The HarmsBoones


A Black Canyon and a beautiful valley

There’s a certain uneasiness you feel looking out over the walls lining the north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It’s not unlike the feeling you get when you put you head against the glass of a skyscraper and look down at the street below. Except instead of a street and people there’s rock, a river, and an ecosystem below your feet. Instead of other buildings stretching outward from your vantage point, it’s cliffs, weathered towers, and geologic implausibilities.

Something to marvel at while living in Colorado is the sheer power of nature over time. Indeed it’s always around us no matter where we are, but in a place like the Black Canyon, the concepts learned about in Geology classes are so obviously on display: water running through the same channel for thousands of years carries sediment downstream, erodes banks, and carves canyons. Winds hammer those features, smoothing their gradients; precipitation and temperature exploit fractures causing them to fail, rocks to slide.

A view of Black Canyon from the Painted Wall looking to the west.
Looking at a canyon when you can scarcely see the river that carved it can make for a disorienting experience.

The tallest of these cliffs are higher than nearly every man made structure on the planet. They dwarf the skyscrapers that tower over downtown Denver some 150 miles away and were carved entirely by water freezing, melting, flooding, receding, drying, flowing endlessly for thousands of years.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison looking East from atop the Painted Wall.

Canyons are as diverse as they are impressive. Boulder Canyon or Left Hand Canyon offer convenient grades to access valleys and alpine resources above. Glenwood Canyon’s towering rock walls somehow still facilitate an interstate highway cutting through one side while a freight railroad line follows the other. The Grand Canyon: an epic gash splitting Northern Arizona into two, yet wide enough at the base to support communities to this day.

The Black Canyon is concise. It’s a narrow span flanked by two thousand foot walls four times steeper (on average) than the Grand Canyon. The river roars, resonating up to the trails and roads along the rim. Though it’s almost a half mile down, the aural and visual experience of the river is wild and demonstrable of the forces shearing the rock beneath your feet.

Crawford and the North Fork Valley

We came to the park from via Crawford, some 11 miles from the North Rim. The road is closed during the winter and we were among the first park visitors to drive the North Rim Road on opening day this year. Like many parts of Colorado, the North Fork Valley is a beautiful region and in spring was dazzling in the high waters of the rivers and verdant landscape. We started our drive home with a hike around Needle Rock, Crawford’s landmark feature.

The backside of Needle Rock in Crawford, CO.
Hiking up the back side of needle rock gives a different perspective than the one seen from town.

The trailhead of Needle Rock is about 10 minutes outside of town. Shortly into the hike around it, we were immediately rewarded with ever-changing views of the rock and the valley beyond it.

Danielle standing on the Needle Rock trail with the North Fork Valley and Landsend Peak in the background
Danielle hiking Needle Rock with Landsend Peak in the background.

The Western Slope can feel remote living in Denver. It can seem hard to access, hard to know what to do. The North Fork Valley certainly isn’t the most famous part of Colorado — unless you’re a High Country News devotee — and consequently exploring it for the first time felt like discovering a hidden gem. There’s a part of me that hopes it stays that way. Black Canyon is one of the last remaining parts of Colorado where you can experience nature in solitude. It doesn’t come with the overpopulation problems Rocky Mountain experiences. There are no massive parking lots or shuttle buses at Black Canyon. No paved trails for visitors who can’t or don’t want to put in much effort but still want to see the famous vistas.

A bigger part of me wishes everybody in this country could spend just one afternoon here and witness the splendor of the wilderness and awesomeness of water, wind, and time at work. The truth of it is that for how crowded Rocky Mountain, Grand Canyon, and other famous parks are, those accommodations make them more accessible. Black Canyon will probably always remain inaccessible to anybody without the means to get to Denver and drive the four hours it takes to cross Vail and McClure passes. With nothing but dirt roads, the North Rim will remain inaccessible to anybody who can’t traverse them, or who can’t navigate the rough terrain once they get there.

I truly would love if the outdoors were accessible to all. Perhaps we’d have a greater collective appreciation for nature, for the soil, and the ecosystems dependent on it. Perhaps we’d think twice before throwing more money toward mining coal and fracking oil out of the last remaining reserves our planet has, and instead learn how to harness the resources that don’t deplete our land to power our modern economy.

That is all to say, living in Colorado gives us access to wonderful places like the North Fork Valley. We try not to take that for granted, and we hope our land is here for generations to come.

A trip to Santa Fe, Nuevo México

It’s a shame that a land once open to free movement among dozens of different tribes and nations is now divided by increasingly rigid borders. Long distance trade in ancient America was a massive part of Peubloan life and indeed civilizations across mesoamerica. Evidence of cacao, a tropical tree that gives us chocolate, has been found at Bandelier, Pueblo Bonito at Chaco, and Hohokam communities in desertous Arizona. Turquoise from Puebloan communities has been found throughout Mexico, including at Chichen Itza, almost 2500 miles away. Given the humanitarian crisis at the US-Mexico border, and talks from our president to shut the border down completely, the free movement of people and good across these regions sometimes feels like a relic of history.

We have a common heritage as white Americans. It’s one of destruction, genocide, and displacement of the indigenous communities that preceded us, and enslavement of Africans to prop up the civilization and economy that replaced them. But those indigenous communities shaped the culture and landscape of our land long before any outside settlers showed up and asserted power over them. A lot has been lost as a result, but if we can align ourselves with those who came before us, we might learn how to better co-inhabit this region and bring our borders down, rather than further destroy the land to reinforce them. If we think about people crossing borders not as migrants, smugglers, or invaders, but as pilgrims seeking homeland, we can begin to make public policy that lifts people up instead of oppressing the other. We can see our neighbor states not as enemies seeking to undermine our borders, rather as Americans seeking to restore a harmonious paradise lost to centuries of wars, coups, and subterfuge.

Of course, it’s not that simple. It’s an idealistic future far preferable to our current status quo.

László Rivers

After about 13 hours of labor on Friday, August 24th, László Rivers HarmsBoone was born at 1:09 PM, weighing 6 pounds, 11 ounces. László is pronounced “lahss-low” and we’ll call him Laci (pronounced “lotsy”) for short. His name is a favorite of ours from our days teaching English in Hungary. The Lászlós we knew, one in particular, were helpful, kind, and welcoming to us when we first arrived in Kaposvár and the name took on quite a lot of meaning to us. His middle name, Rivers, was his great-great-grandma Isabelle Petroske’s maiden surname.

He was born at 35.5 weeks, about five weeks ahead of his due date and two weeks earlier than we were to be induced. This means he is the “late pre-term” variety of premature.

The whole family is here!

One of our nurses today said that the way babies this age used to be handled was by shipping them straight to the regular nursery like a full-term newborn and only admitting to the NICU when something bad happened. These days, babies at 34-35 weeks are sent to the NICU for at least 24 hours of monitoring and well checks before moving to the well baby nursery. So far his breathe, swallow, suck faculties are the only thing we’re keeping an eye on and he’ll remain in the NICU until he works out how to eat and breathe at the same time.

László Rivers holding his dad's finger

So far, László’s favorite things are listening to his parents teach people how to pronounce his name, sleeping, wearing his cap, and eating. He’s got a small noggin with quite a lot of hair and big loving eyes that stare back up at you. The first songs he heard were “Hey Bébé” by Rhiannon Giddens and “Happy Birthday” by Stevie Wonder. He does not have a favorite book, but his dad got him an encyclopedia of all things Canada from Montréal the day before he was born and he can’t wait to dig into it when we all get home.

Mom is doing great. Total labor time was just about 13 hours. About eight hours in she received an epidural which helped her rest and recover energy before the big push. She’s producing plenty of colostrum — super concentrated milk — and got a good night’s sleep before waking up to feed and hold Laci skin to skin.

László getting some skin to skin time with his dad

Hawaii and back

This summer we had the good fortune to get invited to a wedding on the island of Kaua’i in Hawai’i, the islands in the Pacific home to many fine federal judges. We figured, since we were going all the way there, we might as well make a vacation out of it, and we split our time between Kaua’i and the Big Island of Hawai’i.


Waimea canyon from the overlook
Waimea canyon from the road, can you spot the helicopters?

The geologically oldest and northernmost of the populated Hawai’ian Islands Kaua’i is also called the Garden Island because of it’s lush, and dense, flora. We spent a total of about four days here and did not rent a car. This was a bit of a mistake that worked out for us only because we had good friends.

If you’re coming here on your own, you probably want to rent a car; if you’re coming in a group, maybe split one. If your method for enjoying the island includes only sitting on the beaches closest to your hotel, maybe you don’t, enjoy the sand. There is a public bus system, but getting around will take quite a while and you won’t be able to access certain places without catching and (expensive) cab on the other side. This was frustrating to us only because we didn’t need the car most of the time we were there and it always stinks to rent a car you don’t use.

That’s all a big aside to bury this lede: Kaua’i is amazing and you should save your pennies and go to there. It’s still staggering to believe that so much spelndor is crammed into 100 square miles. I guess that’s its reward for sticking around for five million years. The highlight from this island was hands down the hike we did to Hanakapi’ai Falls. About 2.5 miles on the Kalalau Trail and another 2 through the valley starting at Hanakapi’ai beach. Then all the way back.

Na'pali coast from the east along the Kalalau trail
Just a glimpse of the trip out to the waterfall.

The Kalalau Trail was well maintained, which is good because the ascents were steep. It’s well trafficked enough that you won’t lose the trail, but be prepared to climb some boulders and cross some streams. I wish I’d worn my swim trunks to swim in the gorgeous waterfall you turnaround at.

A lot of people do helicopter tours of the island. “It’s the best way to experience Kaua’i,” they say. A helicopter tour is probably something you can swing if you can afford the flight and lodging in Kaua’i and really want to fly in a helicopter. We just didn’t because helicopters are dirty and kind of a nuisance. At every lookout on Waimea canyon there was a constant thup thup thup of chopper blades as if a manhunt was underway below. It is an efficient way to see basically the entire island at once, without cutting into beach-adjacent activies, though, so if that’s your thing, go for it.

Island of Hawai’i

I’m not usually one to suggest a car is the best way to get around but here we did rent a car and it was a good idea. We took about a week to do a big ol’ loop around the island.

We did a few hikes in Hawai’i, one of them was to Papakoulea, the green sand beach about two miles west of South Point. I’m wagering that makes it the southernmost hike in the country. It’s strange nobody makes a bigger deal about that because just about everything around there that can prove it makes sure to put “southernmost x in the United States” on their sign. There was even the “southernmost coffee trail run” we saw promoted at the “southernmost restaurant” in Na’alehu.

The light station at South Point
Don’t be fooled: At 18.91111º N, 155.681111º W it’s South Point, not Key West that is the southermost point in the 50 states.

They don’t talk it up because the green sand part is so much more interesting. There are four of these in the world and this is the only one in the United States. Here’s how it works: You have a shield volcano. That volcano erupts starting with the cinder cone collapsing. When that happens, the magma gets pushed below the water table. If you’ve ever left a rock in a campfire and thrown it in a lake, you know what happens next: That shit explodes. The volcano spews forth whatever substances were in the cinder cone along with lava. In this case, a mineral called olivine, also called Peridot as a gem, was deposited on this coast and battered with wind, rain, and tides for about fifty thousand years.

Anyway, this hike was not only southernmost and a good geology lesson, it was windy as hell and tremendously rewarding. You can get there on a harrowing 4WD journey across the sandy shoreline but what fun would that be.

Greg and Danielle at the green sand beach
That sand is green! They’re not even lying about it! So is that cliff on the other side of the bay.

Ecological responsibility of tourism

There was a distinct pattern on this trip: Places that were hard to reach on foot were made accessible by fossil fuels.

While the choppers on Kaua’i were annoying, the most upsetting example of this was at Papakoulea. As a result of all the 4WD vehicles taking people out to the beach, much of the landscape between the parking lot and the beach is riddled with makeshift roads on delicate land. These trucks have ground down the sandy soil into six foot deep tunnels in some areas. The winds and rains are constantly reshaping these 4WD trails making them impassible and forcing the drivers to find new paths west. Taking one of these rides shows a complete disregard for the ecosystems all in the name of getting to boogie board on some green sand.

Danielle reminded me of a line we heard from Nick Offerman recently. He was talking about woodworking and said “the less electricity you use, the more fun your woodworking will be.” The same could be said for exploring nature and no matter what color the sand is, that’s what a beach is: nature. And like woodworking with hand tools, reaching something so spectacular with just your own two legs (and a lot of water and snacks) “makes you feel like a superhero.”

Greg and Danielle on the floor of the Kilauea Iki lava lake.
Of course we also hiked in a volcano. This one was most recently on fire in the 1950s.

Emergency repairs ⚠️

We were warned. Homeownership is not easy. Homeownership is full of surprises. It’s a ton of work. It’s hard. It’s never-ending.

Sometimes it’s also gross. Like when you go down into your crawl space to see if that’s where you left the light bulbs and discover the ground is wet. Like, really wet. Like, maybe there’s a leak in the bathroom wet. This is how we went to bed on Saturday.

When we did the inspection, we learned that our sewer was, like the rest of the house, really freaking old. We also learned that it wasn’t in great shape. There were a few cracks, a few root intrusions, and a few of something called “offsets,” in the original clay piping that led from the house to the tap in the alley. We also knew this sewer had been sending waste out to the city line for about a hundred years, vitrified clay piping will last a long time, and, importantly, it hadn’t failed yet. That is to say, we took an educated risk by not fixing it before we moved in.

So when we had water pouring into our basement, I had a sinking suspicion I knew exactly what it was and braced for the worst.

Sunday morning we called the only plumber who was open. He came by, took a good look at the plumbing and saw that there was something called a “drum trap” that looked to be full and overflowing. He gave us an estimate for cutting it out and replacing it with a “P trap” and it seemed high but reasonable for a job involving lead disposal. Until we got this fixed, we basically couldn’t shower or use our toilet. Notd a great situation to be in but hey, at least he didn’t think it was the sewer. We scheduled the repair for this morning.

On Monday morning, another plumber from the same company came out and told us there’s no way replacing the drum trap with a P trap will solve the problem. Our entire sewer line needed replacing.

Pause: Glossary time.

trap in plumbing refers to a mechanism for catching a small amount of water between a fixture and the sewer to seal out noxious sewer gasses. There are many different kinds described by their shape: P, S, U, and drum.

P traps do this with a dip in the pipe. They’re good because they clean out any solids that might get stuck in there with each use, they are “self-scouring.”

Drum trap catch that water in a cylinder. They’re nice because they can catch large solid things like jewelry that might fall down your drain. They aren’t self scouring. You can see how filthy they get by cleaning or replacing them.

Vitrified clay pipes are sewer pipes forged with heat to become water proof and strong. It was invented by the Babylonians and is still in use in some places and older homes.


The quote to replace the entire sewer line hurt. $19,000 for full replacement, $10,000 to go only to our property line. He said anything short of replacement would be temporary and more expensive in the long run. He had some financing options, including 15% over 79 months for a long-term total of $30k.

We got three more opinions and ended up with two options: Clean the sewer (a “RotoRooter”) and hope that’s enough, or replace it all together. The next highest quote we got for replacement was about $12,000 shy of the original estimate, and that was only if there was some major problem. It turns out this pricing is a fairly common problem for Denver.

Cleaning the sewer could be done immediately by one of the plumbers, and only cost us $360. We decided to do that and hope that we have enough time to save for full replacement before it happens.

The thing that struck us, beyond the outrageous price, was how the first company made us feel bad about buying and living in an old house. He laughed at our problem, guilted us for knowingly buying it in this condition, and then told us it cost more than our car. An electrician did the same thing when we had some outlets moved, only that time he wanted us to believe our house would burn down if we didn’t rewire the whole thing.

The first company also talked about their lifetime warranty, and how we’re paying more for the assurance that if it ever goes out again we won’t pay a dime. The companies we ultimately worked with talked about their work, charged a fair rate and stood by it. They also solved the problem we were having in the narrowest way first. A cleaning would tell us whether the pipes were busted or simply dirty.

If you are a new homeowner, unless your house is filled with water, you probably have time to get several opinions. Ask what the narrowest solution is, and be skeptical of ultimatums. Ask your friends and neighbors for recommendations, and make sure to consider small and big companies. And if you’re replacing your sewer, know it shouldn’t cost $19,000.

We’re about to close

I’ll admit, I didn’t think we’d be sitting here less than a year after moving to Denver, preparing to close on a mortgage. I thought we’d be able to make it happen eventually, but I didn’t think it’d be this fast.

Before we go, I wanted to write up some thoughts about an invaluable resource throughout the whole process: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bureau gets a lot of attention for its enforcement actions mission, and while that’s an important one that’s provided relief for millions in the bureau’s short history, they also have an educative mission. They provide resources for navigating worlds that usually involve taking out several thousand dollars of debt like paying for college, buying a car, and owning a home, and transactions that help you and your family stay safe and solvent like planning for retirement, sending money overseas, and using prepaid cards. They explain your rights, what to expect, and what to watch out for, and break the process into discrete steps that correspond to how consumers actually approach these things.

When I worked there, the bureau was in the midst of their Owning a Home project and I knew the people working on it were doing tremendous amounts of research to understand all the terms and design an experience that worked for the American consumer. I remember how excited the team was to be launching something so impactful. When it first launched Owning a Home provided data and basic information about home loans, interest rates, and closing documents. Now it looks like this and, as it developed since 2014, became a comprehensive guide to the home owning process. I didn’t know anything about homeownership then but I knew about the financial crisis, and how people got talked into loans they couldn’t afford only to then have their home, brokers took shortcuts and took risks they should have known not to take, and the system was generally stacked against the consumer. Putting this information into the world would only help protect people and better know their situation up front.

Today, as we prepare to walk into closing and make a huge financial decision, we’re confident we can afford the house and the loan, confident we understand the terms, and confident there’s someone who can help if things get murky.

The CFPB is the killer app of the banking world. I know people lived without it in the past but I really can’t fathom how. If you know someone who is starting to deal with these financial decisions point them toward CFPB’s Consumer Tools. If CFPB has been valuable to your home buying process, write your Senators and Members of Congress and tell them. Then tell them your story. They’re doing an important public service over there, and stories like this reassure them that they’re on the right track.

Thank you CFPB, and all the brilliant designers and policy professionals you have working on keeping us safe and confident as we navigate these weighty and stressful decisions.


We’re officially under contract. In Colorado this means it’s our deal to walk away from. It doesn’t mean that the negotiations are over. After you settle on the price of the home, there’s the inspection, the appraisal, and then closing on your mortgage. There’s also all the unexpected things that can come up between you and the seller between when you agree to a price and close.

Our inspection went really well for a house that’s almost 110 years old. (RSVP now for the house’s 110th birthday in 2018!) Since we’ve told people a little about the house there’ve been a few things people have raised eyebrows at and said will be “fun” to fix. Every house has weird quirks. Some of our friends had a house with a basement that was finished but had low (read: 5′ 6″) ceilings in every room but one. Our house has its furnace in the attic which is weird because the first thing everybody knows about heat is that it rises. Why put your heat ducts in the ceiling if heat rises? It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The furnace is also 19 years old, which is nearly the end of life for a furnace, and one of the things our inspection brought up. Furnaces are expected to last about 20 years. Long than that and you’re getting lucky. Shorter than that and you better hope you started saving when your warranty came up.

The sewer is the other issue the inspection raised. Apparently 100 years ago people built pipes out of clay because plastic pipes didn’t exist for another 30 years. That’s not what happens anymore and PVC pipes are better at protecting your sewer against things like tree roots and general wear and tear on yard between your house and the tap — where your water comes in and out from the city. To get a good close look at your sewer — don’t pretend like you haven’t wondered where all that water goes when you flush — you get a sewer scope. A camera attached to a long cord, it looks like a medical scope. Like you’re looking into someone’s heart, except that it’s actually your toilet.

Our sewer scope found a bunch of cracks and breaks in our sewer line. Between that and the retired furnace, we are able to save a bunch of money on our closing costs by insisting that the seller credit us the expense of replacing both.

Apparently sellers used to be able to give buyers cash to replace these things. While that would be amazing, it’s not hard to see how that system was easily exploitable and contributed to the housing crisis. So now they can only pay your closing costs for you. If your inspection throws up a lot of red flags, you can still ask the seller to fix them for you, which is good if there are major problems and you have a willing seller. The risk of doing that is not controlling who gets hired and which product is selected, limiting your ability to correct errors or do market research.

One thing we’ve learned is that everything is negotiable. Our seller asked us to engage in a post-closure occupancy agreement (PCOA) to accommodate their tenants, that was a negotiation point. When they no longer needed the PCOA, that, too, was a negotiation. More time, less time, credits to closing costs, discounts on the sale price: it all gets a little dizzying. It’s hard to know whether and how we might jinx ourselves by telling people we bought a house and harder to decide how to set expectations for our current landlords.

The best lesson we’ve taken away from all of this is that working with a realtor is worth it. They can be a semi-neutral party who can help you make decisions. Granted, they want their commission — the seller pays that when you’re buying — but our realtor has been fair, giving us enough options and enough information to understand how to make a decision. If you’re getting into the market, make sure you’re realtor understands your needs and is your only point of contact.

Hot markets, friendly laws

We offered on a house this week. It was one we’d looked at a couple months ago when it hit the market but discarded because it was out of our price range. Then it sat, and by the time we went to tour homes for the first time, the price had dropped.

Why drop your price in a hot market? Because in a hot market your house should sell. A seller’s market doesn’t mean prices are arbitrary, it means inventory is low and expensive, but the seller still needs to find the equilibrium price at which buyers will start to offer.

When you offer on a house, you consider the price of the house, the square footage, what’s included or excluded from the sale, and you compare all of that to other houses in the area. Then you send over a contract — that’s all an offer is, a contract you intend to make good on — saying how much you want to pay and what concessions you are or aren’t willing to make.

If your offer is accepted, things move very fast for you. You have a day or two to come up with “earnest money,” confirming your intent to make good on the contract. Then you get an independent inspection, review a bunch of documents, and take the next week to figure out if you’d actually want to live in the place. If you do, you’re “under contract.”

Colorado is a “buyer friendly” state, meaning you have a lot of rights when you’re under contract. For example, as long as you want and are able to buy the home, the seller has to sell it to you. If someone comes in with $40 grand more in cash the day you go under contract, you still get to buy the house. If you, on the other hand, decide you don’t want to buy it, you can walk away. There are some sunk costs, like the inspection, the further you get in, but it’s nice to know it’s our house to buy if we want it.

What it means to be in a seller’s market

When we entered this market we were told it’s a “sellers market.” It’s no secret that Denver’s market is hot, meaning there are a lot of people trying to buy but few looking to sell. Supply is far lower than demand. If you remember from your last macroeconomics class, that means prices go up.

Denver’s market has been like this for a while. According to the Denver Post, home prices gained 12% per year between 2013 and 2015. A home that cost $100k in 2012 would go for $336k this year. That’s insane (to me). We’ve met a few people who bought homes during that time and their stories are wild. Homes that are “fixer-uppers” would go for $30k over list price. Just as you put in an offer on a home you can both afford and live in, someone swoops in with a cash offer $40k above yours — and yours was already several thousand over offer.

Our realtor has told us we’re still in a seller’s market, especially with our budget. In a balanced market, sellers and buyers can not only negotiate price, but also things like who pays for closing costs. It was pretty common, five years ago, for the seller to pay the buyer’s closing costs. That’s less common today because sellers can pretty confidently assume they’ll find a less demanding buyer — or simply find a buyer who won’t have closing costs because they’re paying cash.

Being in a seller’s market is maddening. The list prices are unreliable because you never know when someone is going to come out of nowhere to buy the house from under you. You assume that if they say they’re taking the appliances, they mean it. As first time homebuyers, you know your offer is the least attractive if you can’t offer more than the bare minimum 3% down — even though the seller gets paid the same — someone with 10%, 20% or 40% down is considered “stronger” than you (and they’re probably getting a better deal on closing costs, those jerks).

Houses cost a lot of money, especially if you know you’re going to pump another $10-20k into just fixing things. We offered on our first house this weekend, and went about $25k under list price. In the listing, the seller said they were taking the water heater, washer and dryer, and microwave with them. The house currently has a lean-to porch attached with a sliding glass door that doesn’t lock, and the door into the house itself locks but has an open pet door attached. The microwave, whatever, but the back door will be on our short- to medium-term plan for repair.

We knew our offer wouldn’t get accepted but we didn’t think the counter offer would be simply list price. Such is a seller’s market. The owner of the home now knows that we’re interested and maybe taking that as a sign that he figured out the market equilibrium for his house or got close enough that all he has to do is wait a day or two and another offer will come in that beats ours. And that’s all despite the fact that home sales have started to slow down, a sign the market is cooling down.

If this doesn’t work out, maybe we’ll wait and see what 2017 holds.

Home buying: The first visits

We’re currently in the look-at-all-the-homes-all-the-time phase of home buying. There are a handful of neighborhoods where we can afford many homes, a few where we can afford some homes, and many neighborhoods where we can afford the occasional home. This weekend we learned a little more about what that spectrum means. We looked at six houses this weekend. Two in East Denver, two in North Denver, one in our neighborhood, and one in West Denver.

East Denver is where we see the occasional home, and many of the newer neighborhoods east of Monaco Parkway seem designed against walkability and architecturally exclusive. It feels suburban and disconnected. Limiting our search is another decision we’ve made in balancing our desire to live in a diverse community with our ability to experience the city. I’m starting to worry that it will also mean we simply don’t get to buy a home.

We visited two homes in East Denver and learned that, with our budget, it might be hard to find a livable home in those neighborhoods. We also learned why our realtor told us not to trust photos in the REColorado listings. The first house we visited here had been staged for its photo shoot. All but the kitchen appliances were different in the photos from what we saw in the house.

It was hard, stressful even, to tour houses like that and not wonder about the lives of the people living there right now. Do they own or rent this house? How many people are living here? If we buy this house, what will happen to them? Will they be displaced into housing they can afford? How often does that happen to this family? Many of the homes have appreciated eight to ten fold since they were last sold, is that money going to the family living here or a building manager who is kicking these people out to make a windfall? If they’re moving, why? Did someone lose a job? Did several people lose jobs? What does their leaving mean for this house? For this neighborhood? For Denver?

We looked at a couple houses where it looked like ultimately the house would be either flipped or demolished and rebuilt.

We also saw a few homes in West Denver including one in West Barnum we were interested in after our bike journey. Ultimately, it was really hard to imagine living there. Sure we could turn the yard into a small farm, but there was either a living room, or a dining room, and the kitchen was remodeled in a really strange way. We’re glad we saw it, though, because it’s one thing to see a home from the outside and imagine living in a neighborhood by biking around it. We learned that in West Denver, we’d want to be east of Federal Blvd., otherwise we feel too disconnected from the rest of the city.

North Denver is another neighborhood where we see an occasional house. These neighborhoods, also called the highlands, have developed fast in the last couple years and, like East Denver, most of the homes for sale are far outside our price range. One of those homes was a tiny house in a neighborhood we already know we love. In some ways it’s just as removed from the rest of the city as neighborhoods we’ve ruled out, but it also has a little village nestled into the city with accessible amenities nearby.

Nevertheless, we left our Saturday of looking at houses with mixed feelings. We had three (of six) homes to watch and the remaining ruled out. One of the three has already gone under contract, which is honestly kind of a relief because while it was really nice, the location wasn’t our favorite. I think we mostly feel really stressed out at this point. I found a house yesterday in Ruby Hill, a neighborhood we’re interested in but haven’t really explored yet, and it already went under contract.

A friend of mine gave us the advice to approach this experience with a little spiritualism. There will be plenty of houses we like, plenty we want to offer on, and plenty we will offer on, that will be scooped up from under our feet. Thems the breaks, in a seller’s market. It’ll be important for us to  keep that in mind as we search, and take plenty of time for self care.