I've been reading Ben's blog for a while. Kind of addicted to it, in fact. This is our life. This is potentially our future. Will prices come down? They have to. One commenter a few months ago put it like this: if a house continues gaining equity at the current rate, what will it be worth in 40 years? Well, let's see. I just fooled around with the numbers, and it seems that our house has increased in value an average of 23% every year since 2001. An average, fairly nice but not great house in a decent area on the Westside of Los Angeles costs about a million dollars these days. If it keeps accreting value at 23% a year, it will be worth 2.6 billion dollars in 40 years. Yes, billon. Um, yeah. Right. Income levels? Not increasing at 23% a year. Inflation? Nope, that either.
This housing bubble has to end, and fairly soon, too. A million dollars for a 1500-2000 square foot house on a 6-7000 square foot plot of land in a fairly pleasant but not amazing neighborhood, that's already beyond absurd. Prices are cyclical. This history-making cycle is about to end.
We had to sell our current house to have the cushion we need for this move. We have to wait to buy a new house until we see what our life looks like in New Jersey/New York. If we can afford to stay there. What our income level will be. What part of our new town feels most like home. It's practical to wait for all kinds of personal reasons. But if it also means we end up buying in a saner housing market? That, due to pure serendipity, we timed this just right? That would be wild. So wild.
I guess someone has to benefit from the fickle winds of money and markets, why not us?
My grandmother died yesterday. She was 92, past her expiration date. I don't mean to sound flippant, but I know that's how she felt about it. She hadn't planned to live past 85, hadn't wanted to live in a nursing home, hadn't chosen any of it. I feel sad but not as much for the loss of the tangible her as for the fact that you can't go back in time, revisit your loved ones as they were, as you were together. I spent a lot of time with her when I was a child. She was an interesting woman, unhappy but content, simple but complex, peaceful but troubled. I loved her. She's gone and yet not gone. I can hear her voice calling me dear, smell her apartment, see her owl and cacti collections, her stack of mystery novels and the semi-precious stones she kept in a jar in the bedroom, great triggers for a child's imagination. I can still smell her perfume as she sat (sits) beside me at the Joffrey Ballet or in the audience at a Broadway play, still smile at my own teenager's arrogant surprise when I ran (run) into her walking alone near Lincoln Center in the city she loved so much.
It's all still there. So, in a sense, is she. And yet not. Very much not. Sad, yes.
Is it possible to mourn and be happy at the same time? Because that's how I feel right now. Packing, cheerful, purging, looking ahead. Life is thrilling.
Coming home, no red streak of fluff escaping past my legs, then plopping down on the warm cement path, waiting for me to gather him up and bring him back inside. A catch in my throat.
Kitty dinner, only one bowl, only one long-bodied creature racing to get his chow and the inevitable memories of the two boys flank to flank, tails high flags, running in tandem. A catch in my heart.
A life stops, other lives go on, the fabric is torn but holds.
I'm still waiting to see him in my dreams. My red fuzzy Dante bear-cat. Will his spirit follow us to New Jersey or will it get lost somewhere on I-70? They say animals have great homing skills. How about animal spirits?
Thank you to everyone who has extended condolences in comments and email. A pet's personality is so hard to know from the outside, it sometimes feels like a ghost that only matters to the people who lived with him. But because of my words, maybe, Dante was somewhat more known. And your words help me heal.
Some old words about Dante:
Dante and Damian in 1999, kit and caboodle.
Dante and Cocoa sitting in a tree.
And a portrait, taken two years ago:
And an ending. For now. Until I have more to say.
He was acting lethargic last night, unlike himself. I brought him to the emergency veterinary hospital. He stayed overnight. He went into arrest this morning, they couldn't resuscitate him.
Our sweet, sweet boy.
For the past few months, Damian has been playing a long running game he's devised. I don’t know all the parameters, but I do know there are a whole hell of a lot of bad guys for the main character to fight. When this game began, he kept interrupting himself to come out and show me yet another bad guy (a toy lizard, snake, or frog, usually – the good guys in this case are mostly small plastic aliens).
I found the theology in this game rather intriguing: when good guys die, they become bad guys. And when bad guys die, they become ghosts and apparently (if I'm getting this right), when a whole bunch of bad guy ghosts are hanging (or is that floating?) around, they coalesce and turn back into one good guy. Mostly, though, I think this elaborate structure is just an excuse for a whole lot of fighting.
Shortly after Damian began this epic game, he announced that it was a chapter game and that it would end when we leave Los Angeles and move to New Jersey. Okay, whatever. Sounds fine, right? But shortly after we got back from our latest trip east, he started getting morose. Why? "I'm sad because I'm thinking about this game ending."
Now, when I say morose, I mean really, chin-quivering, eyes-watering melancholy. A powerful sadness.
"Well, then why end it?" we asked, "You can keep playing once we get to New Jersey." No, that wasn't going to work. "Why not?" It just wasn't. Take his word for it.
It keeps coming up, this sadness. Coming on him in a flood of emotion, only receding after we discuss all the possible permutations of games ending and games transmuting into other games and leaving games behind as you grow and games becoming… well, isn't it obvious? Game becomes an extended, deeply felt metaphor.
What you have to understand is that this is a boy who says he has no regrets about moving. Who shrugs and smiles when we tell him about snow and cold and humidity and how it's not going to be an extended vacation, who says, "Yes but it'll be better than here." Who asked me one night while we were at the Jersey Shore to list the reasons New York (including New Jersey) is better than LA and when I'd enumerated every reason I could conjure that makes it a better place for us as a family, added one of his own: "New York is more fun." He's right. For us, it is. Our life is more full there. He, like us, feels a little empty and isolated here. And knows it. When we arrived back in LA a week and a half ago, we stood by the plexiglass window in the terminal, watching the workers take the baggage off the plane we'd just disembarked. Damian gave a great big sigh. "I miss New York." Five minutes back in LA and he missed his to-be new home.
In other words, this child is deeply committed to this move. To wanting this to happen. And yet, I think, he has these feelings. Feelings of sadness at leaving. But he can't allow himself to admit it, though we've tried: we've encouraged him to express all his feelings and we've talked about how you can feel two things at once. But he doesn’t want to go there. Maybe it's too hard. Maybe it's too much. I don't know. But Dan and I both suspect that this unusual sadness over ending a game – an ending he completely controls – is really his way of expressing and feeling the sadness that's there under the surface. Leaving home. Uprooting. Transplanting. It's a good thing but also an emotionally difficult one. Especially, I think, for him. It's got to be. Dan and I have roots in New York. Memories. It's home for us, profoundly so. But Damian was born here. In the land of palm trees and red tile Moorish rooftops, of warm winter evenings and wild Santa Ana winds in autumn. This is his home turf. The only thing he really knows. Can this move really be as emotionally straightforward as he makes it sound? I doubt it. Thus this sadness. Over a game.
Sometimes it feels odd to mostly focus on the topics close to hand: education, housing, moving, parenting, writing, life. Sometimes when big things happen in the world (four deadly explosions in London) or in the political infrastructure of this country (Justice O'Connor retiring), I feel the need or desire or wish to say something about them. But then I think about what I would say and I feel tongue tied.
I don't know how it feels to be a Londoner tonight. I don't know any of the dead or wounded. I can't even tell what it feels like to be me, thinking about this. A terrorist attack. Unsurprising. Bush and Blair's so-called war on terrorism has done nothing so much as create more anger, more disgust, more passion, more terrorists. This is a truism. This came true this morning, London's yesterday afternoon. This is blood and suffering and dismay and inevitability and I don't know what to feel. Shaken. Sad. Frustrated. Maybe that's it. Maybe that's enough. Maybe.
I don't know what to think about the Supreme Court. I know I’m supposed to be scared of the Court turning radically conservative, and I am. Balance of power shot to hell and back, maybe. Roe V. Wade dead and buried, maybe. Personal freedoms gradually swept away, maybe. But it's all a maybe until it's a definite. I can't fear what I don't know, at least not on this national level. Maybe it's numbness, maybe just pragmatism, or maybe I simply have other concerns right now. And Justices have a way of changing on the bench, on that bench. Some, anyway. Or maybe I'm just too much of a blind optimist to admit the truth right now.
Maybe it's just that I’m not a political junkie. I have passionate beliefs, but most poliblogs make my eyes glaze over, most political debate makes me sigh and turn away. I care. Yes. I do. Very much. But there's something about the endless debate that feels much like a looped recording playing static and noise with occasional words standing out in the clear. I listened to Air America radio for a while last month. I got bored. I'd rather read dailykos.com and get my liberal fix in more satisfying detail and then walk away, contemplating what is and what could be. I don't want to argue with you, I don't want to convince you because I'm not sure I can. I want to change the world, of course I do. I'm just not sure how. Mostly, I don't find this fun. It's too real for that and I'm just one person, in some ways far from the fray. My choice, I know that. But I've always felt it. Singular, unsure. A disconnect, maybe because my father was in the peace movement in the '60's and I saw the chaos of that up close. Maybe so.
Journalism – and in this I include bloggers who investigate and dig and uncover and discover and I do not include reporters (and bloggers) who simply regurgitate the latest press releases and gather meaningless quotes – journalism is crucial. Truth is crucial, as much as it can be known and felt and understood as such. Truth changes the world, I do believe that. But I don't have that kind of national-level political truth. I just have thoughts and not even terribly profound or new ones, at that. Not about this. About real estate and child development, autism in particular, about huge personal life changes and how to shape a novel, yes, I can talk about those things. I have something to say, something new and maybe important, even. Sometimes I do, I think, yes. But politics? Huge world events? Not so much.
Forgive me if I seem like I don’t care. It's not that, not at all. I simply don't have the words.
Because I said I would, because StealthPunch asked, and because if I don't write it down I'll inevitably forget the details, here's how we sold our house. Or, rather, how we made the decision about which of our three suitors was the right one. Don't know how helpful it'll be if you're not selling to investors, though.
Suitor #1: Spiffy, speedy, and direct. Made the offer the first day the house went on the market. An offer complete with bank statement showing he had the down payment plus some. When we said, "But you haven't even seen the place," he said, "I'll come by now." When we said, "But we're not ready to make a decision," he said he'd wait but he would not get into a bidding war. No way, no how. His goal: do a 1031 exchange, put capital gains back into properties and avoid taxes. Investment, pure and simple. And yes, maybe he'd want to build. He wanted to leave his options open. (I consider it probable, but you never know.) His company's longevity (our realtor looked it up): over three decades. His bid: list price.
Suitor #2: The shy type. No, scratch that. The impenetrable type. The two-steps-forward-one-step-sideways do-si-do type. Man came sailing into the open house, zipped through the house, handed our realtor a sealed envelope with a pre-written bid. But, um. Man was not buyer. Man was go-between (ie: realtor). Suitor never saw the place. Nor did any member of suitor's family. Broker said he'd send a pre-qualification letter over ASAP. Our broker said great. Next day, our broker said, "Where's the pre-qual?" "My printer broke, I'll get it to you now." Your printer? What, you have a bank in your realty office? What kind of meaningless pre-qual letter is that? Suitor #2's goal: to build. Wait, no, to buy for his daughter to live and THEN to build. Mmm hmm. And his daughter has no say in this? Has never seen the house? Mmm hmm. Sure, I believe you. Sure I do. His company's longevity: two years. His bid: $26K over list price.
Suitor #3: The "Hurry, hurry, I'm gonna be late! Late for a very important date!" type. Faxed over a bid the evening our realtor was writing up counter offers. Sight unseen yet again. His company was named something or other Exchange and his bid included some phrasing that left the door open to someone else buying the property, and he'd be the go-between. IE: his business was finding places for other people to buy as 1031 exchange-style investments (see Suitor #1). His company's longevity: can't remember, but there was something odd about it. His bid: $27K over list.
The dilemma: Suitor #1 was clearly the most solid. Had the money, had the track record. And he did his research up front: he talked to his architect, discussed the property with him. He called the city to make sure permit regulations hadn't changed recently. He knew whether he'd be able to build a condo complex on this lot before we even made the counter-offer. The other two guys might well back out during escrow. Builders do that all the time, apparently. They leap on a property, tie it up so it can't run off with someone else, then they see if they really want it after all. So #2 was definitely a gamble. And #3 might not make his deal during escrow. But. That's enough money to make a gamble feel worthwhile. If you're the gambling type. Which we're not. Except for the whole picking-up-and-moving-across-country thing, that is. But still. $26K, nothing to sneeze at. Could buy us more time to make this transition work. But if we fall out of escrow because we go with the wrong guy? Ugh. If a suitor takes you to the Four Seasons for dinner and settles you in box seats at the opera on your first date, that doesn't mean you'll have a caviar relationship. Or any relationship at all.
The solution: Through our realtor, we explained our situation to #1. Said, "We don't expect you to come up to the other offers, but can you make this an easier decision for us?" He came up halfway. $14K over list. We went with him. And it's worked out just fine. All the contingencies have been removed, right on time. This deal is going through, just as we knew it would when we signed the escrow agreement. Believe it or not, I trust this guy. And that's important here. I'd rather make less but see the money, y'know?