Against all logic, we’ve been looking at houses. Our agent has a forced smile and a distracted air. She knows we’ll only disappoint, as so many others before. We roam the strange rooms while she wanders away to fiddle with her Blackberry.
It struck me the other day that houses are a lot like people: They can be seem so nice on the outside, but on the inside they all have their eccentricities, their little dysfunctions and stains of curious provenance. When I look at someone else’s house, I can’t help but recall that our own house remains on the market back in Wichita. It’s clear why. There is nothing wrong with it that $15,000 wouldn’t fix, but it seems wiser to preserve our savings. And so, like us, potential buyers must chuckle and groan and wonder what we were thinking. They get back in their SUVs and drive on to the next place.
Or, like us, they return to their computers to peer at pixelated photos and virtual tours. We’ve been doing a lot of that. It’s handy. But photos don’t impart the mysterious odors, don’t convey the chorus of dogs barking on either side of the property, don’t reveal the guy adjusting the timing on his Harley next door. Vroom, vroom.
Realtors are fond of saying that this is a perfect time to buy. Or sell. Or rent a condo in a nearly abandoned tower. Apparently the only thing it’s not a perfect time for is inertia, sitting by and letting terrific opportunities slip through our fingers. But so far, that’s mostly what we’ve been doing.
I’ve bought eight houses in my life. Always it was with the assurance that if I didn’t accidentally burn it down, the place could only increase in value. Now it feels different. We’re looking at vacant houses that appear to have lost half their value in the past three years, and there is no guarantee that prices have hit bottom. Even if they have, conventional wisdom holds that the days of flipping houses for twice the purchase price are gone forever. That’s not really a bad thing — I always hated those stupid TV shows and the greedy swine they portrayed. But it does make home-buying in 2011 seem slightly quixotic.
We’ll probably remain renters for awhile. Unless the next open house is the place of our dreams. Because like all dreams, the one of owning the house you live in dies hard.