Buying a house is like slapping yourself repeatedly in the face with a sock full of Jell-O: It’s messy, but kind of fun. Try it. This week has been eventful for Jameelah and me. We found this cool little house on a hill in a neighborhood we like, filled with light, with a yard, newly updated, with stainless steel appliances, and sometimes, when it’s clear, you can see parts of the mountain range standing in the distance. The neighbors are a young Asian couple and 20 of their relatives, and we started daydreaming of trading homegrown bok choy and wasabi roots with them and sending our kids to the same violin class and pressuring them to attend the same medical school.
So we worked with our agent and submitted an offer yesterday. Three hours later, they countered with an increase of $10,000. “They’re desperate,” said our agent, “if you increase 5K, they’ll probably take it.” The sellers are an old couple who are trying to move to Florida. Yippee, we thought! These old people are desperate! We’ll have a house, yay!
Then I couldn’t sleep. The house is only slightly bigger than our apartment, and the living room is actually smaller than the apartment’s! Today I called Long, my older brother, who is a brilliant real estate investor. We didn’t want to talk to him, because sometimes in life, you need to maintain illusions to keep your sanity, and Long is the kind of person who can dash hopes and dreams faster than a Tea Party Republican can say “Sarah Palin 2012!” He would rain on your parade, and then tell you parades cause cancer. I called him today and he said we would end up losing $30,000 or $40,000 when we sell the house in a few years because no one would buy a house this small. He said our children would be on the street, begging, pretending to be lepers, and I would have to grow marijuana in the backyard to make mortgage payments and that the loan sharks would come over and destroy our bok choy and wasabi.
All right, he didn’t say the stuff about begging and marijuana and bok choy, but he painted a very bleak picture, so bleak that I called our agent and withdrew the offer completely. In a way, I am relieved. In another way, I’m disappointed that another house fell through. It always takes a little while to recover, and sometimes, like the first house that was beyond perfect, you don’t recover completely. Each time you find a little house, you start daydreaming, imagining picnics in luxurious lawns and cutting fresh kale for your stir-fry and tiki parties, and maybe a little trellis covered in grape leaves that you can stuff with rice and Greek herbs and boil and squeeze some lemon juice on top and invite your neighbors over during summer evenings when sunlight doesn’t fade until 9 and the world seems so still and serene. You daydream these things, and then you start to wonder how much something like that is worth. Isn’t it worth 30 or 40 grand, a vision like that?
Hell no! 40K, that’s like…a lot of money. I can’t imagine a number that big, having never experienced that before, but I’m sure it’s a lot.
It’s back to the hunt. “Don’t worry,” said our agent, “we’ll find the house that is right for you guys.” I start thinking about the old couple, who are probably daydreaming too, about selling their house, about moving to a condo in Florida. I feel a little guilty for disappointing them, for raising their hopes and dashing them. We were the only offer they got so far. Maybe I should ask Long to call and cheer them up.