— Essentials —


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Baby Boomers who left the city in favor of large parcels of land and big houses are now clambering to downsize and find a sense of community in small towns like mine. As a result, the real estate market here has turned into a feeding frenzy where sellers and buyers—like me—are churning the waters.

Questionable neighborhoods with rickety eyesores and truckloads of junk in the front yard are the chum in these shark-infested real estate waters.

Most of the streets in the heart of the city are becoming gentrified, while others… Let’s just say no amount of prayer or exorcism can erase their bad juju. Even so, buyers are expecting to find good deals there, while sellers are viewing this frenzy as their opportunity to get rich. The prices they want for their dirt, and a hovel that will topple in the next big wind, aren’t even close to the appraised value. It’s crazy!

Some of the tumbledowns have multiple, tarp-covered structures in the backyard along with outhouses, rusty tools and barking dogs chained to the fence. They’re the kind of place you’d expect young girls—missing for decades—to be kept prisoner. Next door to some are restored, craftsman-style cottages or new homes with big windows that gives slum owners a glimpse of the lifestyle they’re missing.

Every day I drive up and down the streets, along with a succession of other prospective buyers, looking for a house to restore or a small overgrown lot that hasn’t been built on… Something I can afford… “Afford” being the operative word. I’ve made a spreadsheet of teardown candidates and empty lots; their tax value and the names and addresses of the owners. Finding their phone numbers, however, requires my best Nancy Drew skills.

Maybe I’ve been watching too many Fixer Uppers, but believe it or not, my favorite location is an old, red brick filling station on a big corner lot with room to build an addition and create a backyard with lights in the trees for alfresco dining. Redone in an open concept, like an avant-garde New York City loft, it would be smashing with anything from Louis XVI to Mies van der Rohe, but the owner turns a deaf ear to all inquires that come his way.

While it takes hands to build a house, only hearts can build a home. Sam and Molly and I are trying, but our hearts aren’t here in our rental home. Except for a brief time when my first husband and I lived in Silicon Valley, this is the first time I haven’t had a home of my own. I feel like a displaced person who’s been forced to leave their home and in some ways, I am. Had the less-than-ethical builder not strung me along about how soon he’d start on my garden home, I wouldn’t have sold my Little House.

I don’t think I’m asking for the moon, just an affordable alternative to a tiny house. I’m calling it “smart sizing,” something economical to maintain with enough room for me to get my life out of storage. I’ll keep you posted.

Love, Brenda


  • Elizabeth July 16, 2016 at 6:26 am

    Good luck with your search, Brenda. I know the right place for you is just around the corner!

    • 1010ParkPlace July 17, 2016 at 7:04 pm

      Promise? I hope so! Thanks for your encouragement.

  • Jane Stieren Lacy July 16, 2016 at 8:41 am

    Brenda, do you want to be in San Antonio? Call Liz Chiego at Phyllis Browning. If you want something out here, call Al Phillip at Kuper Southeby.


    • 1010ParkPlace July 17, 2016 at 7:02 pm

      Hi Sweet Lady,
      I can’t go back to San Antonio. Periodically I drive around but am reminded why we fled the big city in the first place. I may call Al, although every realtor I’ve spoke with is amazed that I know as much about what’s available as they do. They’d LOVE to have my spreadsheet. I appreciate you.

  • Jennifer July 16, 2016 at 8:47 am

    You’ll find it Brenda, just keep hunting. That builder was a sleaze. You’re lucky not to be living in what he planned. It would be shoddy workmanship anyway. Good luck. The right place is waiting for you.

    • 1010ParkPlace July 17, 2016 at 7:00 pm

      The desire to have my own home is difficult to quell. Notice I didn’t say “burning” desire. I’m mindful of the stories we tell ourselves.
      Thank you!

  • tara s dillard July 16, 2016 at 10:21 am

    Timing is not on your side. Zero available near me, living rural, either, unless it’s over priced and needs major renovation. What the sellers don’t realize, is the plug will be pulled again, just like 2008. Another thing I’ve noticed living rural are the homes left empty, and rotting. Why? Family still owns it and doesn’t want to get rid of grandma’s house or they are in no hurry to sell, what is 20 years to them? True stories happening near me.

    We are looking for a couple of modest homes to rent out. Even old mobile homes on property are sky hi.

    In a perfect world you get the Gas Station. It is gorgeous.

    When a path is slow, unexpected, surprising, beyond your control, alas, it’s meant to be. You are being protected from something, and moved somewhere specific. Beyond your knowing, at present.

    You are strong, sharing this path.

    Garden & Be Well, XOT

    • 1010ParkPlace July 17, 2016 at 6:58 pm

      I’m finding the same things to be true here. Families don’t want to live at grandma’s, but they’re in no hurry to sell either. They’d rather wait until they get their magic price. I’m trying to know that those things before me at the moment are not meant to be. I dream of a place I can unpack those loved things that have been in storage for 10 years; a backyard you can help me turn into a little oasis… Yes, I am strong, as are you. Thank you for your wise words. It’s sometimes difficult to be on this journey alone.

  • Dr. Margaret Rutherford July 16, 2016 at 10:28 am

    We’ve got a lot of room here in Arkansas Brenda! Come on down, pour yourself a bowl of grits, and call them Hogs!!! More seriously, when you’ve lived somewhere and experienced a home that is soothing, almost like a haven, it’s hard to not have that. I hope you find something soon.

    • 1010ParkPlace July 17, 2016 at 6:14 pm

      Hi Margaret!
      While Arkansas is beautiful, it’s not home… I shouldn’t complain because I’ve been blessed with two long-time havens, but you’re right, It’s hard not to have that anymore.

  • Laura Lee Carter July 16, 2016 at 10:44 am

    So sorry to hear of your unfortunate circumstances. You sound like me when we sold our nice home in suburbia and couldn’t find a decent rental in the small town we were building a home near. Hang in there! Things will somehow work out well…you’ll see!

    • 1010ParkPlace July 17, 2016 at 6:12 pm

      It’s good to know I’m not the only one who’s run into snags. I’m widowed, have no children, so I want nothing more than to stay healthy, find the right place to live and get my things out of storage.
      Thank you for your encouragement,

  • Carol-Ann Dearnaley July 16, 2016 at 10:56 am

    I can so relate. I now live in a New England mill town, with all the problems that come with that territory because it was the only property that would take what I own. And I dearly love the house. The village? Not so much. Also, here in the Northeast, and I guess every where, once a person sells out of a prime neighborhood, which I did, unless you hit the jackpot, you can’t afford to buy back in. There seem to be good vibes around that garage. What about EPA stuff?

    • 1010ParkPlace July 17, 2016 at 6:10 pm

      That’s so true: Once you sell out of one prime neighborhood, you can’t afford to buy back in. It’s probably just as well the guy who owns the garage and the surrounding block doesn’t want to sell. Who knows? There may still be gas tanks buried underground… at the very least, some EPA hoops to jump through. I hear those can be quite expensive. Perhaps the affordable right fit will come along for both of us.
      Thanks for your support. I appreciate it more than you know.

  • Barbara July 16, 2016 at 11:01 am

    I love your vision for the old filling station! There must be more like it close by, aren’t there? Maybe you can make it work in a different area. I agree with everyone else, when it’s right you will know it. Sometimes desperation messes with our minds and creates anxiety. When we let it go things start to move. I was feeling as you are now when we sold our city house and beach house so we could move to Cape May, but couldn’t find a house in Cape May! It got scary for a while. But the perfect house popped up at just the right time and everything fell into place. Let go and let God, as the saying goes. I’m rootin’ for you!

    • 1010ParkPlace July 17, 2016 at 6:06 pm

      Your wise words are just what I needed to hear. Really! I feel like I’ve wasted a year with the dishonest builder and am feeling like I need to find something soon. I just need to let go, and absolutely… Let God. Thanks for letting me know everything worked out for you.

  • Alana July 16, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    I will also hope everything pops into place for you. It’s a tough thing, but Margaret above may be right – maybe not Arkansas, but a part of the country you may not have considered.

    • 1010ParkPlace July 17, 2016 at 6:03 pm

      I’ve thought about moving to another part of the country, but Texas is home, and I don’t relish the thought of starting over where I don’t know anyone. It’s an interesting fantasy, but not for me right now. Thanks for your well wishes. I appreciate them!

  • Irene G Hall July 17, 2016 at 6:38 am

    Your heart is in Texas Hill Country and who can blame you! At one point, you mentioned moving to NYC part time. Your ideas of the transforming the gas station to chic flat sounds right on point. Hhmmm…if you could only figure out why he won’t sell. It must be sentimental values, because who else would buy it? I just moved across country to where my heart is, easier to say than do. Stay in the rental awhile and keep hunting.

    • 1010ParkPlace July 17, 2016 at 3:37 pm

      Hi Irene,
      NYC is not for me. I thought I could make the transition full-time, but I’m a Texas girl at heart. Think the gas station land–and entire square city block–has been in the family for generations. Texan’s are funny that way. Many would rather eek out a meager living than sell land that’s been in the family. I’m happy to know you’ve followed your heart, and no… It easier said than done, but you’ve given me good advice: Stay put and keep looking.
      Thank you… Very much!

  • Elaine July 18, 2016 at 8:35 am

    Brenda – I am a fan of the show Fixer Upper. I mostly like the structural changes Joanna does to each house. I don’t really care for some of her decorating. I would love to take an old building like this and redo it! Here’s my advice – as you come across something of interest, drop the owner a note telling them you are interested. You may find someone that is ready to sell. That’s how I found my husband’s office and I have had clients that have found homes that way. Especially in a tight market like this. Good luck!!

    • 1010ParkPlace July 18, 2016 at 6:29 pm

      I’ve told you so many times… We think alike! I agree about Joanna’s structural changes versus her decorating style. Today I mailed handwritten letters to two owners. I hear the gas station guy is a definite no, besides, I think it would cost me a small fortune to pull up any remaining gas tanks and satisfy EPA requirements. I’m still going to write him a letter.

  • Donna O'Klock July 18, 2016 at 9:09 am

    Hold onto your vision, Brenda. The perfect place will appear in spite of all the supposed reasons it shouldn’t.
    I see you there, and when you have your housewarming party, I’ll bring the champagne!

  • 1010ParkPlace July 18, 2016 at 6:30 pm

    Counting on that Donna! When you see your way past the stack of boxes, I’ll bring champagne to your house! xoxox,

  • Jen Lawrence July 18, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    It’s crazy out there. You are an incredibly resourceful woman so if anyone can find the needle in a haystack it’s you. I think you will make carbon into diamonds through sheer willpower if that’s what it takes. And when your dream place comes about, I’ll be there at that champagne party!! xoxo

    • Brenda Coffee July 19, 2016 at 3:44 pm

      I’m beginning to feel like a stalker and have resorted to sometimes driving my truck so residents don’t see me in the same vehicle, yet again. This is a small town, so I’m sure anyone who’s paying attention recognizes me regardless of what I’m driving. Here’s hoping the champagne river flows! Thanks for your encouraging words. xoxox, Brenda

  • Esther Zimmer July 20, 2016 at 12:40 am

    Brenda, I’m sorry to read that finding your next home is taking up so much time and effort! However, like so many before me, I don’t doubt for a second that the right place is waiting for you and once you find it, the journey you’re on now will make sense. I realise that’s hard to hold onto when you and your furry family are feeling less than settled when you are, and the search is proving frustrating, but how sweet it will be when you and your new home come together! Much love, Essie. xxxx

  • 1010ParkPlace July 20, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Thanks for the encouragement!!! This is a small community, so it’s not like hundreds of properties come on the market every week, plus I try to remind myself I’ve only been looking for a month. When you’re missing that comforting sense of home, however, it seems a lot longer.

    Tasmania… Just the name is so exotic! Here in the US, as kids, we used to hear a lot about Tasmanian Devils… Not sure I would know one if it bit me on the behind. You should write a post about what it was like to grow up there. Love, Brenda

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