Renting a house in Alaska is not easy. When you immigrate or move from one state to the other, you need a new place fast. Read our house hunting adventure after moving from Europe to Fairbanks, and a enjoy a great laugh.
- One July Morning 2001 on the Way to Renting a House in Alaska
- An Apartment with Live Cat Food
- Front Door Access to Groomed Cross Country Trails
- Santa Claus as Neighbor in a Banana Hut
- A European Style Neighborhood on the Top of the World
- Thank You Air France
- The Last Option of Renting a House in Fairbanks
- Living in Pure Wilderness
- No Way We Rent this House at the End of the Road
- Getting an Old Sourdoughs Assessment
- Renting a House in Alaska Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere
One July Morning 2001 on the Way to Renting a House in Alaska
The stratus hung low and gray over the Interior with the tops of the White Mountains being in the clouds. You could feel the high humidity in the about 50F (10oC) cool mid summer air. A tall and slim retired military guy turned real estate manager drove his four-wheel drive SUV with 30 mph (48 km/h) over an unpaved small road out of Fox, Alaska. The car left a large dust cloud behind. The washboard structure and potholes of the small dirt road shook us three passengers – the real estate man, my husband and I – like a bar tender shakes a cocktail maker.
The car turned around a corner and gave view to an apartment complex that looked like a long given-up motel at the dead end of this dirt road. The real estate manager jumped off the car “Let’s have a look at this apartment.” I looked at my husband and shook my head indicating that this place was a no-no for me without even having taken a look at the inside, while the real estate guy unlocked the door of one of the one-room apartments (kitchenette with living room, bathroom, and one bed-room).
An Apartment with Live Cat Food
We saw a vole (Arctic mouse) just crossing from the kitchen area over to the bathroom. “Oh great” I said with irony in the voice “this place will save us some dollars on cat food for a while.” The two men laughed out loud.
Meanwhile we arrived in the bedroom. “The futon bed will just leave an aisle of about 40 cm (16 inch) to walk to the in-wall closet” my husband said. He walked over to check how much the folding doors open into the bedroom. The open doors gave view to wire dry cleaner hangers, dusty shelves and a big spider net.
Front Door Access to Groomed Cross Country Trails
The real estate man said “Our crew will clean the place and carpet prior to your moving in. It is a nice calm place with direct access to groomed cross-country ski trails. What do you think?” “You don’t want to know what I think. The dead end will be filled with other people’s car parking everywhere on sunny warm winter days leaving no spot to park when the renters come home from grocery shopping on Saturdays. You will have to hang out an alert Wolf on the Ski Trails to have a parking spot when coming back.”
Before my husband had turned around from looking at the closet space I said “The only way to get rid of the spiders is to burn down this place. I guess your crew is not supposed to do this.” “I see your wife does not like the place” the guy said to my husband who tried to suppress laughing out loud about my remark. “Never mind, I show you another place.”
Santa Claus as Neighbor in a Banana Hut
We went back into the car and drove the highway to North Pole, Alaska, a little community of about 3000 inhabitants or so at that time. The guy set the direction sign and we stopped in front of a house on Santa Claus Lane. “What an address, 34567 (number changed to protect the privacy of the owner) Santa Claus Lane, North Pole, Alaska” I said with a laugh. “It’s the house in the back yard” the guy said pointing at a shack.
“No way” my husband said. “Oh don’t judge it from the outside. It’s beautifully made inside” the real estate guy responded. “Sure it’s a doll house, whenever, they got an old Dole banana wooden box, they added it as a room” I responded with a friendly smile “It’s also too far a drive from the university” I added to be polite. We climbed back into the car.
A European Style Neighborhood on the Top of the World
The next stop was in Fairbanks in an area behind University Avenue. A small middle class neighborhood with two-story one-family houses, neatly arranged yards, well maintained lawns, and no thru traffic. Kids were playing on the street and in the yards. In some backyards, there were slides and/or vegetable gardens. The side walks were clean, and there were hydrants. This meant that this area had good fire protection. The house had a friendly color, and looked like new despite from the height of the trees it had to be at least 20 years old or so. The downstairs windows were large to provide light in the living room area, while the windows upstairs were comparatively small to make it easy to protect the bedrooms from light pollution during the white nights of summer.
Thank You Air France
“Unfortunately, I cannot show you the inside today as the tenants have not moved out yet. But you can have a look at it on Monday” the real estate manager said. “No, thank you” I responded with a distinct voice. “Why?” my husband said with an astonished face and voice. He continued “This place is beautiful, a nice calm neighborhood with well taken care off houses and yards!” “Yes, exactly, that’s why!” I responded “It looks like …” I could not finish my sentence due to huge engine noise. An Air France Cargo jumbo jet flew about 200 yards (182 m) above us and the house we stood in front off.
Once the sound of the engines turned down enough to hear a human’s voice my husband said “no matter what your reason is, this is mine” pointing at the plane that seemed to vanish into the Sun on the horizon. “Hopefully, we find a place before next Thursday when Condor arrives with the our four tons of household items. Who had expected renting a house in Alaska to be so difficult.” I whispered to my husband in German so the real estate guy could not hear and understand. My voice had a worried sound.
The Last Option for Renting a House in Fairbanks
The real estate guy looked angry at the plane; then turned to the car saying “I only have one other option left.” We drove past the university heading North. We drove up a steep hill. “Great that will be fun on snow in winter” I thought by myself. At the top, we had a great view onto the valley that was a huge permafrost area with cottages and a network of unpaved roads and trails except for the road we were on and a road that crossed our road.
Telephone and electricity lines looked like a spider-net covering the entire valley and the cottages and dry cabins looked like caught insects. The telephone and electricity poles stood at different angles to the vertical as if to convince everybody that this land is continuous permafrost. Welcome to the outhouse!
We turned onto the other paved road followed it for about five minutes before turning into an unpaved road and even a smaller dirt road that went up the hill on the other side of the valley. “We will never take this place whatever it may look like” I thought.
Living in Pure Wilderness
“Look at that. Tails of the trails. That’s Mary Shield‘s house. The Fairbanks book is right. This suburb area is really what a normal European would call somewhere in the middle of nowhere” my husband said when we passed the sign on that steep uphill trail. It was so small that two cars couldn’t pass each other. I wondered how that would be like when the trail is packed with snow and ice.
“Guy turn around, we will never take this house” I thought when the car turned into an even smaller trail than the one we were driving on before. This trail went downhill into small deep valley. It looked like a dried-out creek. We drove down halfway and turned into an about 200 yard long curvy driveway. At its end, there was a beautiful two-story house. Two windows on each side of the red front door and five window on the second level over the first level windows and the door. Each window had multiple small panels, in total 9 panels each. The house looked like it had been misplaced from the left lower Rhineland area except that it was built from gray painted wood (see first photo in this post) instead of red bricks. I love this style of houses.
No Way We Rent this House at the End of the Road
“It’s too far away, and too big” I said to my husband while the real estate guy opened the door. “The floor is made from the wood cut when clearing the spot” the guy said. “The house has floor heating and in addition a wood stove. Do you know how to operate a wood stove?” “No, only a coal stove” I replied. He led my husband upstairs while I remained downstairs thinking “Kiss it off guy, we will never take this.”
After a while they came back, looked at the laundry/pump room, the furnace room chatting about these pieces of equipment and their operation. Then my husband said “I think we should take this house.” “No.” I said. “Why?” “For starters, we have no experience with wells, septic systems, wood stoves, gas stoves, or plowing a 200 m driveway. We would need a four-wheel drive SUV to make it here in winter. It is more than 16 miles (25 km) away from the university. I looked at the meter! Last but not least, the rent is way too expensive. Moreover, we would have the challenge to buy a car with a four-wheel drive.”
Getting an Old Sourdough’s Assessment
“Now what” he said looking at me. The real estate guy said “I can call the owner tomorrow to check whether they will go down with the rent. I can’t call now as it is already past 8 pm in DC. What would be your limit?” “At least $350 less” I responded being sure it would break the deal. By turning to my husband I said “I think we should have a long-time Alaskan have a look at it first.” “No problem, here is my phone, call them” the real estate guy said handing me his phone.
About 15 minutes after my call, we heard a car rolling into the driveway – a colleague of mine who had lived in Alaska for more than 30 years. His arrival seemed like a relieve for me. The two guys namely had spent the last 15 minutes talking about tanks and their time in the military. The three guys toured the house while I thought “What a waste of time!”
Great Sandwiched between Family
“Well, Nicole, it will happen that you may not be able to get out to the university one day about every four years or so due to being snowed in. Otherwise the house is OK. The water is good quality, the well and furnace are from good brands as are the washer and drier. You will enjoy the wood stove in winter and propane is great for cooking. However, you should negotiate the price down. The amount they ask is what they probably pay for their montage. Get them down at least $200 and take it. You won’t find anything better than this house.”
He paused and continued “I know the land lord’s parents. And they are fine people. They live down there” he pointed down the hill into the sea of trees. The colleague then turned around “and his brother lives up there” pointing up the hill again into the sea of trees. In both directions, no house was in sight. “Great sandwiched between the land lord’s relatives” I thought.
Renting a House in Alaska Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere
Looking at my husband I said “OK, if I get it down $350, we can take it because you like it.” He nodded “you heard her” he said turning to the real estate guy. “I will give you a call and I drive you back to the university on another route.” the guy said.
A day later, we got a call to sign the rental contract at my terms. And I was so sure that my terms would break the deal. I said to my husband “now that we life in the middle of nowhere our next hurdle of coming to Alaska challenge is a new car.”
What would your response have been when the real estate guy would have offered you these places for renting a house in Alaska? Let me know, I am curious.
Cole, Dermont, Fairbanks, A Gold Rush Town that Beat the Odds, University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks.
Photos: G. Kramm
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