Moving with a Virtual Tour: Why I Signed a Lease on a House Sight Unseen

When my girlfriend and I started considering a cross-country move back in early March, we had no idea how much our lives were about to change. Then again, perhaps no one did. Within a matter of weeks, New York City shut down, and our tiny Brooklyn apartment became the center of our lives. In the midst of all that, my girlfriend continued with her job interviews—without leaving our home office—and I tried my best to hold onto some semblance of normalcy, for both our sakes. That didn’t last long. Soon after she accepted an offer in Seattle, I was laid off from my media job, and suddenly we were committed to a drive across the country in the middle of a pandemic.

A very frantic search for our would-be new home ensued. We spent hours sifting through sites like Trulia and Zillow, trying to figure out what went where when most listings did not include floor plans or videos. One evening in early May, a landlord called us out of the blue—would we like to FaceTime with the current tenant and get a virtual tour? We jumped on the rare opportunity to speak with someone who was actually living there. It felt a little more foolproof than chatting with a realtor, who would probably just tell us what we wanted to hear. Plus, when we did get that tour, the house was so bright it was almost blinding on the tiny screen of my iPhone. We were sold. 

When we arrived in Seattle in early June, we were fully prepared for a few surprises. After all, we did just sign a lease on a single-family house during a pandemic—without ever seeing it in person first. Most of the surprises, however, turned out to be pleasant ones. First, we realized that the advertised “closet” in our sunroom was not really a closet at all, but a whole other room—it’s the same size as our former office in Clinton Hill. Our guest bedroom, meanwhile, offered enough space to become my sewing studio, and for the first time, I have ample space and time to make clothes without co-opting every surface of our home. When I recovered from being laid off, freelancing began to feel like a gift instead of a burden. It turns out that with the privilege of existing in a larger, markedly different space, the bounds of my creativity could also expand, mirroring a new physical freedom.

Still, there are the spiders. And the bumble bees. And the fact that not one room has overhead lighting or central heat. Maintaining a 124-year-old house with lots of square footage isn’t without its challenges. We traded in the convenience of living in New York, where everything I ever thought I needed was for sale at the corner bodega, for a different kind of comfort: one where we are getting reacquainted with having much more space both indoors and out.

Two months ago, leaving New York felt like leaving the center of the universe. When you opt out of the rat race—whether by choice or not—a very real panic sets in. Where does my identity come from if I can no longer call myself “a writer from New York”? The city played such a dominant role in my life that it became a stand-in for a truer, more complicated description; a crutch I could use instead of actually defining who I was, regardless of location. Intellectually, I knew that existing outside of New York would not make me irrelevant. But it took moving away from that city which I will always love to understand that my life and career need not revolve around chasing relevance itself. 

The simple act of moving to a new place during a stressful time has revealed lessons for us both. And while Seattle is still mostly locked down because of Coronavirus, we have had all the time in the world to paint almost every wall of the house, take innumerable self-guided walking tours of our new neighborhood, and plant half a dozen veggies and herbs in our backyard. I’m still thrilled we took a leap of faith by signing a lease—even though, in a dream world, I’d inspect every square inch of my future place—and now we’re taking a moment to enjoy the simple pleasures that come with finally being (in a blessedly spacious) home.

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