Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Compare and despair

Since I've been shopping for houses, I've never been more aware of how little your money can buy around the DC area. Thinking back on the house that I spent my childhood in, I realize now that it was a mansion. It had 3 regular bedrooms, plus a master bedroom with 2 closets and 2 sinks, 2 additional bathrooms, a "mud room", a huge kitchen with room for an island counter AND a kitchen table, a family room, a parlor, a foyer, a dining room, and a library! Don't even get me started on the 2-car garage, the semi-finished storage space above that, and the attic and basement we never bothered to do anything with because the rest of the house was plenty big enough, thank you very much! Oh, and it was brand new when we moved in. In my old home, I never would have had to worry about spilling out of my space.

I bet my parents spent less on that house than I am likely to spend on 2 or 3 dinky bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a cramped kitchen without even enough space for a table, a living room, and, if I'm lucky, a basement which has been clumsily converted into a living space, all in about a third the square footage. The houses that I'm looking at, the ones I'm preparing to blow my entire life savings on, are decrepit old things, built 60 - 70 years ago and sized for, uh, coziness?

What I can find in my price range is invariably run-down or sloppily repaired. Part of me likes the idea of buying a fixer-upper, because it means I can put my own stamp on it, but part of me cringes at the thought of dropping a fortune on a house and then continuing to drop small fortunes over the course of years, to make it into a home.

So that you can see what I'm working with, consider the last house I looked at. This house has been the best prospect in a long string of houses I've visited. Yet, before I would consider it up to snuff, I'd have to:
  • Renovate a bathroom
  • Add a driveway
  • Fix a leak in the basement
  • Add attic flooring (this could be as simple as a few sheets of plywood, but currently it lacks even that) 
  • Enlarge two windows
  • Rearrange some walls
  • Add flooring and kitchen appliances in the basement
The last three in that list are just to make a livable space in the basement, which is a necessity in order for me to have renters, which are a necessity in order for me to be able to afford the house in the first place.

And then, within a few years, I'd have to:
  • Replace the carpets
  • Refinish the deck
  • Replace the air conditioner
  • Replace or repair half the windows
And this, let me remind you, was the only house I considered good enough to even consider twice. Sometimes I wonder whether home ownership is a reasonable goal. Sometimes I'm just too morose to even feel like finishing