My First Home: Bailing out of the burbs — for now

My First Home
. Handout

Our first house was a small three-bedroom Colonial in Boston’s western suburbs. I was a newly minted financial services guy and husband, and my wife was a news reporter at a local radio station with hopes of breaking into television.

The house was built in the 1940s and needed work. Walls sported layers of wallpaper with bald eagles perched on gold balls, and fresh paint hadn’t touched the interior in years.

My father-in-law laughed at the price, saying his dad bought the same style house for one-tenth the money. I explained that this was Greater Boston and gave him a lesson on inflation, but the laughter continued.

Financing came from a private local bank. I was surprised they even considered us for a mortgage, but the owner, an older gentleman, thought my wife had an honest face. So, without checking references, financial or otherwise, he gave us a loan at a 16.50 percent interest rate and threw in a cord of wood at closing.

So, we stripped wallpaper, insulated windows, and painted — and painted. Along the way, we learned latex over a whitewashed ceiling “melts,’’ dripping slowly to the floor in odd-shaped puddles.

For the bedroom, we’d chosen an off-white with “Sturbridge Colonial Blue’’ trim. But as the last bit of paint hit the windowsill, we fell to the floor, tears in our eyes — the blue trim seemed to suck the air out of the room, making it feel closet sized.

After six months, my wife got her break anchoring an overnight TV newscast from 11 to 6, and our routine changed. At night, I’d make her hot tea with lemon and wave goodbye as she drove to work. In the morning, I’d hang blankets over the bedroom windows so she could sleep.

After three months of this, we put the house on the market. Being newbies, we tried to sell without a real estate broker, which meant spending endless weekends watching the phone not ring.

Finally we got an offer — for our original purchase price. Despite a ton of “sweat equity’’ and spending real money on carpets and updating a 50-year-old kitchen, we were going to sell at a loss. It was our only offer, and even that almost fell through when the buyer wanted us to throw in the washer and dryer. I said we would for $200. He said no. I said no deal, and then told my wife, who urged me to get back on that phone and say yes.

Then we bought a small condo in the city.

Buying a home makes you focus on reality. We went to the suburbs too early — without fully appreciating the financial commitment, the commute, or the fact that we were years away from having a family. That said, our first house did teach us many life lessons and put us on the road to purchases that have worked out very well, in part by remembering the adage “location, location, location.’’

Gary R. Lee, a tax attorney, lives in Cohasset. Send comments and a 550-word essay on your first home to Please note: We will not respond to submissions we won’t pursue. Subscribe to our free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at