Baby Boomers who left the city in favor of large parcels of land and big houses are now clambering to downsize and find a sense of community in small towns like mine. As a result, the real estate market here has turned into a feeding frenzy where sellers and buyers—like me—are churning the waters.
Questionable neighborhoods with rickety eyesores and truckloads of junk in the front yard are the chum in these shark-infested real estate waters.
Most of the streets in the heart of the city are becoming gentrified, while others… Let’s just say no amount of prayer or exorcism can erase their bad juju. Even so, buyers are expecting to find good deals there, while sellers are viewing this frenzy as their opportunity to get rich. The prices they want for their dirt, and a hovel that will topple in the next big wind, aren’t even close to the appraised value. It’s crazy!
Some of the tumbledowns have multiple, tarp-covered structures in the backyard along with outhouses, rusty tools and barking dogs chained to the fence. They’re the kind of place you’d expect young girls—missing for decades—to be kept prisoner. Next door to some are restored, craftsman-style cottages or new homes with big windows that gives slum owners a glimpse of the lifestyle they’re missing.
Every day I drive up and down the streets, along with a succession of other prospective buyers, looking for a house to restore or a small overgrown lot that hasn’t been built on… Something I can afford… “Afford” being the operative word. I’ve made a spreadsheet of teardown candidates and empty lots; their tax value and the names and addresses of the owners. Finding their phone numbers, however, requires my best Nancy Drew skills.
Maybe I’ve been watching too many Fixer Uppers, but believe it or not, my favorite location is an old, red brick filling station on a big corner lot with room to build an addition and create a backyard with lights in the trees for alfresco dining. Redone in an open concept, like an avant-garde New York City loft, it would be smashing with anything from Louis XVI to Mies van der Rohe, but the owner turns a deaf ear to all inquires that come his way.
While it takes hands to build a house, only hearts can build a home. Sam and Molly and I are trying, but our hearts aren’t here in our rental home. Except for a brief time when my first husband and I lived in Silicon Valley, this is the first time I haven’t had a home of my own. I feel like a displaced person who’s been forced to leave their home and in some ways, I am. Had the less-than-ethical builder not strung me along about how soon he’d start on my garden home, I wouldn’t have sold my Little House.
I don’t think I’m asking for the moon, just an affordable alternative to a tiny house. I’m calling it “smart sizing,” something economical to maintain with enough room for me to get my life out of storage. I’ll keep you posted.