July 22, 2004

going hunting

We’ve been house hunting lately. As in: every Sunday making the rounds of open houses until Damian yells “Stop! No more houses!” and then we usually check out two more and let him stay in the car (we take turns running into the house). Also as in: we now have a line of credit to draw on if we should ever, say, need a hefty down payment on a new home. Also as in: every morning I get an automated email detailing new listings and priced reductions. If I have time, I mapquest the likeliest candidates and plug them into the LAUSD school finder and come out with “yes, look at this” or “god, no, it’s right next to a huge boulevard” or “maybe but let’s visit the school first.” And some we look at and some we don’t. It’s like a huge game like Jeopardy or What’s My Line or The Price is Right, only this one is called “Where’s My Home?”

It feels absolutely insane. We’re looking at seven hundred thousand dollar tear-downs and eight hundred thousand dollar “well, it would be nice if it had a back yard and wasn’t so close to the freeway” places. And interest rates are rising and our property tax would double if we do this and after all, we have a perfectly nice house. A workable house. A very pretty house with enough room for us to fit nicely. And new central air, which we’ve been enjoying mightily this summer. But, well…

We started looking as a way to find a better school for Damian. That may no longer be necessary, but we find ourselves compelled to keep looking. We don’t have to continue living here. And after we started looking because we thought we had to, we found out that there are in fact areas of town – areas further west, even, closer to Dan’s job and Damian’s best friends and closer to everything else we do as well and also to cleaner, cooler air – there are these pockets of affordability, of maybe-we-could-trade-sideways. Our agent calls it moving laterally and sighs and says “that’s not easy.” We acknowledge this. And yet…

This house. I love this house. I do. I do not, however, love the neighbors. I also don’t love the concrete block two story apartment buildings. Nor do I love the fact that we are the rich folk on the block, simply by dint of owning our home and yet we are also the poor people in the neighborhood compared to our friends a few blocks over in the nicer part. We’re both too rich and too poor here; stuck in imbalance either way. I do not love the wadded up fast food bags and bits of junk mail we find in our front yard. We are not a trash can. Or the way I have to chase cars out of our driveway. We are not a public parking lot. Or the ancient Russian woman’s louder-every-year Russian TV that comes through even our soundproof windows on the north side even though we paid for a headset-for-the-deaf for her and have talked to her landlord about it and even have her daughter’s phone number. (Last time I called, she said “Are you sure you’re hearing my mother? That can’t be my mother.” But it was.) Or her counterpart two apartments down; less ancient, plays TV less often, but probably cranks the volume even higher. Or the very sweet (now that they’ve stopped parking in our driveway) multigenerational African family who nevertheless have high-volume conversations from the balcony to the front gate at eleven p.m. Or the booming Ukranian music coming from the front upper apartment on the south side.

You get the picture, I think. Or rather, hear the echo. It was a good move to buy this house. I don’t regret it. It’s appreciated in value quite nicely, and it enabled us to stay in a neighborhood we knew well; this stability was important when we were also still in the throes of Damian’s various therapies (he was just three when we moved here, barely verbal and still very withdrawn). But this is not a forever home for us.

Our next house may not be for forever either (that whole lateral move thing) and it probably won't be as pretty but we need for it to at least be a place where we can say, “Okay, our finances haven’t gotten better so yes, we can in fact stay here, we’ll just take out a line of credit and make a few adjustments to the property.” We can’t do that here. Not without clawing our eyes – and ears – out. Because you can’t take out a line of credit to buy up the neighboring buildings and bulldoze them to the ground. They don’t make equity lines that big.

This is a three-to-five-years house. We’ve been here three years. It’s time to look around, see if we can find something else. Maybe a smaller house we can eventually build on to. Maybe a house in a less hot neighborhood but one that’s pleasant and quiet. Maybe a house that could use a bit of updating but that we could do over time, bit by bit, just as we have here. I don’t know what we’ll end up finding. I just know we have to look. So expect stories from the real estate front lines, stories of strange houses and stranger realtors and finally – whether in a month or a year (or more?) – yes, a home to love.

It’s time to go shopping.

Posted by Tamar at July 22, 2004 11:10 PM