My family (my husband, one big brother, one little sister, plenty of destructive energy, and I) spent the weekend on a kamikaze run to some of California’s most northern mountains. Dunsmuir, California just barely qualifies as a California town. More of a Twin Peaks lookalike, this railroad hamlet huddles below I-5 , just barely visible on the journey through Siskiyou County on the way to Oregon.

We aren’t new to crazy ideas about buying property in a remote corner of California. Residents of Berkeley for the past 10 years, our itchy feet drive us to Zillow more often than balance our checkbook. (Actually, we never balance a checkbook. Who does that any more?) Any trip along any remote highway (featuring grass, oak trees, water, or general greenery) inspires hours or drive-time chatter about dropping out of the rat race and an evening back home obsessively surfing real estate porn. At this point, our children (4 and 7) know to tune out.

But this time, we’re serious. We drove four-and-a-half hours north to look at this house, which our Shasta-based real estate agent tells us she wouldn’t let us “bid less than 45,000 for.” That’s not chump change. But for Bay Area residents, 45K is like a mirage–something so beautiful, it can’t possibly exist. With generous enough financing, we could buy a Mercedes for that much. Not that we would, but still. A Mercedes wouldn’t house our family of four for a ski trip, though, and I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) enjoy sewing new curtains for a Mercedes, or figuring out how to plant deer-resistant plants in a Mercedes’ back yard. We had high hopes for this house, which in our wild fantasizing reached epic, project-of-a-lifetime proportions. (We could work remotely for weeks at a time while plastering the dining room! My software-engineering husband could host coder-geek retreats!)

The $45K house was a disaster. Teenagers had graffittied (is that a word?) pot leaves onto another bedroom’s wall, easily fixed with a coat of paint. But no simple latex eggshell would mend wet ceilings on the first floor, broken windows, a roof that would need replacing before the first snow, and a fourth bedroom that really, honestly could not fit a bed.

We’re handy, but not that handy. I wish I’d taken pictures. This will have to do:

Dunsmuir house of pain

Not just a cosmetic fixer

So we didn’t bid on it. Instead, we bid on the house next door. More on that soon.

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