Thursday, March 06, 2008

Why the Housing Market Crash Has Been Good For Me

So one of my dreams has always been to own my own home. Even as a teenager, I used to dream about having my own place. It would be some old farmhouse, with a big yard, and maybe a big old tree. My friends and family would come over and we’d cook food together, share stories, create stuff, laugh a lot, drink wine, and maybe even change the world. Yes, I did spend a lot of time daydreaming back then.

A little over three years ago, I finally decided to do it. I had a good professional job in my chosen career, I lived in a moldering old practically subterranean apartment run by a slumlord, with a sunken kitchen that flooded every winter when it rained, and a shower with a drain that was open to the sewer (I kid you not.) Every once in awhile, my neighbor’s toilet would overflow into my shower. I had lived there for ten years, believe it or not. It was time to get out.

The choices were to move to another apartment, or finally realize my dream of home ownership.

When I owned my house (not an old farmhouse with a tree, but a circa 1943 shipyard worker’s house with a yard), I was not as ecstatic as I expected. Anyone who owns a home probably knows how I feel. It’s work! And money! And I pay a crapload of property taxes!

For awhile there, I regretted my decision, or at the very least was ambivalent about it. I loved having my own place, I loved the place, I loved the big yard, but I didn’t love the money, or having to keep the place up, or having to look at the horrible neglected weedy lawn every morning knowing I was the one neglecting it. I didn’t like living in the 9th most violent city in America, without a car, and having to walk under a freeway underpass every morning to get to the train station to go to work.

For about three years, I had one foot out the door, metaphorically anyway. I still fantasized about living somewhere else, the way I had when I rented my apartment. I imagined I’d sell the house in 3-5 years, and rent a nice place somewhere warm. I still grew veggies in my yard, had parties, and planted flowers, but I didn’t do anything major or permanent. Why should I, when I didn’t know if I was staying?

Right after I bought the house, the market slowed, then stalled, and of course now it’s pretty much in freefall. I was smart and lucky: I got a nice rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage, so no balloon payments or foreclosures for me. But slowly, I’ve been realizing that it would be stupid to sell the house now, and that things aren’t likely to be rosier in 2-3 years, either. And about four or five months ago, it finally clicked: I’m staying. Like it or not.

Once I made that commitment, my outlook shifted. I’m paying more attention to the house now, keeping it up. I hired my neighbor to install a drought-tolerant native garden in the front yard, and got the city to plant a tree in front of my place. It’s like I decided that, rather than give up what I have in order to keep looking for what I don’t have, I’ll do my best with what I’ve got. One of my goals has always been to live somewhere I love, but I’ve turned that around now: I want to love the place where I live. And this had been a major change for me. Eye-opening, actually.

I’ve started interacting more with my neighbors, trying harder to support local businesses, and planning as if I have a future here. Rather than thinking about how to manage to move closer to work (which just happens to be in one of the most expensive metro areas in the U.S.), I’ve started to think about alternative ways to transport myself, including getting my old, crusty bike out of the garage and fixing it up.

It isn’t lost on me that this new way of seeing things extends to my personal relationships, too. I feel like I appreciate my friends and family more than I used to. Despite their quirks and flaws, they’ve been there for me, with all of my quirks and flaws. Getting new friends isn’t the answer; appreciating the ones I do have is.

So, I thank the housing crisis. It made me sit down, take stock, and take responsibility for my own life. Not to downplay the amount of pain and suffering that others are experiencing around this situation (foreclosed homes are a dime a dozen in my town), but for me, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to take advantage of it. Because I can’t move, I will stay here and make this the place that I want to be.

No comments: