June 2024

The Joyful Terrors of Owning a Home

Michael Bettencourt | Scene4 Magazine

Michael Bettencourt

The Marvelous María Beatriz and I purchased a home on Feb. 22, 2024, in Ludlow, MA.


I am sure there must be a long German word that describes the simultaneous terror and joy that fills the lawyer’s office as one sits at the conference table with the Esq. and real estate agent and signs document after document, hands over a bank check with massive numbers on it for the down payment, and walks out into the open air a couple of hundred thousand dollars in hock and bearing a back-of-the-napkin sketch of turning the property into the oasis one has always wanted (with hastily sketched budget figures to the side).

So far, it has been more joy than terror. We’ve made repairs we knew were needed, based on our home inspector’s report, like moving the electrical panel from inside the basement bathroom to somewhere else in the basement (and why would they have built a moist room around the electrical hub of the house – one of the many discovered mysteries of the place).

We’ve tapped into the state’s generous support for weatherizing the house (it’s 74 years old) with 19 inches of cellulose foam in the attic, more inches in the walls, sealing the gaps along the sill – and now it’s on to discussions of heat pumps and solar.

We’ve begun taming the land itself with our new lawnmower and weed whacker, figured out the town’s garbage and recycling schedules, met a few of the neighbors (we have the nucleus of a biker’s club as our north neighbor, the Uncaged Lions, but they mostly gather on weekends to discuss whatever they discuss on the front lawn and admire each other’s Harleys – and they are all Harleys), found the path down to the Chicopee River, navigated to the local stores, spent too much time at Home Depot and Lowe’s.

The monthly mortgage payment is like that scary jump-out-of-the-dark moment in a horror movie, where the heart revs and the gorge rises in the throat – but we’re getting used to it. And there are the unknown unknowns that keep me up at night because I cannot predict the future (even one minute beyond where I am) but must still move forward, swallowing the risk and hoping for the reward, knowing full well it can all implode in a literal heartbeat (did I hear stroke? infarction? aneurism?) and yet still climbing the ladder to clean the gutters and wrestling with the burdock taking over the lower corner.

Over the past few months, I’ve gotten better in disciplining myself to let the base note of dread hum its underscoring while attending to the multiple slips of paper in the job jar, finishing the tasks one at a time and taking comfort and reward from the finishing – not letting the former paralyze the latter. Do the planning and budgeting and weed whacking, go ahead and transform the mud room into a beautiful welcoming alcove, mesh out the wi-fi to the workshop in the back yard, even as you know from the low murmurs of entropy in your inner ears that it will all go to smash in the end. The trick, I’m learning, is to make the “going to smash” as spectacular and lovely and homely and beautiful as possible.

Who knew real estate would morph into a spiritual discipline? But it has indeed.


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Michael Bettencourt is an essayist and a playwright.
He is a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
Continued thanks to his “prime mate"
and wife, María-Beatriz.
For more of his columns, articles, and media,
check the Archives.

©2024 Michael Bettencourt
©2024 Publication Scene4 Magazine




and creates


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