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Homeless 0-33: Face to Face

Prospective landlords were out of town, so we drove by a couple of places and stopped in on a housewarming convened by one of Amy’s co-workers. I’d met this co-worker last week in Colorado, and we’d had a vigorous chat about her new neighborhood. Or ‘hood, as she referred to it. Her and her husband have just bought a place in Brookland, a neighborhood between our current Takoma Park and Downtown; closer in.

We’d looked at a place just around the corner from their new place when we were first searching for a home here three and a half years ago. That place had been decked out as college quarters, with huge rooms connected by remarkably narrow passages. Its most prominent feature, a spiral staircase to the second floor. The place also had a third floor, so moving anything larger than a toaster would require removing windows and winching, like they do in Amsterdam.

No, thanks.

The housewarming place was nice enough, though as the new owners explained, the neighborhood qualifies as iffy. How much do you suppose they’d paid for the place? Amy checked the listings for places nearby. High six hundreds. That’s six hundred thousand. Well, they’re cheaper than the place we’re renting will be when it goes on the market.

Pondering while peeling tomatoes last night, I remembered how I’d thought outrageous the price of my brother’s first place, which he bought in 1970. Fourteen thousand dollars. More than I could imagine making in a lifetime then.

I managed to stay away from real estate for the next decade, then our landlord decided that monthly rent increases pegged to the double digit inflation rate would suit him just fine. We bought a place under that duress, where we learned to strip wallpaper, mend horse hair-bound plaster, paint, and hang wallpaper. Sold it a decade later for 25% less than we’d originally paid for it.

Buying in this real estate market might be the only prospect more terrifying than renting. All of my adult life, people have been touting real estate as a sure fire investment. I understand that there are tax advantages involved, too, but I swore when I bought that first place, and have been swearing ever since, that I’d never buy a house as an investment, but as a home. Never made a penny in real estate, but then I never aspired to. I was a paper prince for a while during the last bubble, but I make a better pauper. That I can be without conniving to buy low and sell high or trying to convince anyone to buy what I would never afford.

I’m face to face with the apparent fact that I’m not now nor am I ever likely to become an investor. Until we can figure some way to live in the home we own, I’ll be renting.

©2012 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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