Last year I wrote an entry about looking for a house. It was optimistic and spunky and full of hope about the future. It is also hilarious to read now, over a year later, during the worst buyer’s market since the evil shop in Stephen King’s Needful Things opened.
This is the story of how I gave up on trying to buy a house.
After two decades of renting all over Orlando, I decided I wanted to own a house. I wanted a place to live in and make my own. To host dinner parties with friends and decorate at the holidays, and always have a guestroom made up for visitors. I wanted a yard so I could grow herbs and produce to cook with. An office with space for my books and for Herzog to sit near while I worked. A screened in porch or a garage to turn into a very simple home gym. Most of all, I wanted a little space of my own in which to go quietly mad without frightening neighbors.
For two years, I saved – a privilege I do not take for granted, I assure you. My little nest egg of $16,000 was a combination of tax refunds, savings, and some money from my parents. I’ve inherited nothing from deceased family except mental illness and knickknacks.
Between the end of January and mid-April, I saw at least 30 houses in person, looked at hundreds, possibly thousands online. My poor realtor was always game to jump up and go see something, sometimes several somethings, and was A CHAMP at educating me on structural problems or insurance issues. I put in six offers – and the reason that number is low is because the window between a new property posting on the Realtor’s MLS and that property receiving a cash offer was sometimes a matter of minutes. Even if my realtor and I made it to a property within an hour of it being listed, it would already have several offers.
I thought I was Big Shit – my credit score was Excellent, I had a good income, and I had some cash on hand. I thought I could get a modest 3 bedroom, 2 bath of about 1200 square feet, with a decent-sized yard that wasn’t adjacent to an airport, overpass, or sex-offender trailer park. My price range was low – 150-200k. Nothing that Architectural Digest would deign acknowledge, but maybe I could make the cover of Working Peasant Monthly. Unfortunately, most of the properties I could afford were targets for house-flippers or investors, both of which could pay cash. They were absolutely trashed and would require extensive repairs and cleaning to even pass inspection. Something like 20% of single family home sales in 2020 went to buyers who never intended to set foot in the house, who were buying as a flip or rental property.
Exactly one seller accepted one of my offers. Then, I found out my closing costs would be 18 grand – so I wouldn’t even be able to afford them without another loan. It was a blessing when the home inspection found 50-year old wiring, wood rot, and a half-assed repair that would require a new roof. I recalled my offer. Disheartened, I decided to wait a few months until I had saved up some more money – then I got rear-ended and spent the majority of my savings on a new (used) car.
Who Wants the Hassle Anyway?
As the pandemic worsened, the housing market heated up. More people than ever are working remotely and employers are realizing the benefits of having people at home – they don’t have to provide workspaces. Florida has seen an influx of new residents since we have no income tax. People are also eager to escape cold weather after the unusual winter of 2020/21. And all those new people need space.
I’m not a competitive person. What’s worse, while I might take forever to decide what kind of jam I want on my toast, big important decisions are made in a blind panic that’s 50% impulse, 50% well-informed consideration. In a market where huge financial decisions are being made OMG RIGHT NOW GO GO SIGN SIGN WE MUST BEAT THE OTHERS TO THE PUNCH, it seemed smarter to wait and just stick out another year renting. I was afraid I would panic-buy and wind up with a space I’d either hate, or have to put a bunch of money into fixing up. Either way, I’d spend the next twenty years (or more!) paying it off.
I told my realtor I was out of the game. I offered her money since she had worked so hard to help me and would ultimately end up with nothing, but she demurred. Twice more I offered, and twice more she refused. I felt like shit. Realtors get commission, so she would get nothing for 4 months of helping me. She wound up getting a job as a title clerk, so she’s all right.
The more I consider it, the more renting seems the way to go. If the septic tank backs up, I have to clean the mess, but I don’t have to pay for a company to pump it, or for a new drain field. If something breaks beyond the fixable, it’s not me who pays for it. Condos and apartments don’t appeal to me because they feel like a solution to a commercially created problem – namely, that the housing industry is broken. The middle-class has slowly been eroded by the eradication of collective bargaining rights, increases in healthcare costs, lack of job opportunities, and high education costs. Construction and material costs have also risen, so for new constructions to be worth anything they must be quite large and expensive, far beyond my means.
So I honestly don’t know what to do. The 2/2 duplex I’ve rented for 8 years was a good place to land, but I’ve outgrown this little pot and need room to grow.
I’m not trying to keep up with the Joneses. I know I’m not going to impress anybody. I just want a little space in the world for my stuff and my body, that I can invite people into and there’s enough furniture for everyone to sit down. I wanted my parents to come to my house for the holidays and we’d all eat breakfast together and open Xmas presents, then I’d start cooking the big holiday meal… then everyone leaves and I don’t have to drive home because I’m already there.
I don’t want to give up on yet another dream, but it’s just one more thing that I have to defer. I’m in a good position to make good things happen, but the waiting is wearing me out.