Unless you’re a drug kingpin or a Real Housewife of Wherever, chances are you live in a normal-sized house and don’t need roller skates to navigate your faux-Italian-granite floors. In other words, you’ve settled.
I’ve gotten pretty interested in residential real estate lately. I’ve spent a number of weekends helping to get my mother’s house ready for sale, and I’ve also been looking at new homes for my own family. The operative word here is “new.” There’s nothing like sorting through 30 years worth of belongings in an old house – books, clothes, photos, letters, dust, and (it must be said) rodent droppings – to make you appreciate a just-being-built development.
I used to have a bias against new construction. It was so – well – new. All that Tyvek I would see as I drove past. All that flimsy-looking plywood framing. Yuck.
Now I feel differently. I’m not interested in character or history in my house anymore. I’ve embraced the Tyvek, made my peace with the plywood framing. I want cathedral ceilings, 42” cherry-finish cabinets, and a full finished basement, thank you very much. The latest energy-efficient appliances, please. And, of course, a “Great Room” – I’m not sure exactly what its function is, but I feel certain I’d be inspired to heroic feats just by being in it.
Part of my problem with new developments used to be that I felt like such a sucker when I visited. I’d stroll, goggle-eyed, though the model home, ready to mortgage my very soul to own it, only to discover that the model boasted around $100,000 worth of “upgrades.” If you bought the base house at the base amount (pretty pricey to begin with, in this area), all you were guaranteed was a certain number of square feet, several walls, and possibly a roof. Those lovely chocolate-colored marble countertops you fell in love with in the model? An upgrade.
One thing you learn pretty quickly when touring model homes is that, if any item is part of a “package,” it automatically costs triple. My husband and I investigated a recently-built home last weekend, and were impressed to see that every windowsill boasted a recessed candle-shaped light that could be raised in December. Turns out, these lights (and only these lights) comprised the neutrally-named Holiday Package – and were, of course, an upgrade.
But my complaints don’t really matter. You see, I’ve got a raging case of REF, or Real Estate Fever.
Perhaps you’re familiar with this disorder? Perhaps you’ve even suffered from it yourself at some point? Symptoms: pupils that dilate when you’re presented with a model home floor plan. Palms that sweat from pure longing when you’re confronted with a list of house options. (Did you ever think that crown molding and chair rails could inspire such passion? Me neither.)
REF has some interesting side effects. For one thing, even the most progressive, independent, non-dinner-cooking female becomes inordinately interested in kitchen storage. Lack of pantry? Devastating. Built-in spice rack? Mania-inducing.
Women can also develop a previously unknown fascination with window treatments. Blinds versus shutters, shades, swags, and valances – all the topics that used to be viable only at Linens & Things staff meetings – suddenly become objects of intense speculation. Sconces and chandeliers are a whole other conversation – don’t get me started!
Men, of course, just compare the size of their decks and call it a day…
REF can cause another intriguing symptom. Call it Price Obsession. Call it Money Hyper-Awareness. Regardless, it simply means that part of the “courtesy lobe” in your brain is temporarily removed. Think about it. Would you ever ask someone how much their recent vacation cost? Their new car? The snazzy new wardrobe they just bought?
Didn’t think so.
And yet, when we’re in the grip of REF, we think nothing of starting a sentence with the utterly meaningless “Do you mind if I ask you…?” and pry into interest rates, down payments, and mortgage terms. (And what an awkward position that places the hapless homeowner in! It’s tantamount to inquiring about someone’s salary.)
There are some housing developments that you should know better than to even visit unless you make half a million dollars a year (in which case, can I have your job?) Anything named “The Estates at…,” for example. Trust me on this. “The Villages at…” probably means townhomes, which are affordable to middle-class folks (if not particularly spacious). “The Estates at…”? Go win the lottery, and then we’ll talk.
A few weeks ago, I decided to torture myself by looking at an “Estates at…” property. Mistake. Now, the perfectly nice townhome my husband and I can actually afford pales in comparison to the sprawling compound I saw with its 3-car garage, sub-zero freezer (what does that mean, exactly? Isn’t “frozen” frozen?), and master bathroom the size of a small cottage.
But we’ve crunched the numbers, reviewed our options, and it looks like we’re going to wind up officially buying a new construction home sometime in the near future. In spite of the inherent hassles, we’re kind of looking forward to it.
It will be uncharted territory for us both, to be sure. The builder is sort of like a car mechanic. He can say, “You need enclosed wiring in the HVAC room to comply with state code regulations,” and how am I supposed to respond? “I have no idea what you’re talking about?” He knows that already.
So we may not get that 3-car garage.
But at least there won’t be any rodent droppings.