Sunday, June 14, 2009

Home Renovation as Pornography


Although I haven't wanted to say much about it, because nothing is settled, Robb and I have been quietly house-hunting. Home prices have dropped, and interest rates are low, and for the first time ever, we can actually do more than fantasize about buying a modest little home.

Which brings me to the subject of the renovation blogs, that I've been obsessively reading.

Robb and I are looking at houses built before 1950, and with what we have to spend, we're probably looking at a "fixer." (This is a big issue, actually. Robb who has helped build two houses with hand tools, can no longer do carpentry. And I never learned.)

I'm coming to realize that there's a weird parallel between home renovation/decoration and pornography.

There's the pure fantasy aspect of both. Both offer a distilled moment of perfection, devoid of tedium, hard work, or headaches. Both have a hyper-groomed aesthetic. The freakishly polished inhuman bodies presented in porn seem analogous to the immaculate homes devoid of electrical cords or stray pencils.

We may imagine possessing such a things, but we can't really envision living with them day to day. Which would be more aggravating, a relationship with a porn star, or ownership of an actual hundred-year-old house? High maintenance? Expensive? Infuriating? Undoubtedly.

Yet we still ogle this stuff with unabashed desire, knowing full well that we're not only unlikely to ever have it, we probably wouldn't feel comfortable with it, if we did.

You think I'm kidding don't you? Really, I'm not. (Don't worry, the links are to renovation websites.)


Apparently, I'm not the only person to have this thought.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely look into Foreclosure sales. They are better than a Sherriff sale, which is when you get a good deal on a house but also are responsible for overdue water bills, electric bills, etc. In Pennsylvania they happen twice a year. Call your local township/county and find out when they happen.

Keep a lockdown on absolutely what you will or can pay, and when you get into the bidding process for a place, remember the other person bidding for the house probably also has a budget as well, and if you go JUST A TINY BIT FURTHER you can usually get the other person to drop out of the bidding and get the place, for even just $500 more.

I have been trying to buy some undeveloped farmland around here (so I can farm it) but no one is coming down to my price. They all want "development prices" which is far out of my league.

Now is an EXCELLENT time to buy, and remember, less is more. The disgusting display of size (in my opinion) led to houses being built that were just too BIG for normal people to live in, and pay to upkeep. Rember, beauty is born of comfortable size and good detail. What may seem boringly practical is a real find in terms of affordability and ease of present and future upkeep.

The house Gary and I live in, that I grew up in, is considered tiny by today's standards, yet it is huge to us. 9 people lived in this roomy house when I was a kid, and 11 before my own family moved in 50 years ago. Yet all this house is considered a "starter home" by real estate agents, which I believe to be insane.

Do you really need a home theater? A home sauna? A retractable eletrical roof? Probably not- yet some families with small kids may not want a pool for liability reasons, but that may be a real incentive for you and Robb to buy (however decadent that may seem) simply because Robb needs a pool to swim in very often. You may find your idea of a home will change with your age and you needs. Pay attention to what will add up in expenses, and when you get a home, up to 30% now can be written off in home repair to make it more energy efficient. And in the USA, You qualify for up to $7,000 to 8,000 off the price with Obama's housing incentive plan. Maybe this is for just new homes, but it works for an affordable new manufactured home, which can be designed for your needs- It's well worth considering this!

Good luck to you-


John and Diane said...

That is terrific that you may be able to buy a house! As someone who just purchased a house from 1955 - I will say that I love my house and that it has much more character than a new house, in my opinion. But old houses ARE likely to have plumbing and wiring issues, so be sure and have a good building inspector (or even an electrician and a plumber) go check it out before you purchase it. At least find out from the previous owner what has been done in those areas. And ask the seller to disclose how much they spent in the last year or so on electric and gas. It's a good clue about how well insulated the house is. We knew (from reading midcentury renovation blogs) that these houses were not well insulated. But we knew our previous owner had added insulation to the roof when it was redone. When we saw the electric bills, we knew we were ok, they were very reasonable. Anyway, hope this isn't too much detail. Remodels are always stressful but they are exciting too. With your design expertise, you'll be great at it. It's wonderful to design your own personal space. Best of luck!

Kellyann Brown said...

I grew up as unpaid slave labor for my parents' renovation dreams. They bought little old houses for rentals and there was always painting, scraping and hauling to be done. Home renovation does not turn me on at all. However, I have a friend who watches it religiously. One thing I noticed is that watching home renovation programs makes people unhappy with what they have. She will walk through her house and point out all the things that she wants to upgrade on it.
We are househunting down in the South Bay as well. Here are two things I check. What is the condition of the roof? (we had to replace the roof on our 1953 rancher and it was tres expensive) Is this house on a slab? (Houses built on a slab make it very hard to access the plumbing, etc.)
One final thing: Get a larger person (I am a large person, so I don't have to hire someone) to tell you about the floors in the bathroom. (I had felt a spongy feeling in our back bathroom for years, when we finally went about taking care of it, we found it went up behind the shower and we ended up tearing everything out to the studs and rebuilding).
Good Luck! (I know a nice house on our street in unincorporated Pinole that is for sale... three blocks to the Bay Trail...let me know!)

Anonymous said...

Here's a curmudgeonly but fun article about homes with character:

We're hunting now too, so I can relate. Best of luck,


Anonymous said...

We just (4/28/09) bought a house built in 1900, it's small and in the Pac. NW, so probably a little different than what you're likely to be looking at. It needs insulation and new windows (Public Utilities has a no interest loan to help with those), but the bones are great! Our inspector said that our house was probably built from one tree! We think we may be only the 5th or so owners of this house.

We started with a 1st time home buyer class, consulted with a lender on what we could afford based on what we were comfortable having as a payment (PITI = principle, interest, taxes, and insurance), and found a Realtor via a friend. Then for 4 months, I checked web sites and drove around town looking at and ruling out houses - EVERY DAY. We made offers on 3 houses over the course of this time. Now we have a lovely lot on the corner, with fruit trees and a fence for our baby girl! Quite frankly, I thought we'd be doing the Search a lot longer!

Oh, it was my habit to look for houses up to $50,000 above our price range, as you can negotiate down AND prices are apt to drop if there are no offers on it (I watched it happen to a number of houses that made it on my list of possibles) you want to be the first ones there when the price drops on your "dream".

Good Luck!

Anonymous said...

You got lots of good notes above; I just wanted to jump in late to say, make sure you get an inspection! I believe the laws around your way are a little lax about that, but if you buy an older (or any) home without an inspection, no matter how good the deal, I guarantee it will come back to bite you in the arse.

We love our home, which is 96 years old. We especially love the new HVAC and new roof we put on since we bought it, as well as the (expensive) repointing. Someday, I hope to make home improvements that one can actually, really SEE. :-D


Anonymous said...

I grew up in "fixer-uppers" and think they have so much more character and interest. I just wish I had learned the skills to do that kind of work.

Some of the hidden expenses of homeownership to keep in mind are things you don't need/have or are supplied when living in apartments such as lawn mowers / yard care equipment & supplies (like all those blankets to cover your grass nightly), appliances (frig, stove, etc), filters (furnaces), homeowners insurance (much more expensive than renter's insurance) and property taxes.

I have friends who talk about foods and fancy recipes and call it gastro-porn.

Lurker & AQ user,
LifeAsRiley / AmyMarie

Gothknits said...

beware the words "handyman's dream"

trust me.


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