Saturday, June 17, 2017

Real Estate Gets Real


"This place is great!"

"Right? Except I think the chickens are depressed."

Chickens?

Our neighbors Hannah and Kate just bought their first house and we were taking a tour. We'd seen the pictures of a swell chicken coop in the back. They'd liked that too. They were thinking of having chickens some day. When they got the keys and started to move in, damned if they didn't already have chickens. Did they know the place was going to come with chickens? Had that been discussed?

Well, no. But there they were, three chickens, plus a note with their names on it.

Hannah consulted it. "The black and white one is Henrietta, the orange one is Ophelia, and Suzie is that funky one over there."

"What makes you think they're depressed?"

"Well, they haven't laid any eggs in a couple days. I mean, think about it. Their people just abandoned them..."--she blinked back a tear--"...and now they have two mommies."

Henrietta did look a little down in the beak.

The real estate game is not what it used to be. When I bought my first house, I didn't have to pounce on it. I moseyed, more. The first one I'd looked at was on a double lot with an ornamental cherry tree. The flow of the house was odd, but it had a huge kitchen I could imagine cooking in if I learned how to cook, and I loved the garden space.

It was 1978. Nobody was moving. Americans were being held hostage somewhere, you couldn't gas up your car on the even days, and everyone was hunkered down in their houses with Malaise. It wouldn't be Morning In America for another few years, when money would start to flow out of everyone's pensions and into the financial sector where it became pretend money and perked people up for a while before it got siphoned uphill and vanished from the middle class altogether. Meanwhile, a half dozen homes were going begging in Portland for about a buck-fifty each and I had all the time in the world to think about it.

The place with the double lot and the cherry tree was okay but the listing agent had moated it with bark dust, sprayed the whole inside of the house Navajo White, and put down a shag wall-to-wall carpet in deep rust. "That's the first to go," I said, right in front of him, and he shrugged bleakly. He was sitting at a card table in the dining room with a little stack of business cards and expected to be there for months.

But after a few weeks I said "What the hell, we can change the carpet," and I bought it, and Dave and I moved in and spilled champagne on the rust carpet first thing, and didn't replace it for a long time, because it would cut into the beer budget. I picked up a $20 sofa at a garage sale but it was too scratchy to lie down on. Mostly we sat on the floor and tried to not get burglarized. The neighbor kid burned our cherry tree down. The listing agent got murdered in California. I wondered if it was really possible to pay out $368 a month for like thirty YEARS, which was three times more than I'd ever paid for rent, for longer than I'd even been alive.

These days, if your real estate agent is sharp, you can hear about a likely house the day it's listed, but if it takes you more than twenty minutes to get there, you've already lost it to some dude who's still on the golf course. The phone in his pocket has had a three-way with his agent and lending institution, and automatically fired off a heartfelt essay to the seller along with an order of fresh cookies delivered by drone. Oh, plus he also has an extra hundred thou to chip in. He probably got it from your pension in the '80s.

This makes regular buyers jumpy: you know, the kind that tended to their credit ratings and saved up a 20% down payment. Chumps! After they lose the first two houses, they're bidding on certified ratholes and upping their offers to include an extra year's salary, season tickets to the opera, and a bank to be knocked over later.

Somehow Hannah and Kate, who are on a string of good luck including getting married (GO FILLMANS!), stayed calm, found a nice place, and didn't go over their budget. I think the seller agreed to leave the appliances. The chickens were a surprise. They're fine with it, but I think it's rude. I've never heard of anyone doing something like that without talking about it first. Well, except for our friends Scott and Kevin, who sold their place and left behind two pigs, three alpacas, some significant goatage, and a waddle of ducks for the new owners. But I think they talked about it first.

Pretty sure they talked about it first.

Anyway there was a fresh egg in the coop later that morning. Probably better than what the alpacas dropped off.

30 comments:

  1. I could never understand why people would live in crappy surroundings, only to renovate it when they are ready to sell it. I mean, why not renovate it when you move in, and live in nice surroundings? Plus, when they renovate, it may not be to the taste of the new owners, who will then have to re-renovate if they truly don't like the wall color or carpeting. People could just use their imaginations when they look at a house.... Oh... I see where the problem lies.... Most people have no imagination....

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    1. Yeah, we did it your way. When we moved in, we remember thinking "Whew! Hate moving. Glad that's over with for the rest of our lives." Not that we JUMPED into renovating--but certainly everything we've done since has been for us and not some prospective buyer. Who would no doubt be puzzled by our choices.

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  2. The chickens would have sealed the deal for me. I remember my parents paying out $115 a month for thirty years starting in '55. That was almost an eternity. At least they were nearly done when the money started to trickle up.

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    1. I remember, when I complained that we didn't have a house with a Rec Room, that my dad told me our little house had one feature my friends' houses didn't have: it was paid for. Which did not resonate with me at all.

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    2. Yes, our parents were not dumb. I remember being upset that our family didn't "move up" to a bigger house. My dad paid off the family house in 17 years, and then proceeded to live there *without a mortgage* for the next 40+ years.......Indeed, the concept of "debt free" just didn't compute until decades later!

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    3. Now, see, Ed, yours DID have a rec room, with a honky-tonk piany in it, and I distinctly remember drinking Scotch and ginger ale in there while listening to Gimme Shelter, and then I don't remember much after that.

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  3. I love how you can connect the little stuff to the big picture. Keep up this very necesary work.

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  4. In the mid-1970's we bought a small house in Atlanta for $29,500. That same house today, even if not one update had been added in the intervening years — probably even if it had its original roof, now leaking — would sell for well over $300,000. I could kick myself for not holding onto it.

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    1. You wouldn't believe what our place is worth. Our neighborhood, which used to be called the "slum," is as hot as it could be. Sure seems like a skeezy way to "earn" money.

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    2. You worked hard to 'earn' that money, in that you stuck it out in a substandard neighborhood and put up with all the related inconveniences and petty crimes, and still kept up your property as an example of how beautiful the neighborhood could be. That probably helped to attract buyers who also had a vision of how good things could be. Spending decades putting up with theft, vandalism, and drunks peeing in the alley is a lot more work than moving to the then-popular suburbs, where people paid a premium for orderliness..........

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    3. Those suburbs sure feel like a crappy deal now! I wouldn't move if I hit the lottery. Which is highly unlikely EVEN if I bought a ticket.

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  5. I have moved so many times that I was probably in every demographic and real estate culture out there. I now am living in this house the longest...longer than where I lived as an infant and where I lived as a teenager!!

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    1. I'm trying to add up all the places I've lived, including rentals and excluding dormitories. Seven. I must've left something out.

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    2. Since birth, beginning in Germany, 28 places I've called home, yet none actually feel/felt like home.Probably because I was never there long enough.

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  6. We bought our first house on NE Senate in Portlland (which is now smack in the middle of the parking lot of a mall, I hear) in 1971. Big lot, fenced yard, 3 bedrooms, next door to a church--it was an awesome house. $13,950. Can't get a new car for that now. Wow.

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    1. I know NE Senate! That would be worth a fortune today.

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  7. This is the second house we have bought. And I hope the last. Renovations are done for us. Resale value? Not an issue.
    The chickens would have been a decider for me. Contented chicken noises are one of the nicest I know...

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    1. You're not the only person I know who thinks the noises are the best part--even before the eggs.

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  8. In the 15 years we've lived in this rather modest house huge concrete palaces have mushroomed on the hill behind us.All of them with many 0s after a lot of numbers.Built when coal money was easy money.
    And then came the Crash and the cashed-out miners had to sell, losing a few 0s along the way.I don't know how people can sleep with mortgages like some of these folk have...

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    1. Also you buy yourself a boatload of heartache when you accumulate a bunch of stuff to stuff in your big house. After a while your whole life is in service of all your stuff and you can't quit your job for one you'd like better if it doesn't pay--etc. You have limited your options.

      Says the lady with the big house full of stuff.

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    2. My piano is tiny, but at least you can play yours!
      And 'm not sure what we could buy with whatever we'd get for this.

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  9. So is that the same house you now live in? Just tore up the rust carpet and remodelled?
    I'd be surprised to get free chickens with a house too, but fresh eggs for breakfast and cake making would sweeten that deal.

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    1. Yeah, and, well, we also added about 1500 square feet. And this and that. First this, then that.

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  10. Bought our first house for $7500, even borrowed the $1500 down payment. $46.52 a month. Had a few houses in between my current house which I bought for $18,000 and renovated. Paid for, and too small to collect much stuff.

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    1. You're right about that last bit--the bigger the house, the more crap it accumulates. We moved into our house with one and a half trips in a Ford Econoline van. Now?

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  11. The Seattle housing market is pretty much as you have described. My son and his wife bought a very tiny house for an obscene amount of money and had to sweet talk the seller into ditching a standing offer and selling to their sweet selves instead for a few thou more. Insane! And that was about 3-4 years ago. I'm sure it's worse now.

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    1. I think Seattle might be worse! It's certainly bigger. And now both our cities are getting, or will be getting, climate refugees. Oh yass.

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