I’ve sold my house. It’s a modest old farmhouse in the country (Massachusetts specifically), and I moved here from Manhattan seven years ago, after my divorce. Now I’m moving back to New York City , where I lived for 37 years, and I’m very excited. I’ve loved having a house of my own, but what I want to talk about here are the things I won’t miss about it for a minute.
1. Waiting for The Guy
Where I live, the rich people have caretakers who find the electricians, plumbers, furnace maintenance guys, carpenters, house painters — all the skilled workers you need to help you take care of a house and property. The caretakers get the estimates, make sure they’re at the house when the workmen come and oversee the work. It must be great to be a rich person. In my next incarnation, I hope to be one of them.
The rest of us here are our own caretakers. And what a job it is. I used to be a writer; now I’m a caretaker who writes on the side.
I have spent entire days in search of a house painter, or a person to re-tile the section of the bathroom wall whose tiling had come loose. Hours on the phone calling one unavailable handyman after another, hours buttonholing people in line with me at the post office to ask if they can recommend someone to get rid of the hornet’s nest under the eaves that has grown to the size of a basketball. I’ve hung out, like a stalker, at the coffee shop, scanning the parking lot, waiting for a van that says “Electrician,” so I can pounce on the driver when he walks through the door.
These men — I say “men” because that describes most home maintenance people where I live — are incredibly hard to come by, since most of the good ones are already taken by the rich people. You can’t blame the workmen — the rich people have bigger houses and they’re always doing things like adding a media room or a horse stable, so working for them tends to be an ongoing proposition.
This is how in-demand local workmen are: I have a friend who will not give me the name of her handyman because she’s afraid he’ll get too busy at my house to come to hers. If she needed a handyman, I’d give her the name of mine if I had one, which I don’t. But I understand her reluctance, I really do.
When I finally find someone who will help me do whatever, I have to arrange my day so I’m there when he comes and there while he works and there to pay him when he’s done.
Many is the day I’ve spent with one ear cocked, waiting for one guy or another to show up and then sat at my desk with furnace repairmen underfoot or the sound of chain saws outside my window or the pounding of hammers over my head.
I don’t want to sound ungrateful; I owe everything to the men who have helped me. Oleg, the house painter, cleaned the leaf-clogged gutters I was too scared to scale a tall ladder to get to; Chuck, my plumber, his fingertips cracked from decades of working outside in the cold, has come on frigid mornings when there was no hot water. And Jim and Carter and Keith and the other Keith and Gonzalo and so many others—all of them have saved my house from falling into dereliction, saved my hide.
I think they’d understand if I told them how thrilled I am not to need them anymore. I can’t wait to have a super to call. Let him find the guy to replace the cracked windowpane. Let him wait for the tile guy to show up.
2. The never-ending appliance repairs
Owning a house means owning many, many appliances and machines, which means buying them and repairing them and replacing them. My lawn mower, for example, had to go to the shop for repairs twice in the year since I bought it. Twice!
I don’t care if I never own anything again. That sounds rash, I know, but I mean it.
Where I live, just the visit when the repair guy comes and diagnoses the problem with your refrigerator or washing machine costs something like $80. Sometimes the problem is that you need a new gasket, which means another visit and another, say, $100. But nine times out of 10, the problem is that you need a new refrigerator or washing machine.
I hate it that appliances only last five or so years now — if you’re lucky! — and I resent it deeply every time I have to buy a new one.
My new apartment doesn’t have a washer or dryer. Goody. I’m happy to use the laundry room in the basement. The landlord will have to buy new ones when they break down, which they will, and sooner than they should. I know — I’ll have to pay a fortune in quarters to use the machines in the laundry room, which will eventually amount to what a washing machine and dryer cost. But I don’t care.
3. The bills
Apart from willingly wasting many quarters in the laundry room in the years ahead, I feel rich just thinking of the money I won’t be spending. Homeowner’s insurance and property taxes and heat (oil heats my furnace and costs me at least $500 a month during the winter), of course. But, more painfully, the endless surprises that ambush me every year.