I Had No Plans on Moving: A 24-Hour House Hunt

Photo credit: Ursula Bonner

I had one day and one night to find a place (that I hadn’t planned on moving to).

I had no plans on moving. I was living in the same place I had lived for the past eight years — a two bedroom apartment, overlooking a parking lot and Lancaster Ave on the Main Line.

But on January 16, 2015, my partner got the call that led us to make the move to Western Massachusetts. Home to Smith College, the birth place of Emily Dickinson, the alma mater of David Foster Wallace, and the Scenter of the Universe™ — Yankee Candle Corporate.

We left sometime after noon the day she got the call. We packed overnight bags, stopped for lattes, and made the four-and-a-half hour drive north with our poodle.

Saturday morning, we left our hotel room in Holyoke and headed to Northampton to look for apartments. We had two showings lined up — both apartment homes. We stopped at a cafe in downtown Northampton and filled up on pastries and coffee. After an eight-year hiatus, I had one day and one night — 24 hours — to find a place (that I hadn’t planned on moving to).

$1,500 (utilities, heat, hot water not included)

Our first stop was promising when we pulled up… until it wasn’t. It was a stone’s throw from the center of town. We imagined biking with bread in our baskets on the bikes we didn’t have, somehow also balancing coffee in our hands while saving the environment. It had just snowed and the ground was covered in a smooth white layer that hung on the pines and covered the grounds and pushed up against the red brick of the town homes. My feet slipped on the ice and the freezing cold slush penetrated the thin leather of my boots.

I realized that I would have to upgrade my winter gear.

A mouse ran from the unit and across our footpath. I shot a look at my partner.

“Can’t keep those buggers out,” laughed the woman from the management office. We entered the unit — it was empty and had been for a while. The heat was off, it was musty, and just as cold inside as it was outside.

We toured the first floor — old carpet in the living room, stained tile floors in a tiny dining area, lots of windows, a small, cramped, dingy kitchen, and door that opened to woods behind the building. I checked under the sink — damp with an empty mouse trap. I opened the door to the boiler — another empty mouse trap was propped on top of it.

This place was one big rodent booby trap, and the mice weren’t taking the bait.

The upstairs was two even-sized rooms, one with a view out of the front overlooking the other apartments, and one with a view of the woods behind the apartment. The bathroom was generic — all white, tile walls, and an acrylic tub.

We walked through the home with “oohs and aahs,” and “oh, how lovely,” but our voices were colored with lies — we hated it.

As the woman locked up the unit as we left a tan Labrador walked by — his big paws left tracks on the path behind him, his mouth was hanging open, and his tongue was flying free — how cute, I thought to myself.

The woman turned her head, “I don’t recognize that dog… I’ll have to check that out when I get back to the office,” she said in a brash kind of way.

This wasn’t the place.

$1,400 (utilities, heat, hot water, cable, and internet included)

We took the exit for 91 and headed north to Sunderland. Halfway around the ramp, the traffic was backed up as far as we could see. The next apartment was twenty minutes north, but thanks to a military convoy that rear-ended one another, it almost took us almost an hour to get there.

Forty-five minutes later, we crossed a bridge that spanned the Connecticut River. We stopped at the first light, next to an old white chapel from the eighteenth century, and took a right. We passed a row of old colonials, a small market, and a cemetery from 1718 before we turned left into the apartment complex. We parked in a spot marked “Future Resident.”

We followed the woman from the management office across the snow-covered complex. Across from the complex was a massive open field that backed up to the cemetery and the river. Behind that stood Sugarloaf Mountain. It would have been beautiful if it weren’t dark and rainy. It could still be beautiful to Future Residents.

The third-floor apartment was dim, but warm. The main living space was one long narrow room; the kitchen (if you could call it that) was a third of the size of our current kitchen but it had nice touches. The appliances were stainless steel, the countertop was a laminate imitation of granite, and the floor was a linoleum printed as a light, elegant, hard wood floor.

It was convincing, if you didn’t look too close.

There was one window in the kitchen over the sink that looked out into a little yard in the back and another group of units behind that. The other window was on the other side of the room — the living room, and it overlooked a dog park — home, sweet home.

There were two bedrooms, the same size, like the other apartment. There was an in-unit washer and dryer (swoon, my heart beat faster; I had never had that before). A small hallway, and a bathroom with the same linoleum hardwood floor and laminate counter top — it was cute.

We left the apartment, and yes, we felt that it was the apartment. We put down the deposit to hold the unit and told the woman we would let her know by the end of the day whether we wanted to take it. It was cute but it was far, especially considering the weather in the winter.

We pulled out of the complex and followed a quaint, winding road, lined with trees and fields coated in a thin layer of snow that shone bright, even though the sun was bashfully hiding behind the clouds.

We saw a sign for a place called the Sugar Shack and my wheels slid as I quickly turned off the road and pulled into the gravel parking lot. It was exactly what you would expect it to be.

We decided to go into Amherst for lunch, to take a look around town, to take a breather, and think it over. I still wanted to see one more place, but Craigslist was sparse and most of the apartments wouldn’t accept dogs.

I checked the community board at the Black Sheep deli and came across a listing for an old Victorian in downtown Northampton buried underneath community yoga flyers. I snapped a picture of the listing, went back to the table and showed my partner.

“We should see this, we should see one more place,” I said.

I called and left a message, and we continued with our lunch. The sun was starting to fall, the outside was collectively growing dark, and the night was getting cold.

The phone rang. The man said “No dogs… but I can make an exception.” He also said “It’s open, and still available. I can meet you now.”

We gobbled up our sandwiches and headed back to Northampton.

$1,550 (utilities, heat, hot water not included)

We pulled down a long street that was under construction and parked the car halfway on a snow mound and stumbled out of the car. It was an old, mint-green Victorian house with a steep roofline, gingerbread trim, and a small porch out front — it was charming as hell. Fifteen minutes later a man in denim overalls showed up and let us in the home.

The first room was the kitchen. It was completely under construction and underneath the sink the floor board was rotting out. There was a narrow bathroom, which my partner thought was great, until I tried to stand next to her at the sink and I had to jump into the tub. Out from the kitchen was a square room with a door on every wall — one that led to a bedroom with a wood floor painted grapefruit orange, another smaller living space, and an office which was actually a laundry folding closet.

The floors were worn pine, the room in the middle was covered in dark wood paneling, and most of the windows were painted shut. I asked about parking.

He showed us out the back door, which was a shared hallway with the tenants upstairs, and behind that was the parking space, meant for three cars, but could only realistically fit a sedan and a smart car — one and half cars.

My partner loved the Victorian — I hated it.

“How much?”

“$1,600 now and in September it goes up to $1,700,” replied the man nervously.

“Hot water and heat?” I asked.

“Not included,” he responded.

Thank god, I thought. We wouldn’t be able to live here even if we wanted to.


Two weeks later, both of our cars packed to the roof, we moved into the dog park apartment in the country. We’ve been here for 480 days — we almost moved when we almost bought a quaint cottage in a co-op, but that’s another story.

Ursula Bonner was heartbroken by a tiny red cottage that was straight out of The Children’s Book, but now has plans to move.

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