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).
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 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 and 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.
The real estate man said “Our crew will clean the place and carpet prior to 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” I thought, and said before my husband had turned around from looking at the closet space “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 breaking out laughing about my answer. “Never mind I show you another place.”
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.
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 or so. The downstairs windows were large to provide light in the living 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.
“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. “I hope we find a place before next Thursday when Condor flies in our four tons of household items” I whispered to my husband in German so the real estate guy could not hear and understand.
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 dry cabins of different sizes 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 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.
“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.
“Guy turn around, we will never take this” I thought when the car turned into an even smaller trail than the one we were driving on before. This trail 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 Rhine area except that it was built from gray painted wood instead of red bricks. I love this style of houses.
“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 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.”
“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 8pm 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 as the two guys 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!”
“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 mortage. Get them down at least $200 and take it. You won’t find anything better than this house. 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 and then turned around “and his brother lives up there” pointing up the hill again into the sea of trees, both times with no house in sight. “Great sandwiched between the land lord’s relatives” I thought looking at my husband and 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.”
A day later, we got a call to come in to sign the rental contract at my terms. I was so sure these terms would break the deal.
Never say never
What would your response have been when being shown a place with mice and spiders? Would you have taken a look at the house in North Pole Alaska, Santa Claus Lane? Would you have made an appointment to look at the house in the middle class neighborhood close to the university? Would you have thought that the land lords would give us the place at 72% of what they originally asked for? Let me know, I am curious.
When you like this story please tweet read a funny story about renting a place when immigrating to Alaska.
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Photos: G. Kramm (2016)
Copyright 2013-2016 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved