Big news in the neighborhood.
I was walking home after dropping my daughter off at school one morning and absentmindedly looked across the street at a house that’s been on the market since August 2010.
Then I did a double take. Was there actually a “SOLD” sign out front?
This house has sat vacant and dark for a year and a half, other than a brief period when it was rented. In my mind, it was a magnet for vandals and thieves — not to mention a drag on home values in the neighborhood.
The owner moved out West in the midst of the housing crash, and judging by the open-house traffic, buyers have been scarce.
But home sales are stronger this spring, up 19 percent in March over a year ago, according to figures from the Champaign County Association of Realtors’ Multiple Listing Service. Apparently this house got swept up in a buying trend.
As I stood gaping on the sidewalk, I blurted out to no one in particular, “It’s sold?” To my surprise, a voice answered, “Yes!” I hadn’t noticed the Realtor out front.
My first thought was gratitude that someone would finally be living there, and that the local housing market might be on the mend.
Then came the inevitable question: Who bought it?
To my relief, she said it was a young couple, who planned to live there rather than rent it out.
Before you landlords get all huffy, let me explain.
We live in an older section of town that’s a mixture of owner-occupied and rental housing — some with absentee landlords who bought property in this college town as an investment. Not all of them are the best property managers.
You know the signs: couch on the porch, doors hanging off the hinges, yard completely overgrown (wait, just remembered a little saying about people in glass houses).
I find it dismaying. In the absence of mountains or beaches, older neighborhoods are one of Champaign-Urbana’s gems.
I have nothing against renters or college students; I was both at one point in my life.
And we’ve had some great neighbors who were renters, mostly graduate students or young families of all stripes. One woman loved playing ball with my kids and practically let them adopt her cat.
But they tend to stay a year or two at most. And other tenants move in who aren’t always so friendly.
Then there were the neighbors who liked to have mega-parties at 3 in the morning, complete with cars parked all over the street, throbbing music and lots of people shouting (just to make sure my babies woke up). I honestly thought there was a big street brawl the first time I heard one, but apparently it was all in fun.
I don’t mind parties. On warm nights, with the windows open, we’re close enough to downtown that we can hear the music at local nightclubs.
But when you have a family, you want a family neighborhood. That is not a euphemism for a particular kind of family. We deliberately did not choose a suburban neighborhood because we wanted to be in an older, more diverse part of town — mature trees, homes with character, walking distance to school and work, the whole package.
We also want our children to be able to walk outside and find someone to play with, the way their friends do who live in more homogenous neighborhoods. But children have been a bit scarce on our block. Several families we befriended have moved away, and other homes have young singles or empty nesters.
Several years ago, when a nice young couple moved out of another nearby house, I secretly prayed that a family with kids would buy it. We ended up with wonderful neighbors who have a son who’s just a bit younger than our kids. Meanwhile, another friend moved in down the block with a boy who’s about the same age as our son.
Fairly regularly, especially when we have other kids over, they gather at our house for an impromptu game of Ghost in the Graveyard (also popularly known as Bloody Murder). Apparently nothing says fun like running around in the dark, hiding and scaring each other.
I love those nights and wish that our neighborhood was teeming with children all the time. Well, most of the time.
We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the new neighbors will bring along some kids — or at least won’t mind other children chasing each other through their yard on summer nights.
Julie Wurth writes and blogs about family issues and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 351-5226 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her at Twitter.com/jawurth.
Photo: A 'sold' sign graces a house in our neighborhood that's been vacant for almost two years. I think a selling point was the friendly neighborhood cat. Julie Wurth/The News-Gazette