"I never liked walking in residential neighborhoods until I became a homeowner."
That casual comment by my lifelong friend Karen Alexander is but one example of how profoundly our perceptions are altered when we take that huge leap of faith into homeownership. As soon as we get the keys to our first home, we start to take a serious interest in a myriad of topics that previously hadn’t caught, much less held, our attention even in the slightest degree.
Alexander is my oldest friend: I was five months old when she was born, and we’ve been friends ever since. She was in town on a weekend stopover of sorts between a business conference in Las Vegas and her home in Metuchen, N.J., a small town an hour’s train ride from Manhattan.
The weather was fine, spring was in the air, and we’d decided to take a walk through a residential neighborhood in Culver City, another small town on the border of Los Angeles. The houses are mostly 1940s tract homes, though some of the properties date back to the city’s incorporation in 1917.
After Alexander uttered that perceptive remark about homeowners’ fascination with other people’s houses, I began to think about all of the things that interest homeowners but inflict the worst sort of boredom on everyone else.
Unless you have a personal interest in real property, it’s tough to work up much excitement about plastering walls, painting ceilings, refinishing backyard decks, resurfacing driveways, oiling garage doors, repairing rain gutters, applying lawn fertilizer, operating sprinkler systems, unclogging drains, planting vegetable gardens, hiring contractors, selecting decorative house numbers, installing dual-paned vinyl windows, or a million and one other tasks of homeownership.
And let’s not forget other people’s remodeling projects, home-decorating magazines, hardware stores, home improvement warehouses and fix-this-house TV shows. We homeowners are fascinated by all of it because we want to know about every great idea or handy tip that might enhance our pride and joy in our beloved — and like pets, often overpampered — homes.
Homeowners are equally absorbed by mortgage interest rates, house-price indices, property tax assessments, homeowner’s insurance and association dues, all of which hit us in the pocketbook but are of little interest to anyone else. Add to that list such arcane subjects as zoning laws, housing density, lot sizes, land use, rights of way, easements, street lights, speed bumps and even trash collection. None of those subjects held our interest when we were renters, but once we became homeowners, we began to wonder how we’d ever managed to overlook the importance of these utterly engrossing matters.
And yet, homeownership isn’t just about backyards and building materials. It’s also about how we perceive ourselves. We may have thought of ourselves as sons or daughters, siblings, spouses or parents. Or perhaps as business owners or employees. Or maybe as music mavens, art lovers, sports fans, creative types or nature lovers. And in each of those descriptions, we define ourselves by our lifestyles, traits and preferences. And then we become homeowners, and we hope we may be forgiven if we also become just a little bit smug about our identities as such.
We may disagree about religion, politics and whether the federal government should bail out those among us who are in danger of losing their status as homeowners. But we all agree that property taxes are too high, house prices are too low, tenants are less desirable than owner-occupants as neighbors, and someone should do something about that wreck of a house at the end of the block. Because after all, no matter how much we may differ in our private lives, are all in the homeownership club together.
Marcie Geffner is a veteran real estate reporter and former managing editor of Inman News. Her news stories, feature articles and columns about home buying, home selling, homeownership and mortgage financing have been published by a long list of real estate Web sites and newspapers. "House Keys," a weekly column about homeownership, is syndicated in print and on the Web by Inman News. Readers are cordially invited to "friend" the author on Facebook.
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