not know this about me, but I am a house voyeur. I love to see how people live, and Poland still is a foreign country for me. I couldn't refuse an opportunity to see inside houses and look, really look, at them 'cause house voyeurism and looking to buy a house look the same from the outside.
The house I was really interested in seeing turned out to be a disaster. There was a hole in the roof that had been there awhile allowing water to get in the house and turn to black mold...or mildew - I don't know what the difference is. Anyhow it was a no-go. It was too far, and too big, and did I mention the mold? The next place was 1/4 of a house. It wasn't that bad. It had shutters which we adored. There was something wrong with the floor, and you had to access the kitchen by going outside the apartment, and the land was not officially divided into four, but all of those problems were not serious. The serious issue was that a couple had put in an offer the day before and it had been accepted. But we were just looking for fun. Whatevs.
I have repeated this many times, and I will say it again. I have no idea what we were thinking when we decided to buy our house. When we arrived we were tired and had to wait in the yard for the neighbor to bring the key. The yard was overgrown and there were chickens everywhere. There was also chicken shit everywhere. Watch your step. There was (and still is) a lovely linden tree in the yard. There was also a little bench under the tree. It was adorable despite the chicken that was shitting on it at the time. Misiu looked at me and asked, "How much is that bench gonna cost me?"
The neighbor in his late 70s arrived with the key and proceeded to join us as we looked at the house. He did not miss a step. The house had not been lived in for years, since the gentleman who lived there died...in the house we found out. We were checking out the basement at the time. That's when the neighbor pointing to the place where I was standing said in a pompous tone, "He died right there. Right where you are standing." I don't go to the basement much.
We looked at the old tile stove in the kitchen, at the hodgepodge of old German furniture and PRL classics, at the icons on the walls. The walls were painted with wałek a technique I had never seen before. Upstairs there was a bedroom with a feather bed and also a smoke room...and about a hundred empty bottles of denaturat I assume were used in the smoking process and played no role in the death of the owner. Misiu wanted to check how solid the floor was and discovered not very solid at all. You break it, you buy it, right?
We bought it. The falling down chimney, the crumbling outhouse, no water, no electricity. The whole kit and caboodle. We have a bathroom now, and water, and electricity. And no mortgage. It may be a bit of a ruin still, but it is all ours.
We didn't just buy it, just like that. We had time to back out. First the owners, 6 of them, had to work out the inheritance issues before they could sell it. We had to get permission from the Department of Agriculture to buy it because in fact it is a 2-acre farm. At the final signing (and paying) we reminded the owners that the house was full of their personal photos and we'd be there to sunset (no electricity). We invited them to come and give their childhood home a final look and to take their pictures. I also asked one granddaughter if she'd like to see her grandparent's house for the last time. Her answer was a curt, bordering on rude, "No". I later learned that she had never met her grandparents as she was the result of an extramarital affair. Whoopsie.
We went to what was now our house and just sat there in disbelief. I collected up the family pictures-first communions, weddings, Christmases, a funeral with the body on the table where I was sitting. One sister asked if she could come and take that table. After seeing that funeral pic I was happy that it would be going. But nobody came. We stayed to 10 pm to be sure. I packed up all the pictures and locked the door. We later dropped the box of pictures at the real estate agent to give to the family.
You know, they didn't give us that house. Well, they did, but in exchange for money, the exact amount of money they asked for the house. We didn't steal it from them. The bank didn't foreclose on them. There was no pressure.
A few weeks after we had bought the house the sister who had wanted the table called and asked if we happened to be there because she was planning to be in the neighborhood and wanted to pick up her table. I told her that she'd have to arrange it another time because we weren't anywhere close. I also told her that her family pictures were waiting for her at the real estate agent.
One week later, we came to our house only to see that we had been burgled. The door had been broken open and the place ransacked with some bigger items missing. My first thought of an innocent person with no evil intentions was that we had bad luck. The house had been empty for years and just when we bought it, somebody broke in.
You already know what happened, don't you?
We ventured out into the garden wondering what we should do. The neighbor came out, saw that we were upset, and asked what had happened. We explained that we had been burgled. "You weren't burgled. The owner was here." I declared, "I am the owner." Sympathy ensued. Long story short, the sister got her table and any other things of value from the "family home" that we "took" from her family. She left a huge mess and damaged the door as well. When she realized that others might not see it the same way, she agreed to the deal that we offered her. If she returned and removed everything from the house and the barn, we wouldn't go to the police. Of course we were "boorish", "cruel", "greedy" and "thieves". Misiu explained "private property", "notary acts", "common decency" and whatnot. She held up her side of the deal and removed every last item excluding 3 pieces of furniture which she left after getting agreement from us. There was a lot of "Don't you know who I am?" and other bullshit, but when she and her trucks and dumpsters cleared out of there, it was the last we heard from her. It was a valuable lesson for us and for our real estate agent. Who would have thought somebody would do something like that?
After that I was a little worried about my reputation around the village but being proven to be in the right, village loyalty was on our side. One neighbor came to the fence for a chat and an attempt to figure out where I was from.
He said, "Tell the truth, where are you from?"
I explained that I was American.
"Not German? Are you sure?"
I assured him that I was sure of my own nationally.
"So you're not German? Never lived in Germany?"
I assured him that I had never lived in Germany.
"So you're not the German lady who bought the old mill?"
I assured him that I was not.
"Because there's a rumor that there's gonna be a brothel there."
My response, "Well, at least there'll be someplace to work."
And you know, it is true until today - Only I think my jokes are funny.
This long, long post is my mea culpa for not writing for so long ;)