Our Moving Project: By Day
We hit the ground running, sort of, after returning home 2 days early from our Oregon coast bike trip on July 16th, during which Bill had proposed moving as soon as possible to a better apartment. Suddenly, our focus shifted from biking being on our minds all of the time to only thinking about biking during the day and orchestrating a move at night.
It was a miserable drive home from the coast in heavy weekday traffic, like the bike tour had been, and the 3 hour drive became an 8 hour event. I had the bad fortune of being in the driver’s seat when the stop-and-go traffic began. Instead of changing drivers every 30 minutes like we usually do, I pulled a 90 minute shift, without cruise control. Leg muscle spasms hobbled me in bed that night and the next day from the unfamiliar stress of my right foot hovering over the gas pedal for so long.
But no matter that I couldn’t walk well, we showed up at our first of several scheduled apartment building tours the next morning only to be mentally traumatized. The ‘modern’ concept of how to divide 800-1000 square feet of living space between rooms looked as bad in person as it had in the online floor plans. “Normal” had changed from when we were homeowners and we now struggled to find apartments to accommodate our bedroom set—currently in our only fully-furnished room. Our 2nd bedroom has been completely dedicated to storage, looking more like a garage with a floor to ceiling commercial wire rack shelves, but even they were too big for some modern 2nd bedroom layouts and garage storage lockers.
The more we saw, the more frustrated we became. Over the next few days, right or wrong, I summarized the issue as being a millennial vs boomer lifestyle. Based on only a few previews, it was looking like we needed a pre-2018 apartment building to squeeze our furniture into the newer, ill-shaped spaces. The layout deficiencies were made all the more aggravating by the new norm being to rent sight-unseen, which was unimaginable to us, but the rental market was that competitive. Fitting our furniture into these apartments was going to be a “down to the inch” situation and we wouldn’t see our actual apartment until we moved in. In some buildings, we could see one apartment, but not the one we would rent; in others, there was nothing available to see.
Our even-lower headboard would also block the breaker box. (Is it even legal???)
We also were repelled by the new decorating rage of gray on gray. Gray floors, gray walls, gray appliances, gray counter tops and often limited lighting, even in hallways. Gray provides a neutral backdrop for decorating but was a nasty mismatch with our Scandinavian teak furniture, which we learned was outdated. At our age however, we weren’t going to start over with all new furniture. And, no matter how many lovely accent pieces you added to the décor, a gray apartment interior would blend too well with the predominately gray sky color of the Willamette Valley out the often single window. We had a strong bias towards warmer, cheerier colors, like our teak, again labeling us as having antiquated boomer taste.
Our Moving Project: By Night
We forged ahead by night, preparing for an eventual move. We brutally gave away our treasured possessions and interspersed those confrontations with self with confrontations with the housing market as the hours of our 8-day stay ticked away. It was time to own significantly less stuff to streamline a future move. It was time for us to be lean and nimble at home like we were in our trailer and on our bikes.
Cyclotouring along the Pacific Ocean had dramatically changed in 20 years and so had moving. To save money and decrease the environmental impact of our move, in the evenings I had been exploring the newer ‘sharing’ services available for obtaining and then giving back used boxes and then the bad news hit: bedbugs. Since our last move in 2009, bedbugs had become an international problem and used boxes, and even professional mover’s trucks, brought with them the risk of hauling bedbugs into our new abode.
I regrouped, resigned myself to paying for all new boxes but balked at the thought of paying $43 for a TV box from one mover for our old, 28” TV that we rarely watch. A little more noodling and I remembered that Bill’s research of U-Haul trucks for our bike trip revealed that vans rented for a base price of $20/day. Unfortunately, they could not be used for one-way trips like we needed on the bike trip but when we hopefully flew back in the winter to move, just not buying a TV box would start paying for the van and would be cheaper than renting a car. It would also solve the packing challenges for several other awkwardly-shaped items, like our bikes and floor lamps. Another lumpy problem solved for a move that might occur in 6 months to 2 years, depending upon our luck.
Our slightly longer headboard would have blocked the heater as well as the breaker box.
Re-Imagining Use of Space
One tantalizing idea did emerge from brainstorming how to configure our belongings in a millennial-styled apartment, which was to buy us each a stand-up desk for our tablet work stations and for dining. We’d be able to wheel them around for rotating views out a window while working or eating and possibly park one in the kitchen for a temporary, custom-height, counter top extension or both of them for a temporary kitchen island. It was an odd push-pull to shop for apartments and re-invent how we could use space while being clueless as to when we would snare an apartment or what it would look like. We basically had no living room furniture, only bookshelves and one proper chair, so we could start over there.
The stand-up desks with a back-up, tall stool were about as far as our re-inventing a living room got: knowing how to configure our new living room would have to wait because we were out of ideas.
The Pain of Separation
As expected, spending a week culling our belongings to be poised for a quick move was an intense emotional journey with lessons learned. My biggest and most unexpected journey began with resting both hands on the top of a set of dresser drawers that we’d pulled away from the wall after emptying the drawers. The next step was to put it on our little dolly and deliver it to another resident in the building, but that last step took almost 3 hours because I began sobbing. We were both stunned.
When biking on the coast and early in the process of visualizing the move, I’d dispassionately identified the dresser as 1 of 2 pieces of furniture that had to go: we just had too much bulk. It was the least-nice piece, being constructed of pine and a lesser wood, that was designed to be painted, and it lacked rails for the drawers. I did a beautiful job staining this very budget-quality piece a cherry wood color and sealing it with a mat varathane finish 45 years years ago. Having survived more than an half dozen moves, two of them 2/3’s the way across the country, it was still beautiful in my eyes.
This was one of those grieving events without words. I obviously had a previously unnoticed, deep attachment to this piece that had essentially been a cast-off in the other room for decades after we bought a finer bedroom set some years later. It was always in use, but sidelined. What I finally realized was that it was a symbol of my much anticipated, abrupt transition into adulthood.
This dresser was the first piece of furniture I bought for my first studio apartment right after I finished school. I had longed to live on my own since I was about 13 and the time had finally arrived. I was thrilled to be launching into my first job in my chosen profession. I eagerly anticipated outfitting my kitchen and buying my first car, when I could afford them. This dresser was a symbol of that huge life pivot in which I reveled.
With sharper focus than in the past, I recognized how I had so very intentionally embarked on crafting my new identity back then. I decided that I could be an authentic feminist without being an activist. I took a series of non-credit, community college classes to give me the skills I needed for my new life, such as a wood working class during which I built my first book shelves, a car tune-up class, and a handyman class. I secured a community garden plot, did more skiing, and macraméd a long jute hanger for my new fern that hung over the dresser and together, they served as a divider between my kitchen and sleeping area. I’d finished the back of the dresser with the same care as the other surfaces since it faced into my tiny kitchen.
Donating my dresser to a disabled vet on our floor required cutting heart strings.
Bill desperately needed a ‘gap year’, something that wasn’t done in those years, it wasn’t a boomer thing. He never had time, like I did, to indulge in a self-prescribed rite of passage. He was instead in a series of ‘trials by fire’ and some of his personal development was arrested. He had to dribble it in, here and there, over decades, whereas I had a year-long grand voyage with mine. I formally crossed a threshold that never existed for him.
Some of Bill’s catching up occurred during this intense week of culling. He very consciously intervened in his habit of orienting by looking back to the past and turned to look towards the future. He confronted the self-doubt about being able to feel whole without piles of the past surrounding him. He sorted out the difference between what he thought he should be feeling and what he was actually feeling. And he could see how much literal garbage he had been using to prop himself up emotionally.
It had been a very intense 7 days of soul searching while giving away piles of belongings interspersed with being in shock by the disagreeable apartments we had to choose from. On the morning of Saturday, Day 8, we would enjoy a 3 hour stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) class on the Columbia River, which was a consolation event for not getting our new boards in time to use them a month earlier in Bend. On Day 9, we would be off to La Grande, Oregon in our trailer for it to be serviced, then we would be on to Bend for 6 weeks of hiking until September 15th.
We stuck to our schedule out of necessity, but we would be leaving town without a clear plan for securing a new apartment. At the end of our 8 day stay at home, we had expected to have a short list of 1 to 3 apartments for which we were on waiting lists. We would wait for “the call” telling us that one was available, do a flurry of the needed paperwork remotely, then fly back to implement the actual move. Instead, we’d continue sifting through our short list of candidate apartments while on the road and finalize our selections from an unsatisfying mix of options as soon as we could.
Then, essentially out of nowhere, a monstrous pivot occurred. Sight unseen, we snared the apartment of our dreams for September 1, 2021, not 6 or 12 or 24 months out as we had anticipated, about an hour after our Saturday morning SUP class was over. We were absolutely blown away!
Going Through the Back Door
Early in our housing search, we had identified a mid-rise apartment/condo building in the center of town as housing our dream apartment without even seeing it. It had fine credentials. It was built in 2000, so had a boomer-friendly floor plan that should accommodate our furniture needs; it was quiet, well maintained, and had air conditioning.
This bistro table for 2 filled the ‘dining room’ in this expensive apartment.
Because our current landlord only had 1 suitable property for us, we had quickly branched out, looking at dozens of other properties online and a few in person. We kept coming back to this one building as the right place for us, even though we had only seen a few photos of the interiors. The catch was that the owner of the building had sold all but 28 of the 137 condo units and those 28 were what were available to rent.
We weren’t alone in identifying this property as a desirable place to live: the leasing agent had a call list of 40 people for 28 units in a building with little turn-over. In contrast, millennial building managers spoke of their high turnover rates, that something was always becoming available. This call list wasn’t a waiting list, another new reality. If a tenant gave notice, the agent would do a group send to all 40 on the list and whoever contacted her first, got the unit. The competitiveness combined with our sense of urgency was too reminiscent of getting our covid vaccinations months earlier.
We were so wedded to this building that we had begun devising a very expensive plan of staying on the call list but moving into one of the millennial ‘gray wonders’ with AC that were available, then moving again when we could get into this preferred building. A rough estimate was that it could cost us an extra $25,000 over the course of a year or more in terms of excess rent paid and including upwards of $6,000 in ‘lease break fees.’ We hadn’t committed to that plan, but it was on the brainstorming list. And even though we swore we’d never own property again, we contemplated buying a condo in the building, though no 2 bedroom units were available and the 600 square foot, one bedroom units were too small for us.
Since we were becoming willing to bet the bank on an apartment in this condo building, Bill approached the leasing agent for an appointment to tour the common areas. We wanted to at least get our feet in the door to literally get a sniff and a sense of the building we’d admired from the outside for years. Unusually, they didn’t even have a manager’s office or leasing office in the building.
A weird waste of precious space we would have used elsewhere (& the toilet isn't even square with itself).
While Bill systematically ran through his list of prepared questions with the agent, my mind lingered on the possible utility of this HOA to us. The uniqueness of the arrangement tweaked my imagination. If we were tenants in the building, the HOA would provide welcome owner-advocates and could be a source of leverage we hadn’t enjoyed as tenants in a standard apartment arrangement. We wouldn’t have the responsibilities and expenses of condo owners, but we would benefit from their position. It also occurred to me that the HOA might be a backdoor to renting a condo that the leasing agent didn’t control. This HOA situation was fertile ground for my problem-solving brain that was desperate for any advantage in this apartment quest.
Without a second thought, the agent obliged my request for the HOA’s president’s contact information and I exchanged emails with him that afternoon and the next day, Friday. He was gracious, saying he’d put our interest in renting an owner’s condo in the Member newsletter the following week. It was a long shot, but I cast my net farther and farther out when frustrated and this was easy enough do.
The next day, Saturday, Bill checked emails for a reply from another leasing agent as soon as we were off the water at our SUP class, and instead, found an email from a condo owner with September 1 availability in our desired building! Just incredible! We were absolutely flabbergasted by our near-instantaneous success in getting an offer.
We later surmised that there had been several phone calls made behind the scenes in the last 24 hours. The HOA president likely knew that our new landlady was renting, so he probably personally gave her our information because she had all of our particulars that I requested be put in the newsletter notice, but the newsletter hadn’t gone out. We knew that the HOA president worked professionally with the leasing agent who had shown us the common areas, so he probably asked her about us, of which she knew a fair bit. We knew that this leasing agent knew our current manager, and because these 2 managers/agents worked for the same company, they had probably informally chatted about us before we even met the agent for the tour. It all went so fast and without hesitation, we presumed we were pre-vetted though this labyrinth of back channels before our future landlady emailed us. Cool! Cool! Cool!
We were still in our SUP togs when I called the condo owner. Surprisingly, she hadn’t even set the price for the unit but threw out 2 numbers, $200/month apart. If she replaced the carpet, then it would the higher price. It seemed a little high for only 3 carpeted rooms, but it was her condo. I was jotting down numbers on a piece of scratch paper with Bill looking over my shoulder, then gestured to him, and he nodded. I said “I’ll take it, with a new carpet!”
Our current kitchen.
Even though she had said that she didn’t know how to proceed, I did know how. In my most polite, cheery, assertive, enthusiastic, and reassuring manner, I countered all of her protests with the underlying message being “Get over it! I WANT THE APARTMENT!”
After carrying on about what wonderful, upstanding citizens we were; that we were retired; that we were travelers and former homeowners with plenty of money to afford her property, she got over it. We had no interest in playing the usual cat-and-mouse business games; we wanted the apartment and we wanted to preserve our fall hiking itinerary. Priorities, it’s all about priorities for us these days.
Making It Happen
The next 2 weeks were frightfully intense and busy and had us ringing our hands multiple times. Numerous problems arose for the owner regarding the new carpet, so much so that, even though I dearly wanted a new carpet after living with a shabby one for 12 years, I offered to take the condo with the existing carpet at the lower monthly price.
Two days after my “I’LL TAKE IT” pronouncement, while our trailer was being serviced, we took the entire day off of the trails to deal with her difficult online leasing company and to unfreeze our credit for the required credit check. It was incredible to be working almost full time to speed this deal along when the most we had hoped for during this interval was to get on call lists for several apartments for a distant-future move. We felt incredibly triumphant to secure this condo before it was even listed anywhere. And even more affirming of my strategy, after the newsletter came out, we had 2 more offers, which we didn’t pursue.
This condo, still unseen by us, isn’t perfect-perfect, but we were thrilled beyond belief. It’s 1000 square feet, 2 bedroom, 2 bath, north facing, with a balcony on the inner courtyard. We don’t need the 2nd bathroom and once we had bonded with the unit, our landlady remembered that the 2nd bedroom isn’t really a bedroom because it has a 6’ by 7’ archway into the living room. It gets described as a bedroom, a den, and a dining room but to my mind, it is none of those and instead the offspring of a foolish design. We anticipate visually disconnecting the 2 rooms and will forever lament the flaw but it is a small penalty for securing the otherwise great apartment in a super location so promptly. The inner courtyard view isn’t really a view by our standards but it won’t subject us to the traffic noise of the outward facing units in this downtown building. The north exposure isn’t as cheery as we would choose, but we would deal with it for the many other advantages. As the currently popular expression goes “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.”
Another uninviting, skinny, “millennial” kitchen, but without a microwave oven.
In mid-August, during a lull in the fast-paced quest for our new apartment, it dawned on me that this journey had had a sub-story about relationships. There had been that opportunistic price-hike by an agent when we expressed interest in a particular unit in her building but almost all of the other relationships established in our apartment search were new and almost all were initiated by me asking for help, telling the truth, and being vulnerable. The folks I interacted with who insisted on playing power games and drawing lines in the sand quickly learned that I could do that too, but my bias was, and is always, towards collaborative relationships.
The most fascinating relationship evolution to observe while in it was the one between me and Sue, our new landlady. By mid-August, we were still 2 weeks away from meeting face-to-face, but I was extremely pleased with our relationship. Part way through our process of leasing from her, she wrote “I have a good feeling about how this is going to work out” and I replied that I agreed and that I always strove for ‘win-win’ relationships.
From the moment of our first contact, our one-and-only phone call, it was clear that we were both invested in having a successful business relationship and a friendship. While we gradually worked through the bumps in the road towards us leasing her condo, we each gradually revealed more about ourselves and dabbled in humor. Some days I spent an inordinate amount of time crafting an email reply to her to have exactly the right tone: to be clear about what I wanted, to share what my outside boundaries were, and to lay bare where I could compromise and where I couldn’t. I viewed the establishment and refinement of our relationship as a triumph for both of us and hoped it would endure.
I was grateful for the relationship Bill and I had both cultivated with our current apartment manager over the last 9 years. I cautiously approached her early in the search for a little insider information about the current market and other properties owned by her employer. She was generous with her information and we believe that she also informally vetted us with winks and nods when we were looking at the property where we landed the condo, though through a private owner.
The managers of the HOA in our new building were careful to maintain a very professional tone, resulting in me doing the same. Our relationship with them is quite odd because we aren’t HOA members but Sue, our landlady is, but our move details were controlled by the HOA. I vowed to keep my commentary to myself and keep saluting.
We received this photo of our lovely, 20-year-old, "boomer" kitchen after we signed the lease.
The huge outlay of time and energy in culling for a potential move and then actually securing a place to move to, slowed to a trickle after about a month. Then, it was waiting until it was time for the next action step.
Our fate, our schedule, hinged on the carpet installer performing as promised. We had a 3 day buffer for flubs on their part and if their work slipped beyond that, we’d be in chaos. Our expenses with the HOA would shoot up if we missed the 4 hour scheduled window for move-in, who knows what would happen to the appointment with movers, and we’d be out on the street because our current apartment would likely be rented by then, given the hot market.
About the time of this lull, we decided to leave Bend and make a run for cleaner air near the coast at Castle Rock, WA and then Astoria, OR. We’d hiked in borderline air quality because of smoke in Bend for a week and then were basically shut-ins for a second week and the air quality forecast looked bleak. We left when the AQI was a toxic 180 and that evening it rose to 533! It improved the following day, but the good air intervals for the next several weeks were measured in hours, not days.
We fiddled with finishing up change-of-address chores, shopping for kitchen shelf organizers, and brainstorming possible furniture on which to sit in the living room. Our appointment to meet Sue and receive our keys was made, as well as our 1-2 hour video orientation with the president of the HOA. It was like preparing for a long flight and then waiting for the big day to arrive. We waited, and waited, and hoped for the best, we hoped for a happy ending to the incredible, exciting story of our fantastic move.