In the 1999, my best friend and I bid on the same house.
I was pregnant with my second child; she already had two small children. We both lived in a town where people with school-aged children all seemed to be moving away. I was sad and exhausted from losing friends and neighbors. I said to my husband, “I don’t want to spend the next two decades saying goodbye to people.” So he agreed to move to the suburbs.
I didn’t think my friend and I would even look at the same houses. Our situations were completely different. We were selling a brownstone whose value had doubled since we’d purchased it. They were coming from a rental apartment.
But I was mistaken. Not only did we both look at the same houses, we both fell in love with the same houses. And unfortunately, so did many other people. It was the beginning of the Montclair Bidding Wars and finding a house...loving a house…even being able to pay for a house…had no bearing on whether you might one day own the house.
My best friend seemed a little more desperate than we were. Her youngest was just a baby who should have been napping frequently during the day. Their upstairs neighbors had young children and wore heavy shoes. All day long they frolicked and clomped above the nursery. My best friend and her baby were sleepless and cranky.
We had a whole house, a parking spot, a lovely babysitter, an easy life. I wasn’t suffering. I just didn’t want to be left by all my friends anymore.
At one point, we were both smitten with a house on the hill. “We’re going to bid on it,” my best friend said to me.
“Ok, you take it,” I said. It seemed like I was being magnanimous but really I just wanted her out of the running. I wanted to be able to look for houses without worrying that my best friend was going to want what I wanted. Plus, the house on the hill had no first floor powder room, so I “unselfishly” allowed her to pursue it.
Others, too, were undaunted by the lack of powder room, largely because the house was an easy walk to town. Bus, train, shopping – it fit perfectly the specs of what all us City Mice were looking for. Several couples bid on that house, and my best friend and her husband lost out.
There were other houses that we came close to bidding on, but mostly we passed because of location. My husband is legally blind and we needed to be within walking distance of a lot of things. My best friend lost a second house to a higher bidder and the process was making her tired and grumpy.
The house that we both bid on was for sale by owner. I’d heard about it from a friend who lived on the block and once I saw it I decided not to tell my best friend about it at all. It was a house that she, too, would surely fall in love with because it was perfect in every imaginable way. It was spacious and beautiful, decorated by an artist, new kitchen, first floor powder room, and it was a short walk to shops, bus and train. I left that viewing certain – certain – that this would be our next home.
I’m not sure how my best friend found out about the house; I think her realtor told her. I was probably not right in withholding the information from her, but I was right about one thing: when she saw it, she wanted it too. After the two of us put our bids in (along with two or three other couples), the owner asked for everyone’s best and final offer. “Is it just going to be about the money?” I remember asking the owner, “because there are a lot of reasons we need this house.”
Along with our bid, I included an impassioned letter about why we had to have this particular house. I went on and on about the location, my husband’s vision issues, how all of our Mission furniture required just this Arts and Crafts style house as residence. I added that we had friends on the block and tried to drop the name of someone we both knew from business. I think I even invoked the notion of kismet – the house number was the same as our first house. I was all good omens and schmaltz in my letter and I went to sleep that night with absolute confidence that my powers of persuasion would finally yield us the house of our dreams.
But just to be safe, I called my friend and asked her to withdraw her bid. “My husband is legally blind,” I said with a complete lack of shame. “We need to live where he can walk.”
“My son hasn’t napped in months,” she said. “We need to move now.”
We lost the house. My best friend got it. Nobody felt especially good about it, least of all me. “Don’t worry,” she said to me, “we’ll find you a house right in this neighborhood. We’ll be neighbors and we can borrow cups of sugar from each other all the time.”
“Yeah, right,” I said, back in the days before “whatever” had made it’s way into my personal lexicon.
My best friend just left my house a few minutes ago, having taken an early morning shower here. Her hot water heater isn’t working. She drove her car to get here, but only because she had to go straight to work. Usually when she comes to borrow, she walks. Because we survived the war and now live two houses apart.