Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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Wherein We Rent A House We've Never Seen!

Sometimes I wonder if Serge and I would've ever got married if we didn't do it the way we did. You know, secretly, about two months after meeting. And really, he was on the road with his band for most of that time so in actuality we probably hung out for a total of two weeks before we got married.

Every now and again I wonder if we had started some long distance romance or even if we actually moved to Brooklyn together - I wonder if we would've got married. You learn unsavory things about someone when you really get to know them. Couples argue, the shiny, new relationship dissolves into the usual. Suddenly you're sitting on the couch boiling with rage over the way your significant other is breathing. So I'm glad we did it the way we did or our relationship might've fizzled, we would have broken up and we wouldn't be where we are now.

The way we got married is kind of the way we just rented a house some two thousand miles away. Stick with me, this is going somewhere, I swear.

We are moving smack dab in the center of Pennsylvania. The heart of Amish country. The nearest big city is State College. We're looking to move to one of the surrounding towns. The term 'town' is being generous. Really, they're villages. Little clusters of hundred-year-old homes surrounding a church and a market in a valley of rolling green hills, that kind of thing. But renting a house in that scenario is difficult. It's not like Craigslist is booming with ads from folks in these little hamlets. Most of the ads are for houses for rent in State College.

We've been monitoring Craigslist for a while now and the houses that fit our qualifications are few and far between. That's not to say that we have a slew of requirements. These aren't granite countertops and stainless steel appliance requirements, I assure you. These are three bedrooms, a bathroom and a fenced in backyard requirements. And we want to live within thirty minutes of Serge's family.

So, while we aren't expecting to rent a remodeled farmhouse, we don't want to move our children to a shithole either. You've got to be careful of the hillbilly factor, you know? Some backwoods feller lookin' to rent out his ramshackle, termite-ridden home.

The whole thing has been a scary, gut-churning exercise in patience as our end-of-June moving date looms ever closer. So you can imagine our excitement when we saw an ad that seemed to fit our requirements. The house looked okay from the outside, thing is, it was just the one photo:

Not the greatest photo, right? But it's a big, old house, like we want. Has a wraparound porch and is that a porch swing I spy? And there, right there to your left you can see the edge of a big tree. A tree! Yeah, the house looks kind of... tired? (Haunted?!?) But it has potential, we thought. And we'd only be renting it so we have a place to move to. It's not forever. What the hell, couldn't hurt to check it out, right?

So Serge set up an appointment for his mom and brother to go check out the house and take pictures. Turns out there was a lot of interest in this home. The rent is great. Like, $500 less than what we pay right now.

Cut to later that night. We're anxiously awaiting a call or an email filled with photos. The call comes. I'm all hopped up, flapping around Serge while he's on the phone, wondering what they're telling him about the house. He tells his mom to hold on and breaks the news: they didn't get a chance to take photos. The camera battery died. And because of all the interest in the house there were several people with appointments right in a row so they didn't really get a chance to thoroughly check out the house! We quiz them about what they did see and I hear a few things that sound questionable. The carpet in each bedroom is different. There's wallpaper in a lot of rooms. Different carpet? Crap. Wallpaper? Not so bad, it can be removed and the landlord said he's really flexible with anything his tenants do.

We go to bed mulling over the house. Should we aggressively pursue it because it fits all our requirements? It exceeds them, even! It has four bedrooms, two bathrooms, two (TWO!) staircases and a big mud room. There is even a deck in the backyard! But this is all heresay, we have seen nothing.

Fuck it. We decide to pursue it. We email the landlord, tell him we're extremely interested blah blah blah. And then we wait.

The next day the landlord's wife emails and says they've looked at all the applications and think we'll be the best fit, do we want the house?

Holy goat balls, we got the house! Holy goat balls, we've never seen the house!

More mulling. Do we take it? The backyard isn't fenced in. But it backs up to an elementary school where the dogs can run in the early or late hours... Non matching carpet - yuck. But it's just carpet, we're only renting for a year. Being annoyed by non-matching carpet is treading dangerously close to House Hunter assholes requiring granite. Two staircases? Fancy. Oh dear god, WHAT DO WE DO?

We rent it.

Last night the landlord went over to take some photos for us. I received her email while Serge was grabbing take-out. I caught a glimpse of fiery orange kitchen counter tops, slammed my laptop shut and opened a bottle of wine. I dialed Serge and told him to hurry, I didn't want to look at our house without him! I mentioned the fiery orange and Serge said "Yeah, Dave says the kitchen looks like Burger King
"What? He said the kitchen looks like Burger King and YOU DIDN'T TELL ME THAT?"
"Hurry home." I hung up on him and drank wine. Lots of it. And waited.

Serge arrived and we sat on our couch, two bookends clutching laptops. "Let's do this". I said. We gulped wine and logged on to the email containing all the photos. I'm not going to post the photo she sent us because the current tenants are in it but we googled orange countertops and this image popped up. Y'all, these are the exact counters, including the way the countertop is also the backsplash. These are the counters! I took another gulp of wine and we kept clicking. Here's the living room:

I love it. Look how high those ceilings are! Big, old windows. Nice lighting. I'm not going to bore you with all the photos. Every bedroom does have different carpet (but it looks brand new) and there is old wallpaper in every bedroom. Like this:

I dig the quirkiness of the whole thing. There's a photo of the bathroom and y'all, I'm telling you, that bathroom looks as big as my current master bedroom. Still. There is much we haven't seen and likely won't see until we get there. But I'm happy. Happy that this is actually happening. Happy that our landlords seem cool as hell. Happy even, that our counter tops are orange. Because guess who else has the exact same orange countertops? AWESOME TIMES A THOUSAND.

Reader Comments (39)

Woohoo, Congrats! Your first meal there just has to be pork chopsh and appleshauce.

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterchristine

Just to chime in with my "I'm better" (or maybe more foolhardy?) story: When we moved from PA (near Philly) to our current home north of Chicago, we BOUGHT our house without having seen it. Yes, we BOUGHT it, without having seen it. The realtor looked at it, and our friends that lived there did, too, but we only saw photos online. And we had to make split second decisions because it was way underpriced and had seven other bidders.

It's perfect. The perfect house for us. I have no intention of moving again until I am quite old. That is saying something because prior to this purchase I moved about every other year.

So I am wishing you the same kind of luck!

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkajey

Thie post makes me inexplicably happy. That is all.

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer R

Oh, girl! Paint the kitchen cabinets bright white and any visible wall light blue/pale aqua and trick out that kitchen. You could so totally rock out a kitchen with crazy orange countertops!It could be retro-trendy and awesome. The house looks super cute and completely has potential!

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaty E.

Love it Love it Love it. This just keeps getting better and better :)

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterwhimmm

It's an adorable house.
And life is always more interesting when you take risks!

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAsh

I think it's very cute-- and really large, no?! What's the street/road like in front of it? Is it a quiet area? I can totally see that house as being a meet up place for a bunch of kids over to play with your littles!

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

If the owner won't let you paint cabinets, I'd just go with lots of white and pale blue - those look great with orange! Great house. :)

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDayna


We've done that twice. Neither time turned out all that great, but such incidents make for fantastic stories!

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjeneria

I love your personal blog and I also follow you on I had to laugh when I saw your story about renting a house sight unseen. My husband and I decided to move to a state 850 miles from where we currently lived, with a three year old, two cats, and I was 8 months pregnant. We also rented an old house sight unseen. It was a beautifully restored 120 year old house. There was only one problem.... a train ran right. in. front. of the house. The man we rented it from assured us the train only ran at 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. We thought no problem we can handle that. RIGHT. The first night it came through at 2, 2:30, and 3:30. The noise it made reminded me of the train scene in the movie My Cousin Vinnie. We ended up living in the house for a year and a half, and we got a few great stories out of it There was never a dull moment in that house. Good luck with your move and the house, just beware of railroad tracks!

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Guillont

OMG I had those exact cabinets and counter tops and floor in the TRAILER I had to live in for 2 years in rural Alaska. Thank god it was rent free through my husband's job or I would have had to kill myself.

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBecca

You guys rock!

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterniobe19

It will all be fine and dandy. Could you ask your land lord to reduce your rent one month and with the extra money buy new work tops. (or does that not happen in America?) seriously wall paper strips off, walls can be painted, and if you are really lucky, the house is that old under the carpet you might have really good floorboards you could sand and varnish. (don't forget to fill any gaps between the floor boards with the excess sawdust from sanding the floorboards - that will keep out draughts)
More importantly - you are moving, which is what you want.

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersaffron

A Place for us?? We are 4!

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Chorizo Man

Looks fab! And sounds so exciting. Well done!

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteph

Duuuuuuude! Kudos to you and Serge for making such a ballsy decision. It'll be awesome!

Also, when my mum bought our first house in Australia, the kitchen had retro, orange-tiled countertops. We got used to them, plus they weren't all bad. Mum prettied up everything else so it all kind of gelled. And being a Brady Bunch fan, I kind of loved that we had a 70s-style kitchen. Bwah!

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPretzel Thief

Wow, that looks great! Even though it's an older home everything looks new and clean.

April 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKate

This is just the kind of excitement I'm craving at the moment. So I will live vicariously...can't wait to see how it all turns out!

April 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterchristine from canada

I think that is a beautiful house.. regardless of the orange counter tops!

April 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDanni

I think it's charming, orange countertops and all! My husband and I once rented an apartment sight unseen in a city we had never been too. We didn't even know if it was a good (i.e. safe) neighborhood. Turns out it was, though the apartment itself wasn't great. But, we lived there for a year and found another apartment in the same area. It's a great experience to just pick up and move across country to the unknown! Kudos!

April 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBarb


The house looks lovely. Please do post all the pics--they won't bore me. I love looking at house pics.


April 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeekyToe

I'm a new reader but am so excited for you! The house is totally charming. Perhaps because I've lived on the East Coast all my life (where old houses are the norm), my reaction was like "Oh it's not that bad at all!!!". Actually, it's adorable and seems to fit your needs perfectly. Remember, everything out this way is OLD and living with strange wallpaper and countertops are war wounds in the great battle for the perfect house. You'll definitely look back and laugh.

So happy for your family and looking forward to more pictures.

April 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKate

Only concern is, looks like the front porch steps lead directly into the street ?

April 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterUtah L

Ha! I grew up with those same countertops! I swear! I had no idea they were so horrid until about jr. high. I think it was highschool when they were finally ripped out. Even had the dark stained plywood cabinets. Glorious.
Looks like the perfect house for your new journey!

April 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

@Utah L - Most older homes in Pennsylvania are like that because they're hundreds of years old, built back when there was just horses and wagons that would pull right up to the house. It's not ideal, but the road isn't super busy and the speed limit is residential.

April 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Girl Who...

I'm going to have to bookmark this blog, it will be super interesting to see an "outsiders" perspective on my hometown :)

AND, not to be a huge creeper or anything, but I went to that elementary school and know exactly what house you're talking about and I think you made a great choice :) but enjoy your take-out and wine now, because it is not going to be easy to get those things here.

April 24, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermissy

ha, ha... (as usual...)
so, wait... the bielanko bunch? :-)

April 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterfahrenheit

I TOTALLY did this once. Moved from Memphis to Colorado and rented a house via email, pictures and fax. Didn't much like it from the photos, but it was good enough.

Got there? And really really liked it. In all fairness, there were no orange countertops. But still.

I think it's adorable and has so much potential! Good luck!

April 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSadie

Dude, I have bright orange countertops in an apartment in an old victorian house -- and they are BADASS. Think of how boring it would be if you had dirty-laundry-colored Formica!

April 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEthel Louise

I LOVE LOVE LOVE those orange counter tops! I have a similar style in my rented apartment but it has a fake marble pattern. It always looks dirty. How I wish my counters were orange!

April 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTasha can just feel the cool autumn afternoons as the sun is setting, and the smell of people's fireplaces and the chicken cooking in the oven as the kids are playing outside and the game on in the background and out on the porch the swing and those millions of sparking stars as you're lickin that plate...

it just has that porch swing rhythm feel about it. WONDERFUL AND GUTSY AND EXCITING NEWS!!
Congratulations and BEST wishes for the Bielanko family move!!! haahahaha! ( giddy for ya)

PS I wonder if it's got a fence out back? You could always put one of those invisible ones to keep the dogs off the street ( just saying cuz my dog was hit by a car in the street,,,and lived to bark about it)

April 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commentergina

I am so excited for your family. I live in Austin now but I went to high school in State College (Happy Valley) and I have nothing but great memories of that "town". As for your question; City or Country? There is no right answer but Pennsylvania is the best. Love Love Love that your family is moving there. Even more of a reason to read your blog now.

April 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChante

That last picture of the house in the (sunset?) is magical. I MEAN.

April 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlison

I Love it!! Congratulations!

April 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCharity

I grew up in State College, too, so I know it and the surrounding area well (my parents still live there, so I'm back there often). Your house looks great! Good luck on your move. The area is so lush, verdant, and a great place to raise children.

April 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMP

what a great news:) it's a big house, and for sure you make this place a wonderful home, Pennsylvania is beautiful, I worked one summer in Milford.

April 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteranajo

the first time we moved coast to coast (SF to York, PA) we rented an apt without having seen a single picture of it; we had no one to see it on our behalf neither. It worked out great for the first year, and then after I had my daughter and stayed at home, that was when I discovered that they all smoke like chimneys downstairs. Now were are moving coast to coast again (York PA back to Berkeley, CA) and we also just got a duplex unit after we sent our family member to check it out, the way you guys did it. Sending in a representative and beating out 10+ other viewing parties in the end, it felt like winning a mini-lottery to us, I must say. Your new house looks lovely, I'm so envious. You can't get that kind of place in Berkeley CA for less than 4000/mo.

June 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteridlehouse

That is really a great risk you took to renting an apartment that you haven't seen personally but I guess everything went great!
Rent Seeker

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