Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dream Home v. Real Estate

Jack's dream house complete with basketball goal.
I had a dream the other night. "Big deal," you say. "I dream every night." Yes, but I haven't been able to recall anything I've dreamed for the past eight months, so you see, knowing that I had a dream was a very big deal. What does it mean? I have no idea. But it was a pleasant dream. In it, I was with a friend/colleague and we were hanging out in his very cool loft apartment in Chelsea or Tribecca. It was an old factory building that had been converted into a living space with impossibly high ceilings and exposed ductwork and such. We talked for a long time in the dream, though I don't recall the conversation. When I woke, I felt happy, and that's when I realized that I had dreamed a dream I could finally remember.
   Perhaps I dreamed about my friend's groovy loft because I'm giving a lot of thought right now to buying a home of my own. I can't live in this little one-bedroom apartment forever, and it's a great time to buy a house with so much inventory on the market, and mortgage rates low. Having a home of my own is one of my oldest more enduring dreams. As a girl I daydreamed of owning the house with the white picket fence. I did! I really did. I even drew pictures of it just as Jack draws pictures of houses now. Recently, one of these drawings came home with his school work. I asked him if it was a friend's house or the house he hoped I would buy and he shrugged and said, "No, it's just a house." Jack wants to become an architect—and the next star quarterback for the Auburn Tigers—so maybe he's just practicing his drafting skills.
   More likely, Jack has houses on the brain because I've taken him with me to look at homes for sale in our neighborhood. Depending upon how much I can put down, I could end up with a very tiny mortgage—and that's my new dream: Having as little debt as possible. Dreams change it seems. I used to want a big two-story house with a big yard. Now I realize how much hassle it is to upkeep all that square footage, not to mention the lawn maintenance. Reality tempers dreams in that way. Which is not to say that one can't still imagine great achievements in life, it's just that sometimes the reality makes the dream not so dreamy.
  So now I'm teaching Jack the art of house hunting. He's the classic "property virgin" who falls in love immediately with every house he sees despite the obvious flaws. He's ready to make an offer before  crawling around the basement or peeking into the attic. Well, he's only nine, so I cut him some slack, but it's not lost on me (and thank you Jon for pointing this out recently) that being in the market for real estate is much like dating. I see a house listed online that seems has all the right stuff—in my price range, 2-3 bedrooms, updated bath, decent-sized kitchen, a yard for Jack and close to his school—and I look at the photos and make a superficial assessment before I call the realtor to set up a date to see the place. There was a time in my life when I would house-hop and just go to Open Houses for fun, even if I knew the house was not my style, out of my price range or in the wrong neighborhood. If it was cute, I'd flirt with it and see if it flirted back. But today, I'm a bit more conservative about "the hunt." I don't have time or the inclination to flirt with houses (or men) who I know will not work out. If a house doesn't have real potential, just like a potential date, then why bother? Yes, it might be a great house if it had a new roof, new systems and was moved three miles south...Yes, he might be a wonderful boyfriend if he was more self-aware, worked out a few times a week and if he didn't live in China...The analogy goes on and on.
  Right now, I'm in the just-starting-to-look mode and am in no big hurry to find a house or a man. Before I buy a house I have to get all my ducks in a row—loan pre-approval, downpayment, someone to sublet my apartment. Before I get involved with another guy I have to get my ducks in a row too—career solidly on track, Jack stable and well-adjusted, my bruised ego mended. No sense getting carried away too soon and making a commitment I'll come to regret. Besides, it is fun to just look.

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