House Envy

Posted: November 24, 2006 in Consumerism

I’ve been embroiled that past month and a half in too many things to blog much, the primary thing being finding a new apartment and moving. This weekend is the move, and I’m taking a break from carting boxes. I used to move a lot more frequently and got in the habit of saving original boxes, which come in real handy when actually moving, but they also put a real crimp on things in terms of space. A friend gave me no end of grief over that, but I suspect he’s secretly jealous that most of my stuff fits the box it’s in.

Actually, I began about one year ago looking at condos with the idea that it was high time I built some equity with my housing dollars. I’ve only ever rented. Part of the reason behind that is that I chose a career path that is knowingly difficult and unremunerative. Things have changed in the past few years, and I’ve finally climbed above median income (which one is not significant). So the house envy I felt as a young adult has reasserted itself as I near middle age (some 20 years later).

However, despite changes in my circumstances, I couldn’t bring myself to triple my monthly housing expense to get what I wanted. (And besides, as this blog establishes, it’s probably not a good time to be buying.) Admittedly, my housing bill is/was low for the market I’m in (Chicago), especially since I was living in a studio with only about 350 sq. ft. So for not much more money, I’m moving up to a 2-bedroom with about 1100 sq. ft. I haven’t yet spent a night in the new place, but even as I’ve gotten a few things unpacked, it’s odd to discover how much more padding around I’m doing to get from room to room. In the old place, all my stuff was basically stacked up on the walls around me, and getting from side to side or end to end would scarely take a dozen steps.

I had the occasion earlier this month to stay in another city with some people who offered housing in support of the work I was doing (being purposely cryptic here). In their early to mid-60s and recently retired, their home has 5-6 bedrooms (can’t be sure), three living rooms and a sun room, and gads of space, while overlooking a small, man-made lake built for the houses in this development to nestle around. The kitchen alone was bigger than my old apartment. I certainly don’t begrudge people the fruits of their labors, and this couple have an admirable open door policy, with children, grandchildren, and strangers (such as me) flowing in and out regularly. What’s remarkable to me is that without it being extraordinarily opulent, it was still so far out of my reach that I had some mixed feelings of envy and disappointment.

I’ve been reading about the housing market and can’t quite imagine how folks pay what they do. The median price in many markets is above $250k, which is probably acceptable if you’re rolling equity from a previous home into the new purchase. Since I would be a first-time buyer (I’ve never owned a couch, either — how sad it that?), the initial purchase pretty much looks insurmountable. Of course, it would be helpful if I were sharing housing costs with a significant other, or if my parents were helping with the down payment (sorta like those parents — not mine — who buy the kids a new Beamer for the sixteenth birthday). Absent those things, I’m sitting it out for another few months at least, or until I win the lottery.

It would be characteristic of me to dissaprove of our housing choices and the excessive amounts we typically spend not only on the purchase but the furnishings — well beyond anything we really need. But I’ll hold back, as on this particular score I admit to being envious of what I haven’t yet been able to afford myself. I’ve been seduced a little bit. But I also know that I’ve no complaints when so many folks both in the U.S. and abroad are sleeping on the streets.

  1. grasshopper says:

    Glad you’ve got more space, Brutus. I don’t know how other people manage the exorbitant costs of housing, clothing, medicine, etc., but I know how we do: Debt. Have you got any? When economic indicators–that’s what people say when guessing about their future finances–are good, you can get credit just because you’re alive and residing in the US. True, when employment’s down and only the super-rich are getting richer, those cards with little holograms on them charging up to 20% interest for a new couch are not as easy to pick up.

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