Monday, July 02, 2007

Shopping for a House in Nashville

We're looking for a house. To buy. I know, I know. It's a million things all in one: scary, exciting, exhausting, scary, and exciting. Tell me about it.

Stoker is always at work, so when do we have time to even look at houses? We don't, usually, but we went to look yesterday. The only day off Stoker has had in a while where we knew two days beforehand that he had a day off.

Flashbacks and the Unattainable Neighborhood

It sucks looking at other people's houses. Especially when they vacated the house quickly and left it a mess. It spurs flashbacks to my mom's house and the Underwood's who rented it just before the divorce. In my dad's real estate gluttony, we rented that house and moved into a new duplex. That's when everything fell to pieces and then the Underwood's were sent packing and we retreated back to the old house -- our dad kept the duplex. The Underwood's had ruined everything and the things they didn't want, they left behind for me and my sisters to throw away. It was awesome.

I guess it wouldn't be a problem if Stoker and I could afford an expensive house in an upscale neighborhood. But, ha ha ha ha, we can't. When we were driving around yesterday, we called a for-sale-by-owner number to find out their asking price. The house was smaller and in a nice neighborhood. A rich neighborhood. I asked the man what their asking price was. He told me the price and I coughed and choked and cleared my throat and said, "Ok, thanks, buh-bye now."

That's not what I said. And I kept my composure. But Stoker and I relived the moment and laughed about it a lot after I hung up the phone.

You Get What You Pay For; Or, How a Free-Market Society Works

What were we thinking? I mean, what fantasy-land were we living in when we thought the two of us -- poor, white-trash ne'er-do-wells -- could afford even a 600 square foot house in THAT neighborhood? Hardy har har.

Don't you just wonder how a person justifies selling a house for the price they're selling it for? I mean, take an 800 square foot house in a nice neighborhood. That tiny, cramped cottage could sell for $500,000 in some neighborhoods and no one would be allowed to bat an eyelash. That's what it's worth because it's a nice neighborhood.

Some of the neighborhoods we drove around in were really frightening. At any minute we expected to be ambushed and made to get out of our car by a gang of hoodlums, who would then take our car on a joyride to the see the sun sphere at the Knoxville world's fair.

But we could totally afford a mansion in those neighborhoods.

Navigating the Waters of a Codified Language and a Specialized Market

Buying a house is tricky. There are all these unspoken rules. And there are things your agent can't say. For instance, our agent can't say that the neighborhood we're looking in is dangerous and teeming with gangs, drugs, and murder (in 2003, Nashville had 74 murders, 1.7 percent higher than the national average). Even though that information would be helpful to us, because in Nashville there are so many neighborhoods that we know so little about. She can try to tell us about the neighborhood by using a difficult to understand code language, with phrases like, "That area has changed." Or "That part of town is really fast-paced." None of which sound like what she means: "That area is scary as hell. I saw hypodermics in the gutter and I saw a man get shot outside a gas station."

And they say you don't want to have the nicest house on your street, for appraisal reasons. But you also don't want to have the ugliest house on the street. Our agent can't tell us where we should live, though that would be helpful too (but knowing me I'd do the exact opposite of what she told us to do). She can't really tell us which areas she thinks will increase in value, though that would be extremely helpful, too. We'd love to buy a house and watch the area change (for the better) overnight and the value of the house appreciate fifty thousand dollars in nine months.

Anyway, the point is that the only way to learn how to buy a house, really, is to do it. And it kind of sucks. Especially when you get to a house and it's 95 degrees outside with 65 percent humidity and the house you're checking out has been shut up for a day and it smells like the previous owners housed birds and dogs and snakes and quite possibly, ducks. That's when you decide you can afford to look at houses ten to twenty thousand dollars MORE than the house you're standing in, with it's old red carpet and water-heater in the hallway.

Also, it helps to have vision.

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