It takes less than 15 minutes to break into an average suburban house; I know because I did it a couple of weeks ago. The house in question was my own, a two-family property out at the beach. It’s the first and only house I’ve ever owned, and boy, it’s been nothing but trouble.
The break-in first: my contractors were due out, and I had hopped a train from the city to meet them, but of course I forgot to grab the correct set of keys. Rescheduling these guys would take two weeks at least, so I just popped a window out instead. (I’m no Tom Cruise, so it took a little finagling with a broomstick to pull the dehumidifier over so I could jump on it.) I’m a little ashamed to say that none of my neighbors – at least one of whom was out in their yard – questioned why someone was wriggling into a basement in broad daylight. Or maybe they were just enjoying the spectacle that I had to take out two panes to get my hips through.
Next, the trouble: I bought this house five years ago, after an awful breakup, thinking I just needed to get away – from the city, from the wreck of my engagement. I thought it would be fun to have sand between my toes.
No one warned me that it would stick in my craw as well. In the five years since its decent inspection, I’ve replaced the roof ($5,700 plus the cost of having interior work to repair water damage), the hot water heater ($650 plus the cardiac experience of getting a $900 water bill) and the garage door (who knew they cost $900?). I still haven’t redone the driveway, which has more fine cracks than Larry King’s mug, because I can’t bear the $4,500. My property taxes have doubled (never move to an area that has 100 dead people drawing government health insurance).
And then there was the bad tenant; he started off fine, fell behind on his rent, forced a costly eviction, and then left for Vegas leaving me holding all of his stuff.
After that, the basement flooded. Did you know it costs $5,000 to rip out a basement just so the mold remediation can start? Me neither.
The result, of course, is that I love the house in a way I’ll never love my city apartment. Is it masochism? Maybe, but there’s something more: its pipes feel like my veins. OK, possibly that’s because they’ve been directly transplanted from me through my wallet.
I mention the house’s financial troubles because I’m hawking a half-a-million-dollar listing, so I meet a lot of first-time buyers, and I see what they’re facing. Why pay $500,000 to buy a one-bedroom in the city? Because houses seem so scary. Just to keep up with an old house in the ‘burbs requires an every-third-Saturday willingness to hang out and deal with contractors. Not to mention the money: the beach house runs a tax loss of $10,000, which means my actual expenses are $20,000 plus mortgage interest of another $15,000. A hundred dollars a day, just for heat and entropy! And this is on the starter plan, where you don’t even get to live in the whole house!
The balm, of course, has been rising prices. I bought for $400,000, and I believe my hanging in could generate six, despite five years’ worth of wear and tear on the kitchens and bathrooms. That’s $110 a day, just for flipping burgers on the grill and putting up with some contractors. Like I tell first-time buyers, what else are you going to do with your time?