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When your ‘starter house’ becomes permanent

I remember well the house hunting process my husband and I embarked upon 17 years ago. Giddy with the realization that real estate would be a lot more affordable in Houston than it was in Austin, we cast a wide net. However, budget-wise, the sky was not the limit.

My husband worked north, and I worked in the southwest part of the city, so we eventfully narrowed our focus to the area in and around the near northwest. One day, getting from point A to point B in our hunt, we found our current neighborhood and fell in love.

But there were only a limited number of houses in our price range, and they were moving faster than we could get our act together. Also, as many new buyers are, we were picky. There was a list of things we did not want. The top of that list? No prominent garage jutting out in front.

You can probably see where this is going. When our realtor showed us the house we live in now, there was a lot to like about it. And because it had taken in some water after the previous owner removed a big tree in the backyard without a plan for alternate draining, the house sat on the market a little longer than most. But that garage, to me, was like a chin that protrudes too far from a face.

In the end, we made an offer with the thought that the decision didn’t have to be permanent. We would live here for a while – maybe until we had kids – if we even had kids – and then find something bigger.

We were a young couple on a street that had not seen a baby in some time. There was another young couple next to us, and two years later we had our first kids within months of each other. Then another family with a child moved in. And we all added another baby.

The cul-de-sac (who knew how much I’d come to love a cul-de-sac) was hopping with wobbly children, bikes, balls, and boo-boos. The neighbors across the street who had lived here since the 1960s became part of our family too. It was a true community and an unexpected gift.

There were things that drove me crazy about our 2,000 square foot house. We could either have a dining room or a playroom, but we had a horrible, junk filled hybrid. And the bedrooms were all in a row along a long hallway. No separation. Let me tell you something. You don’t need no stinking baby monitor when you share a wall with your kid.

But there were a lot of pluses too. Instant unplanned playdates on the street. Having one TV room forced both compromise and family togetherness. I could quit my job to spend more time with our kids without us stressing about the mortgage.

And as the children have grown older, the space seems more manageable. Less toys, less midnight vomiting episodes. Added bonus – nobody is ever going to be able to sneak out of here without us hearing them.

Even my kids, who still think that being rich means you have stairs, say they like our house. Because it is our house, and we have made a home here.

Almost two decades in, and it seems that we are not leaving anytime soon. Neighbors we love have moved away and playing outside is now the exception to the rule, but there is nowhere else we want to go.

There is an oak tree in the yard, maybe 25 years old, deeply rooted. I feel a kinship to it. Twenty feet away is the garage. It doesn’t bother me at all anymore. It may not be inconspicuous, but it is not an eyesore either. I like to think of it as unapologetic, like me.