Our House: Chapter 3

“And here we have the basement,” Jarvis said, leading the way downstairs. “Watch your step.”

They stepped gingerly down the basement staircase, their eyes taking time to adjust to the darkness. This was the last stop on the grand tour. Clint and Jennifer had by now been through the entire first and second floor, and made a circuit around the front lawn and back yard. The last of these revealed unexpected surprises: a deluxe tool shed that warmed Clint to the house considerably, and several rows of hedges in the back yard. These would provide both privacy and a natural enclosure in which Connor could play.

“Basements are usually the least exciting part of any house,” Jarvis said. “But the basement is important to some people. I’m sorry to say that if you were hoping for a basement-level recreation room or entertainment space, you’ll be disappointed.”

“The floor is dirt!” Clint said, once they were all down the stairs. This was true: Jennifer looked down at her feet to see a floor not of concrete, as she had expected, but hard-packed earth. The rest of the basement was equally basic from what she could see: The bare walls were unpainted brick. The only illumination provided down here came from a few widely spaced light bulbs. She looked up at the ceiling, and saw nothing but shadows and bare rafters.

“It is a dirt floor,” Jarvis said, confirming Clint’s observation. “Keep in mind that this house was built right before the U.S. entered World War II—in 1940. Dirt basements are more or less unheard of in any house built since the 1960s, and rare even before that in Ohio. There are usually too many drainage problems to allow for that in this part of the country. Dirt basements are more common in New England, where the soil is rocky and rainfall levels are lower. But even there, it’s mostly something that you see in older homes.”

“So this turns to mud when it rains?” Clint asked.

“No, not at all,” Jarvis said. “You’ll recall that we had a heavy rain earlier this week, and look at this floor.” The realtor kicked the floor with the toe of his penny loafer. “Dry as a bone. This house was built at the top of a hill, so the water all runs downhill, away from the basement. If you take a look at the walls, you’ll see that there is no evidence of water damage. But that’s something that the house inspector will be able to confirm for you. That is—if you decide to make an offer on this house.”

“Oh, I think we’ll definitely be making an offer,” Jennifer said. She was now way past the seduction stage. She had fallen in love with the house at 1120 Dunham Drive. While touring the upstairs bedrooms, a series of movies had been playing out in Jennifer’s imagination: She saw them moving in just in time for the new school year. Then she saw the house as the scene for key life events: their tenth wedding anniversary, Connor’s first day of high school—maybe even their retirement. Why not? The house gave them room to grow. This would, she believed, be the home into which Connor’s younger siblings would be born.

“I don’t know, Jen,” Clint said. “This dirt floor.”

“You heard what Tom said. This floor has been here since 1940 and the house’s foundation hasn’t washed away in the rain. I’m sure that the basement will still be dry in 2040.”

“Mrs. Huber,” Jarvis said with a laugh. “With your ability to see the possibilities in a house, you really ought to consider a career in real estate.”

“I see the possibilities in this house, anyway.”

“Well, let’s give the basement a good amateur inspection, anyway,” Jarvis suggested. “I don’t see you using this area for much more than storage—at least not in the short run. You could eventually put a concrete floor in, if you wanted. That wouldn’t be cheap, but it could be done.”

Jarvis gave them an unexciting tour of the basement. Jennifer noted that Clint was inspecting the walls for water damage. She was delighted to see that he found none. There were not even any damp spots on the dirt floor. As Jarvis had put it, the floor was “dry as a bone”. 

The only odd or unexpected sight in the basement was the little room in the rear corner—the corner farthest away from the stairs. It was not really a separate room, strictly speaking, but a makeshift enclosure of wood paneling. The room was about the size of a large walk-in closet.

“What’s this?” Clint asked, heading toward the little room.

“Oh, that’s a little storage space that Mr. Vennekamp built at some point. Wait a moment, let me go with you. I’ve got a penlight.”

Jennifer followed Jarvis over to the storage room. Clint was already standing in the room’s darkened doorway. 

Clint stepped aside so that Jarvis could enter with the penlight. What the penlight revealed was a mostly empty storage room. The tiny beam of light shone on a small pile of bricks, some boards leant up against the room’s single brick wall, and some old cans of paint. The floor was mostly covered by several decaying pallets. 

“Not much to look at in here,” Jarvis said. “It might come in handy for storage purposes, though. Or you might want to tear it down. Either way.” 

They also examined the water heater, and Jennifer was relieved to find that it had been installed a mere three years ago. The house was certainly old, but most of its key elements were either in good shape or recently updated. 

“Well,” Jarvis said, as he led them back upstairs, “what do you think?”

This time Clint preempted Jennifer. “I think we need to talk between ourselves—the two of us—and get back to you.”

Chapter 4

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