American Dream?

We are recently going through a phenomena that most Americans go through at some point in their lives – and I am not talking about purchasing a car, a town home or condo. I am talking about the American dream: owning your own home – detached, single family, suburbia, grass, fenced yard HOME. Lately, because of the experiences I have had trying to buy the “perfect” home, I no longer think it is an American dream but rather, an American nightmare.

We got started last year, looking for a home. The whole process stressed us out. It starts with a realtor – the middle man or woman. And so… it begins! If you are a Type A American, organized, go-getter, it will amaze you to know how much power a realtor making 3-6% can hold over your future. What stands between you and the American dream? Why, of course, an annoying middle man or woman who really does not know you or what you want. You are an optimist so you press forward and convey repeatedly to your realtor what you are looking for: A home with, let’s say, a roof on it; less than 20 years old, central air is a prerequisite you tell them; anything less than a 2-car garage is a deal breaker; and yes, is it too much to ask that you stay within our price range? Apparently, it is. When they show you the house that is $20, $30, even $40 K above your means, you think… “does he/she not listen to me? Did she not hear me when I said, “$220K tops?!” Then, one weekend for 4-5 hours, she takes you aimlessly around a neighborhood which is over 100 years old and does not fit your criteria at all. No A/C? What? Not even a ceiling fan! Then you begin to wonder if you are speaking the same language. Eventually, you realize the motivation of this otherwise really nice, sweet, sugar-coated person: commission. Oh did I mention that my realtor once said the following words to me regarding my price range: “you get what you pay for honey!” Yikers… can we say, “NEXT!”

So …. You have the realtor who is allegedly on your team, representing you, wishing on most days that you could eliminate the middle man, get access to their databases and just go it alone. But alas, your middle man and you head off to see house after house. If you are as picky as I am and I am certain ¾ of you reading this are, your hopes and dreams slowly begin to dwindle and like we often we do with men in our life, we start balancing the things we want with the things we need- the deal breakers. After the age of 35, even a smoking man with no teeth starts to seem nice because he asked you to dance. Well, like a relationship, a house becomes a compromise, something to settle on. You hear yourself saying the following, “Well, House A does not have a yard, is $100,000 more than our maximum limit, but it does have A/C, indoor plumbing, and there is no meth labs within 20 miles so, it does rank better than House B which doesn’t even have a front door. Okay, so I exaggerate but I think you get my point. You are left wondering, “Hmmmm….” I am contemplating buying House A or House B since my realtor showed me C thru K which were 98% unacceptable. You are doing the obvious: settling – like the foundation does in most houses, especially in Colorado. When you are left wondering if House C is better because the foundation only sunk ½ inch in 21 years versus House D which sunk an entire inch, that is when you know you are in trouble. American dream? Ah, but the fun continues ….

You reach the point of return in house hunting, where you looked at say, 30-40+ homes and you are ready to put an offer in somewhere, anywhere. Please, if I have to drive along aimlessly for hours with this realtor one more time, I am going to die! So, you settle or worse, you get guilted by your realtor. You pick House A and put in an offer only to feel remorse the next day when your offer is accepted. Then, you start freaking out. What if there is something better out there? What if House C was the one? What if House D could give you more and has stopped settling? Were the owners in House B really meth addicts? Maybe they were just high on life. Your remorse turns into sheer fear as you approach setting the date of the inspection. You set the date unwillingly because of course, your earnest money is tied up in this whole pathetic situation. You feel trapped and confused and yet you start planning where your furniture will go just in case everything is right. You start dreaming about the home which quickly turn into nightmares. Your day’s fears and thoughts turn into the material of nightmares. You wake up in a cold sweat, wondering if you did the right thing only to convince yourself all over again that it is the right thing. My sofa can fit in the living room! The day of inspection is now here….

… And nothing is right – you realize you want to gut the whole inside of the house and perhaps the exterior (heck, start over will ya?). So, you start adding the numbers to do the job and you are well over $20K to get the place fixed up to just meet your needs. Then you realize you already invited most of your friends to house warming a few months from now so you have to get all of it ready by then – heaven forbid your friends see you living in a less than perfect home. Panic sets in which quickly turns into fear. You ask your parents to borrow money, worse yet, you ask your in-laws. You start to figure out ways to cut costs: no more eating out, is it a restaurant or a fast food joint? Either way, we cannot afford it. Can we afford groceries, internet, cable, and why is your husband engaging in so many hobbies anyway? Why can’t he sit at home and read? Better yet, why can’t you sell this diamond ring from the wedding – after all, that was last year’s news. And look where that got me – settled, confused, and no where to live. Then you think – no, if I can work at Starbucks as my third job, perhaps I can make $50 extra a month and over time, with benefits, perhaps I can pay for a curtain or two and my coffee would at least be free! Yes! That is what I will do. Maybe I can build a wood deck with the money I earn after 5 years. Maybe I should just burn the house down before I buy it and then we will have to start over with insurance money. Hmmm… a plot of land sure sounds nice right now. Ahhhh… these fantasies bring minimal temporary comfort to your otherwise crazy world when all of a sudden, you realize, hey, why don’t I just back out of this? What is wrong with this picture? Sure, I paid out $375 or more to just finalize this but I cannot spend more. Sure, this is the fourth home I put an offer in on and I have gone through hell and over $1000 of expenses and another $400 of lost time/wages but …. I will back out of this as well. So help me god, it is not perfect and my husband, bless him, he has great qualities but “handyman” is not one of them. Another thought creeps in: Buy the house, dump the husband and marry some guy from Home Depot just to get free labor and ideas. “An Affair to remember” for sure! Then, you are jolted back to life with the reality and budget of what it will take to get this home back to speed. The people who lived there before you had 9 cats, 9 kids, and a room that reeks of pot and sex. You begin to realize you need new carpet, lots of disinfectant, and the air ducts have not been cleaned for decades. The fireplace is shot, the roof leaks, the house has moved over 3 inches in the last 20 years and nothing has been done. You find solace is the beautiful yard – perhaps you could just sit outside and forget your worries but alas, there is a cottonwood in the backyard and you puff up, sneeze 8 times in a row, and your allergies and hay fever forces you back in.

But, the inspection is over, and now you can ask the buyers to pay the piper – make the repairs or give me a credit at closing. You find solace in the hope that perhaps they will accept some portion of your offer so you can move and not lose your entire life savings on the money pit of a home you put an offer on. You talk with your realtor, whose goal is to convince you that you are a loser. “What is wrong with you, I am confused? I thought this was the house! I am confused why you are asking for so much – sure, there are big ticket items but the house is priced perfectly in a great neighborhood. You’re rolling in it and I need my $6750, so come on waffler make a decision.” My response – “then you buy the house, bitch! And while you are at it – why don’t you use that 3.5% commission you are making off of me to be the middleman towards helping me for the repairs.”

Worst yet, the inspection response from the seller comes in – we will not do anything and you are buying the house “as is.” Oh and by the way, “our feelings are hurt, we are taking this personally!” Your greatest fear realized. The song, “Should I stay or should I go” flashes in your head. You start to imagine a life living in a 1-BR condo below noisy people for the rest of your life and you start to just settle on this home. The cottonwood and pet dander does not look so bad anymore but provides some comfort. The settling, the waffling, the remorse, the regret, the guilt laid on thick by your realtor, the nightmare…. Is just beginning.

Ahhh… the joys of buying a home, living the American dream, of a tax deduction, of calling it your own. Even after the home is yours, you have nothing but years of work ahead of you – the hot water heater, the furnace, the roof, the plumbing, the electrical work, the air ducts, the fireplace, the A/C, the backyard, the windows, the leaking skylights, the front yard, the backyard, the expansive soil, and of course, your sinking home ….. until sweet death when your heirs can take it all over what you once called your, “American Dream!”

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