“If there is a God, give me a sign.” Steve Martin, 1976
“I think we’d better see it.” Bob Simmons, 2005-2013
I can’t say I remember starting to look at real estate houses with Bob & Dee Simmons. I suppose there must have been a beginning to the relationship, but it almost seems like they’ve always been part of my professional life. Like a song so old that no one alive remembers who wrote it, Bob & Dee reside in a cliental category all their own labeled “traditional.”
I’m no archivist. But I do keep a crude paper file on clients, tracking what listings I’ve shown them. Most files eventually include a purchase contract & addenda, loan documents, and if we’re really lucky– closing papers. Others are grimly filed in low drawer labeled shit. But few– in fact, no others– remain atop the in-basket year after year taking on girth like the Simmons’ file. It’s like a loose-leaf manilla phonebook, its edges grimy & worn. And it is filled with houses they did not buy.
The earliest entries date to May 2005: a garden estate on Samish Ridge for $379,000. The charmer on Eldridge (water side) for $470,000. Some rambler on the lake for $399,000. I don’t remember any of these homes. But then there is a jump in the timeline to spring 2008 and the listings begin to sound familiar. Lynn Street (creek side) $354,000. Huron Street (Bay view) $299,000. Cedar Hills $329,000.
I don’t think we’ve seen 200 homes, but I’ll bet there’s been 100. We’ve talked about 500 if we’ve talked about 5, as Bob used to email every Monday morning with notes from the Sunday ads:
Page 3, 7th row, 4th column: Sunny & spotless Bellingham view home has new maple kitchen and private herb garden. $359,900
Sometimes there wouldn’t be much to go on, but I’d use what information the ad did offer to track the listing in the MLS only to find it was on three levels in Sudden Valley.
What Bob & Dee were looking for didn’t have three levels, and it wasn’t in Sudden Valley. In fact, the profile they sought never changed, even if it did breathe a little as the years drifted lazily by. One key feature was always a one-level plan, though we did see some daylight ramblers. Avid gardeners, they needed some space & sun in which to grow– whether an orchard w/ chicken coop or merely room for a few raised beds & containers. Additionally, they would love a water view, but also would strategically trade one for something within walking distance to downtown or Fairhaven.
So there’s been “wiggle room” in their dream house dream. They’ve not necessarily been looking for a needle in the compost bin. But the single most defining and confounding feature of all was the one that Bob & Dee flatly refused to compromise on– they absolutely would not live in honkeytown.
Honkeytown is my term, not theirs– and I’m not certain I understand what it means well enough to describe it. I know it when I see it, though, and the Simmonses do too. It’s not just that a house is in a subdivision– some subdivisions have grown up just fine. It’s not just that the garage sticks out of the front of the house like a clown’s red nose– most homes in the U.S. built after about 1955 share this unfortunate design. It’s not riverrock trim or dometop windows or a sign that welcomes you to the neighborhood. Rather it’s a composite of these and other features in a neighborhood where every home is a variation a half-dozen floorplans, all wrapped in a weedless sidewalk that no one ever walks on. It’s a hard fingerprint to dust for, and no real estate advertisements ever use the words PLAIN, VANILLA, SOULLESS, DRY, COLD, STAID or LAME.
Bob & Dee wanted something elegantly funky– but funky is as funky does and there are lots of subtly different varieties of funky. It’s hard to search for, conventionally, but we did. We searched and searched on-and-off (mostly on) for eight years we searched.
I’m so darned fond of both of them, I’m not sure what I’ll do now that we’ve found them the perfect home. Tune in next week for the dramatic conclusion, told here for the first time…