When we decided to move to this happy little Ville almost a decade ago we toured a bunch of houses. One in particular caught our eye. It was a turn of the century (1900) beauty with so much character only a fool could pass it up. Sure it needed a lot of cosmetic work and updates but that is part of being a homeowner, right?
We moved in and rolled up our sleeves. Layer upon layer of wallpaper was steamed and scraped to expose the beautiful plaster walls beneath. Sure there were cracks but that was just part of the character of a century old house. We had a check list and started to go room by room doing the what we could while the house built equity so we could afford the larger renovations like remodeling the 70’s kitchen and 80’s bath. Then the housing bubble popped. Our home’s value deflated like a helium balloon left out in the cold. Suddenly the biggest investment of our lives was becoming our biggest mistake.
I was bemoaning this predicament with a friend when he stopped me and said, “What you have there is a Money Pit – Neighbors scenario .
I paused and stared blankly at him.
“You know, Money Pit with Tom Hanks, came out in the 80″s, ” he clarified, “and Neighbors, the family that has a frat move in right next door to them….that’s you buddy.”
He was right, our home had become a financial vacuum and to compound things all the houses on our block had become rentals and not just family rentals, pack ’em and stack ’em college rentals.
This is the side of homeownership they don’t warn you about. The baby boomers were unaware that they had been blessed with a lucky streak. There was a simple formula. My parents used it when I was a kid. Buy a house that needed a little fixing up. Fix it up. Sell it for a profit. Move to bigger house. Repeat. Only for many of us the cycle is now broken. For us it has gone more like: Buy a house. Start to fix it up. Watch as it’s value is halved and continue to make payments for what will be more than half your life. Lie in the fetal position on the floor weeping as the plaster ceiling crumbles down around you.
OK, that is pretty bleak but there is some truth to it. If you have been following me you know that our central air unit died but that is just one example of things we would have called a landlord to report in the good old days. The first winter the blower for our heat quit. A bird had actually flown down an exhaust tube into it, how does that even happen? Then it didn’t dawn on me that if you can see the bubbles in the glass because of it’s age those windows are probably a little brittle. I can still remember the second month we lived in the house the kids had managed to break window number three. I could hardly contain myself, “These windows have survived for over 100 years before we arrived and somehow you have managed to break three in a little over a month, within a year there will be no windows left!”
There are also things that the realtor told us before we bought the house that we might not have understood completely. “Most of the wiring has been updated.” Conversely this means some of it has not, in fact Edison wired that part of the house and it isn’t grounded, so be prepared to head to the basement… a lot. And speaking of the basement, when they say “The basement has a new drainage system and pumps.” It is not like a car sales man saying, “This car has side curtain airbags in case of a roll over accident.” It is more like, “Your basement will flood but don’t worry, you’ll only get a few inches while the new system pumps it out.” Or my favorite. “There are hardwood floors throughout.” When it would be clearer to say, “Carpet covers all the hardwood floors and it’s been there for decades. If you pull it up, you’ll notice dogs lived here for most of the 80’s and drinks have a tendency to spill.” Should we have known these things? Sure but we had just starting watching HGTV and Rehab Addict wasn’t even a show yet.
That’s just the Money Pit side of it. As noted, our neighborhood has also become money making property for the most part. This caused a noticeable decrease in our resale value but there are also other benefits. A couple years back my son and mother got to see one of the neighbor kids streak around the house. We have had at least one young man pass out in the driveway and yet another try to come in our back door insisting that it was his house, they are so adorable at that age. Lucky for us since the central air is out it is almost impossible to hear the late night revelry over the window unit and 3 fans that cool our bedroom.
It hasn’t all been bad though. So many memories are held within the walls of that grand old house. It has the perfect staircase for Christmas mornings. It was a cozy place to return home to for a hot bowl of soup after my son’s football games. We always had a crowd in the dining room for pre-dance meals with the kids and held at least one Prom sleep over. We have also shared so many laughs with friends and family on the front porch that was made for gathering on.
She really has served us well, we just happened along 30 years late. Our next home will be a townhouse if I get my way and it will be rented. It’s not that home ownership is all bad, I just don’t think we’re cut out for it.
While I’m on the subject any one interested in one heck of an investment property? You could probably get 8 kids in it, finish the attic and make that 12 and if they can swim you could fit 3 more in the basement … don’t worry I fixed all that stuff I mentioned.