Monday, July 21, 2014

Here we go again: House hunting

From page C4 | March 28, 2012 |

“I’m moving this weekend,” I say in disbelief to anyone who will listen: colleague, grocery clerk, mailman, dog.

“Really? Where?” They ask as if they care.

“I don’t know.”

The look on their faces confirms my fear. I should be worried, but I’d rather just remain in denial.

The forced move was inevitable. When you live in a house for sale that looks good (my job) and is priced right (the bank’s job), it sells. But the problem with being a live-in home stager is when you do your job well, you put yourself on the street.

I stake my precarious well-being on the fact that those who run the show-home program actually like me, or at least they like my furniture. Once this deal gets done, they assure me I get to do my job all over again.

They are more blasé about the situation than I am. I have five days before I have to be out, and I don’t know where I’m going.

“We like to wait until just a few days before escrow closes,” says Nancy, co-owner of the home staging company, “because you know how deals can fall apart at the 11th hour.”

“Right. Of course.” Cue escalating blood pressure.

“The worst thing would be if you moved out and escrow fell through.”

“Absolutely the worst.” Pass the antacids.

I take yoga breaths between vodka shots.

With four days to go, Nancy and I go house hunting. She squires me to five candidates, which all need professional help.

The first house is gynormous and in a posh golf community. It has two features my daughter and I are gunning for — a center island and a pool. But the commute to work and school would kill us. Have you seen the price of gas?

The second home we can’t get in because we can’t get the lockbox open. That’s OK with me, as I’m not interested in living in the kind of house I actually can afford. (For chronic cleanliness and some flexibility — like not knowing when I’ll have to move — I get a substantially reduced rent.)

Next we approach a small but fetching Spanish-style home in an urban neighborhood walking distance from lots of downtown action. An investor bought it to flip and has gotten the remodeling just right. Given the location and upgrades, this one will sell fast.

Like house No. 1, the fourth house sits behind a guarded gate in a country club with other million-dollar homes. It has soaring ceilings, and a huge dining room. You can picture couples arriving in black tie and ball gowns. Something about the neighborhood — like many that belong to that bygone era of economic exuberance — feels withered, as if someone has pulled the plug on it.

The last house is an historic home, built in the 1880s on a lake at the end of a street lined with production houses built 100 years later. Though picturesque, with its big wraparound porch and stately wood, the house doesn’t blend. And, true to the era, it has not one closet.

I have a day to decide. I rule out the first two, and narrow my choice to the final three.

I run the options by my co-workers, who, whether they like it or not, overhear all my hyperventilating phone calls. I show them pictures.

Soon they’re sucked in, and begin placing bets as if watching an episode of HGTV’s House Hunters: Will she choose the country club estate on the golf course? The historic charmer on the lake? Or the urban Spanish bungalow?

I wasn’t sure. I think out loud — to everyone’s dismay — weighing the following:

Cost of utilities. After facing utility bills that teetered near $600 last year during our warm Florida season, I had my eye on this line item. The large country club home’s soaring ceilings, I worried, would cost a lot to cool, which would be very uncool.

Commute to school and work. Though all three contenders had manageable commutes to work and school, the country club home’s was longest, about 30 minutes one way. The urban house was closest, and the lakefront home split the difference, at about 20 minutes to both.

The neighborhood. The lakefront home was close to big stores and decent restaurants. The urban house location was the most happening. The country club house had all the amenities suburbia has to offer — down the road a ways.

The market. Smart homebuyers favor the house that has a good chance of resale. In my case, I favor the house facing the toughest sell because I potentially won’t have to pull up stakes as soon. The urban house, which has the lifestyle I would most like, already had two serious lookers. The country club estate being large and pricey, would likely sit a while. The lakeside home was not only odd but also in foreclosure. Months of paperwork likely stood between it and a closed sale.

And the winner is … For novelty, convenience, and relative stability  I chose … the 130-year-old lakefront charmer. It has neither a center island nor a pool, but it oozes charm and the water views are dreamy. I have no idea what I’m going to do about the lack of closets, but when I figure that out, I’ll let you know.

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through





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