I have a house. I like it a lot, probably wouldn’t sell it even if somehow the market here in Oregon bounced way past the price we paid, which, by the way, was at the absolute top of the housing bubble. My track record is impressive: Bought four houses, lost money on every single one. I offer myself as the single best hedge against poor investments; if I’m in, it’s time for you to get out.
All of that aside. there was a moment several years ago when we thought about moving maybe try to find a place a little closer to kids and grandkid, maybe near Portland or Salem, maybe McMinnville. Southern Oregon is green and rivers run wild, but we are more than five hours away from city life and literally trapped in the Rogue Valley when ice and snow block the passes.
The real estate aggregators had not been available when we bought our last house; to be completely candid, the internet was not available when we bought our last house. I heard about Zillow on NPR, figured it had to be a reasonable place to start a search, and fell into a rabbit hole from which I am now only starting to emerge.
Part of the problem is that I like to buy houses, except for the buying part. I like nosing around, peeking into storerooms, scaling creaking ladders to an attic that last saw daylight in 1956, dropping into basements that smell like backed up urinals at a deserted truck stop in Arkansas. Ok, basement are a lot less interesting.
Part of the pleasure I find is in seeing the “bones” of a house, how it has functioned and imagining what the place might look like with a deck, or a porch, or a second story. I’m not alone, obviously; the Home and Garden Network sucks millions of us into flipping and flopping, fixing up, tearing down, and totally financing make-overs, and I confess to watching the same house brought to bare studs over and over, if only to calculate just how far into bankruptcy I would have to go in order to add the office/sauna off the garage.
I can still remember houses that I’ve shopped years ago. A yellow house in Millbrook, New York, had the playroom I had always wanted to have as a child. A sleek mid-modern in Grosse Pointe, Michigan was as close to a Frank Lloyd Wright house as any I could have conceivably owned. A smallish, tidy house on a golf course in Aroyo Grande was completely unsuitable in every way but had a bathroom to make a Roman Senator weep with delight.
I go to Open Houses without any intention of buying, just nosing around one more time. Yes, I am that guy.
So, when the digital universe offered me virtual snooping into houses of every size, in any location, sorted by price, acreage, bedrooms, baths, proximity to restaurants, my heart fluttered just a bit, and I entered the Zillowverse.
The virulence of the addiction varies as events in the real world press upon me, but I manage to check in on at least one or two properties a week as I entertain thoughts of living near my daughter in Massachusetts or wonder what it would take to find a weekend home near Ann Arbor during the football season. To be clear, I can afford neither prospect, but the search continues.
Cautiously, recognizing that others may be as vulnerable as I have been, I present my most recent set of search-swamps, set off by a lingering wish that I had held on to the house we once owned in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, a lyrically inappropriate place to live year-round and absolute folly in terms of any of the activities I most want to pursue.
Our old house seems to be Zillowestimated at about $300,000.00, a figure which at one time would have had me roiling in envy as I sold the house for considerably less. But, a friend who is a realtor advised me that the Zillow Estimate could be off by as much as 60%. So, armed with that consoling piece of information, I soldiered on, taking the highly questionable amount suggested as the cost of the Wellfleet house and applied it to a search for a comparable home near Ann Arbor, just to see, you know, not to actually buy or anything.
Good news! I was given approximately 742 houses in or near Ann Arbor that might suit my search. Using the rest of the search criteria, I was able to whittle that down to 48, any one of which would suit me, except for small issues easily remedied by a few calls to contractors.
So, off I go to a separate site, comparing the cost of construction per square feet in Ann Arbor to that in Oregon.
Heartbreaking realization! Construction costs are more painfully expensive in Michigan, leaving me no choice but to look for homes near Eugene, where the Ducks might conceivably play Michigan or Michigan State at some time in the next two or three decades.
Hours of life dutifully tossed into the slag heap of house hunting finally wear me down. I close the computer, check the time, and kick myself again, wishing I could find a real estate twelve step program to help me kick the habit.
I’ve stopped the automatic alerting of great deals in suburban Portland and ended the connection with Salem and McMinnville. One day at a time, I’ll find a way out.
Still watching Fixer Upper, however. Starting to think life in Waco might be pretty sweet. Better call my sponsor.