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The Buck Stops Here: House hunting with downsizing in mind

For those who don’t know, Jay and I closed the doors to our brick and mortar store two years ago. Since then, we’ve concentrated on the show circuit while trying to kid ourselves that we’re retired.

We’re not. Perhaps semi-retired might best describe our lifestyle. So when it came time to leave Pennsylvania, we knew we were heading back to Tennessee, but not quite sure where. Our first shop had been in Franklin, about 25 miles south of Nashville. Franklin once was a quaint southern town but now is bursting at the seams with subdivisions and cars.

With Franklin off the table, we were at a loss where to start. Then three years ago, we were on our way home to Pennsylvania from the Nashville Civil War show. It was an unseasonably cold December weekend when an ice storm slammed the state. Interstate 81 was closed by the state police. We were stuck in Knoxville.

Knoxville is the place to be

How lucky we were! After staying three days, we knew we’d found the town for us. And every day we’ve been here has been a blessing.

Like most retirees, we wanted to downsize our home and lifestyle. We had 3,100 square feet and 1.5 acres in Gettysburg. We decided a 2,000 square foot house on .5 acre would suit us just fine. Oh, and Jay asked for just one thing in our forever home, a basement for a man cave. It could be finished or unfinished, as long as it was there.

Little did we realize that 80-85% of the homes built in Knoxville do not have basements. Basements are unnecessary because weather conditions rarely threaten pipes.

We looked and looked. Drove around with not one but two different real estate agents. Went house hunting together and on our own, leaving the other spouse at home to tend to the dog. It got to the point where Jay considered giving up the basement idea and going for a bonus room over the garage.

Still no luck. The homes were either too large or too small. Or needed tons of work. Or had too many stairs. Or was priced over what we wanted to spend.

The rejection reasons were mounting and causing us a lot of angst and our realtors a lot of frustration. (The reason we worked with two.)

Persistent house hunting

After looking at about 150 homes, we found what we were looking for. We wound up in a bidding war to get it, paying just a skoosh more than planned. Making our offer contingent upon our house in Gettysburg selling, all was set. Our Pennsylvania home was already under contract and we had a back-up offer in place.

What could go wrong?

Ha! I’ll tell you what. Our first buyer couldn’t get mortgage approval. After tying our house up for 30 days, their contract fell through and the backup offer took priority. While couple #2 were applying for their financing, we had yet another offer come in and take back up position.

Things were looking up. Except they weren’t.

Another 30 days pass and couple #2 can’t get their mortgage, either. What’s happening? Couple #3 now moves into first position, but in the meantime my seller in Knoxville was not happy. Where she thought the waiting period would be 30 days, we were now looking at 90.

I can’t say that I blame her for getting antsy, but I can blame her for getting greedy. She refused to extend our purchase option another 30 days unless we paid her an additional $5,000 now – on the spot.

I don’t think so.

I begged her for another 30 days because I had two potential buyers coming back for a second look. And I felt confident one of them would make an offer.

She said no, in a less than ladylike manner. $5,000 or no house.

And I said something I can’t repeat here.

Sure enough, one of the couples did make an offer the same day couple #3 were told they didn’t make enough money to qualify for the mortgage. Couple #4 already had their financing in place and they wanted to close in 30 days, which was the time period left on their loan commitment letter.

House sold with nowhere to go

Thirty days? Where were we going to live? We had no house under contract in Knoxville and nothing else had come on the market that we liked.

I called our realtors and told them to blitz Knoxville for potential homes, or we would be homeless. And I must say, they did a crackerjack job, lining up 16 homes.

Luckily, our buyers were tied into a lease for another 60 days and they loved the idea of us staying on and renting back from them for a month.

A win-win all around, except we still had nowhere to go.

Another trip to Knoxville

Jay was nominated to go back to Knoxville to look at those 16 homes. I must mention here that Jay and I have moved six times in 25 years. And something we always agree on is houses. Besides, technology and smart phones are a marvelous thing. He would text me pictures as he was walking through the houses.

Meanwhile, I’m back at the ranch scouring listings and happen upon one that had been on the market a couple of days. Full basement, lake views, well taken care of. A little bit further out into the suburbs than we planned on, but still within a reasonable drive. The listing price was 20% more than we wanted to spend, too, but beggars can’t be choosers.

I direct Jay and our realtor, Connie, to the address. This is house number 17 after two stressful days because nothing, and I mean nothing, was working for us. Maybe we just hit pay dirt.

Maybe this is the one

The outside of the property is ho-hum, nothing to grab attention. Inside, it’s dark and boxy, but has good bones and ticks off a lot of our boxes with tall ceilings, hardwood and tiled floors, a fenced in yard, fireplace, private lot, and so on. As Jay got more tired, the quality of his pictures suffered. I elicited help from Connie. She took short videos with her phone, texted them over and then called to discuss.

I was on the fence. It all hinged on what I said. I kept perusing the pictures while Connie shut off all the lights and Jay got back in her car. Jay called me as Connie started the engine.

“Well, what do you think?” he asked.

“I think it has a lot of potential and a lot of downsides. We need to blow out some walls.”

“You’re right, but we need to live somewhere.”

“I agree. Buy it.”

Connie almost swallowed her tongue when Jay repeated what I said.

“Let’s get this done,” as she zoomed out of the driveway, making tracks for her office.

There wasn’t a lot of haggling. The sellers were serious as were we. Thirty five days later, just three days after the closing on our Pennsylvania house, we were Tennessee homeowners.


But I forgot to mention the biggest negative in buying this particular house. Remember when I stated we wanted to downsize? Going from 3,100 square feet to 4,300 isn’t my idea of downsizing, but hey, at least I don’t have to get rid of all my stuff!

Melanie Carnation Thomas has collected and dealt in Civil War memorabilia and antique jewelry for over 25 years. She and her husband, Jay own Arsenal of the Alleghenys, ( and can be reached through their website or emailed directly at The website also has Melanie’s blog where she posts which shows she and Jay will be setting up.