I’ve been looking for a home on Vashon for three years.
I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Island living would involve a few quirks and I was ready for complicated mathematical story problems involving water taxi schedules and the speed at which I could pedal a rusty one-speed bicycle from various locations. I spent time learning about ferry delays, landslides, water rights and wayward deer. I thought I did all my homework, yet I haven’t once come close to buying a place.
When I feel discouraged, which is almost always, I take a trip to the island to hike one of the woodsy trails, visit Burton Coffee or find a good spot to sit and have lunch by the water. Watching West Seattle shrink into the distance as I sail away still feels like a vacation – even when I play ferry roulette and end up waiting five times longer than planned for a boat.
While waiting in the ferry line, I can usually find a way to amuse myself. Sometimes I’ll pull up Zillow to scan all the “sold” properties that I’ve saved. To torture myself further, I like to drive by those special places, only this time with the benefit of hindsight. Even listings that were questionable at the time now sparkle from the road like unattainable castles.
“Murder shack” has become the one that got away.
My husband and I noticed it on a cold, foggy day. We didn’t have an appointment to see it, but the door was ajar as if someone had left in a hurry, so we peeked in. The ceilings were low like a jail cell and in one of the corners was a large blood-red stain that could not be explained. Vermin scattered as we stepped toward what was probably the kitchen, although it was hard to tell with so many appliances missing.
“I think it has potential,” said the husband. But I couldn’t hear him because I had already fled to the porch in case the whole structure collapsed. But the view! It was on the water. We could have saved it. We could have cleaned it up, said the husband. I wasn’t so sure at the time.
Now, when we drive by the property, which is slowly being restored by a couple probably just like us, we say out loud, “Oh murder shack, we should’ve bought you!”
What seemed affordable several years ago may never have been. Over time, it seems the island has split into two “for sale” categories: tear-downs and million-dollar homes. Neither one will work for us and we are not all-cash buyers. This seems to put us far out of the running when competing for properties.
We think back to one of the three real estate agents who retired when we were working with them. When we saw the first agent, she asked what we were interested in and we said we hoped for a place with a view, or maybe a spot with lots of trees and acreage so our dog could run. We wanted solace from the increasingly chaotic city life that had started to become so exhausting in Seattle. Maybe I would sell honey and flowers from a roadside stand, or island life would inspire me so much that I’d quit my real job and become a goat herder.
After we explained what we were looking for, our Vashon real estate agent put her head down on her desk for way too long. We both stared at the top of her white head of hair in silence, wondering if we should ask if she was ok. Finally, she looked up, took off her glasses and mumbled, “I really have to retire.” Within a year, she did. It didn’t seem like we were being that unreasonable. We could wait for the right place.
Now that the pandemic has allowed so many people from Seattle to telecommute from any location for work, we realize that we are not the only ones looking for a way out of city life. One of the real estate agents said we should work on our “love letter to Vashon,” making sure to include a picture of us and the dog — but especially the dog, because she is the most photogenic. Our letter would tell the seller how we could help make the island a better place and would allow us to stand out from a sea of aggressive buyers, even if we didn’t have the largest down payment.
The letter sits unprinted in a folder waiting for the day we finally make an offer on a place if we ever do. I still think the right place will come along. If I can just keep being patient.
Diana Wurn is a writer based in West Seattle. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Seattle Magazine, Seattle Times, and elsewhere. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.