Illustration by Brett Affrunti
The place needed work. Someone had cut it up into an illegal triplex. Yet we were enchanted the day the “for sale” sign went up outside the house with the picket fence. The very beams seemed glad to see us as the retirees who owned it offered us a glass of wine and invited us in.
Inside, you could hear the surf if you listened. There was something about the way the sun poured through the windows, something about his Irish brogue and her French Canadian accent. We belonged to that house in Laguna Beach before it belonged to us, really, and during the next seven years, no amount of remodeling and restoration changed that. Even after our kids had gone off to colleges, jobs, and marriages, that was our house, and we were its people. We never imagined we might someday regret becoming so attached.
A funny thing happens when you buy into a beach town. People warn you that you’ll never be able to sell. What they mean is that beach real estate rarely gets cheaper, and once people cash out, they usually can’t afford to buy back in.
But nobody warns you about the bond that can grow between a house and the people it chooses—the history that can accumulate between, say, a kitchen and the mother who has made pancakes in it for so long that she can’t think of it without smelling syrup. Or a teenager and the bedroom that sheltered her through sobs and study sessions and secrets.
Last year, my husband was offered a job in Northern California. Then, more recently, so was I. We realized we would have to move—this Land’s End column will be my last after four lucky years with you, dear Orange Coast readers—but never has a family had such a time changing addresses.
When we tried to sell it, the house seemed to resist buyers. When we tried to rent it, the stove, air conditioning, and plumbing went haywire in improbable succession. When we fixed all that and finally leased it long-term, we began hearing from neighbors: Something bad is happening at your house. People coming and going at all hours, yelling, beer bottles and cigarette butts—Mayday!
When we drove down to investigate, our thoroughly vetted tenant turned out to have turned the place over to his thoroughly unvetted girlfriend, who had turned our home into an illegal vacation rental. When we knocked on the door, a dentist from Grass Valley showed us the receipt for his weeklong stay there. Had we not known about the ad on TripAdvisor?
Behind him, the house seemed to slump, its French doors hanging helplessly open. “Where were you?” it seemed to say.
So now we’re preparing to retake our house, in a sense. Have we abandoned Northern California? No. But our grown kids do need a place to live, and the place does seem to like them, and sometimes there’s just no saying no to the home where your heart is. Au revoir, as the retirees said, and may the road rise to meet you. Here or elsewhere, there’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.