From time to time, whenever inspiration aligns with respiration, I will be contributing a column to this paper. It will cover some aspect of moving to and living on this Island, trekking toward retirement while reducing stress and making mole hills out of former mountains. Welcome to the Washashore Chronicles.
You need a lot of money to sell a house. And you need a little more than that if you’re selling two. That’s because it’s a privilege to live in Massachusetts, and you have to pay for that privilege.
By the beginning of 2011, my wife and I decided to make our permanent home on the Vineyard. Why? Because, first and foremost, we had found our dream house in Vineyard Haven. And to make sure the dream would not turn into a nightmare, we decided to sell two houses. Thinking of retirement, why would we need two houses? And a third would be delusional, at best. Our main house was in South Natick in the western suburbs of Boston. Our occasional house was in Menemsha in the western suburbs of Chilmark.
We did not want to act in a rash manner. We did not want to find ourselves a year or so later hanging a sign above our new door that said “Hasty Retreat.” We wanted to weigh all our options and proceed wisely. So, naturally, we discussed all the ins and outs and ups and downs with Floyd, our very responsible yellow lab. After he digested all we had to say, along with a bag of treats, he wagged his approval.
Then we got hit by a title wave. I spelled that right. Actually it’s called Title V, pronounced “five.” The South Natick house, which we had owned for 14 years, was our grand hotel of 3,800 square feet, sitting woodsily on nearly an acre and a half. It served us well, especially at holiday time. My wife, Paula, is one of nine and has about three dozen people directly related to her. Every get-together was a party of major proportions and major portions. Our 32-year-old six-bedroom septic performed admirably.
Until it was time to sell the house. Diagnosis: failure — not immediate but, given the condition of the pipes, foreseen three years into the future. Turns out the official inspector also has to be a licensed clairvoyant.
In Massachusetts you cannot sell a house if your septic system fails an official inspection. Your local board of health will require you to replace it. To understand the full force and rip tides of Title V, there are 96 pages of guidelines. Depending on how much digging is involved, the inspection can run between $400 and $550. A new septic installation can run anywhere between $10,000 and $60,000. This, of course, depends on how much medicating may be involved. Our final bill came in just under $30,000. Gulp.
That was the first shocker. The second came when it was time to sell our modest 1,100-square-foot cottage in Menemsha. When we bought it in 1987, it was not illegal to sell us the house with an underground oil tank. Since the furnace had been on its last legs, we opted for electric heat. We then followed the proper procedures for closing and sealing the oil tank. Little did we know that by the time we opted to sell the house 24 years later, we could not legally do that until we removed the underground oil tank — to the tune of $3,200. I can think of catchier melodies.
Two surprise out-of-pocket expenses like that tend to cloud your vision of happiness. But, as Americans, we still have the right to pursue it. So we held our breath, pinched what was left of our pennies and bought our dream house — the one with a fairly young septic system and without a buried oil tank.
I have waited my whole life to live just off Main street — anywhere. And now that’s exactly where we are in Vineyard Haven. A perfect location for many a need. What we mostly need at this time of our lives is to walk. Where we live now causes more wear and tear on our shoes than on our cars. This is highly cost effective. So off we go to the beach, bank, post office, cafes, shops, Bunch of Grapes, Playhouse, Capawock, Katharine Cornell and town hall. When we return home, we unleash the dog, pat the car and put on slippers.
It’s also a seven-minute walk to the ferry. This is quite beneficial for those spur-of-the-moment leaps to the mainland. It also means our home can be transformed into a human parking garage. Such was the case last summer (our first summer) when friends and family found out how easy it was to visit us without booking their cars on the ferry. Frankly, we loved all the attention.
We also love the Island pace. Everything seems slower here, in a good way. Less urgency. Less anxiety. Life here is more dog trot than rat race. My blood pressure has gone down to somewhere between a septic and an oil tank.
Even the concept of traffic is less frantic. Of course, I am not referring to summer.
Sometimes traffic slows to a point where I feel I’m behind someone circling the neighborhood in search of parking on her way to a meeting of the Daughters of Methuselah. No doubt in a few years time when they decide to make that a coed group I’ll be joining and you’ll be driving behind me. So please take a deep breath (refreshing, isn’t it?) and relax or kindly honk quietly.
Arnie Reisman and his wife, Paula Lyons, regularly appear on the weekly NPR comedy quiz show, Says You! He also writes for the Huffington Post.