Well, several months into Home Hunt 2004, this weekend, Drew and I reached a significant milestone: We attended our one millionth open house. It was quite an exciting moment for both of us. And now that I’ve seen enough of your homes, my neighbors, I’m ready to make a generalization about you guys: Y’all are tacky!
Some of you haven’t remodeled your home since wood paneling was in style. Others seem to enjoy the bare-bones dorm room chic of not decorating at all. And confidential to Unit 209, but that lovely fireplace was a bit undermined by the tile mosaic of a fish at its base. And to the owner of Unit 104, tasteful nudes are one thing, but when the painting is of a subject whose schlong is roughly the length of the Chunnel and twice as wide, it’s possible the “artist” has more in common with Chi Chi LaRue than Renoir.
I’m not exactly a design expert myself, but it’s surprisingly easy to develop a queer eye for style when touring entry-level housing units in the West Hollywood area. You can tell an awful lot about people by taking a quick walk through their homes, even when they’re not around. Without actually meeting them, we’ve come to know people like Packrat Italian Film Director and Rebellious Korean Stoner Teenager. We’ve learned to read between the lines in listings, like the one that specified the unit was “Wheelchair Accessible”. Odd details like that aren’t tossed in for nothing, and sure enough, the unit turned out to have lowered counters and padded stools in the showers, and when we entered the bedroom, Friendly Wheelchair Lady was there to greet us.
Later that day, in another condo, we found ourselves in a little girl’s room (over)decorated in a Powerpuff Girls motif. Drew immediately turned to me and whispered, “Weekend dad!” A minute later, when going through the other bedroom, he modified his assessment: “Gay weekend dad.”
My personal favorite was the guy who had cleared out most of his condo but left behind a cabinet full of videotapes. All of them were homemade, and they were labeled with one of two things: “Benny Hill” or “Bill Clinton Inauguration”. This was in a building whose halls were lined with awful faded green patterned wallpaper with tiny lanterns on it. When settlers arrived in California during the gold rush of the 1850’s, this was the wallpaper they brought with them. These same hallways were lit with bulbs that seemed to top out at about 20 watts. “The condo board likes to conserve energy,” the realtor told us. “I’d love to see some young guys like you move in and inject some life into that board. Some of them are in their 90’s.”
Drew and I spent a lot of time trying to imagine what these same places would look like stripped of these people’s lives and filled with ours. We dreamed that someday, strangers would be poking around our homes making judgments about us.
It’s easy to see places you don’t like, but when you see something you really do like, that’s when the hard part begins. Last week, Drew and I found a townhouse in Hollywood that wasn’t perfect, but it looked like a place we could fill with our lives. We talked about it for hours, we dragged our friends over for a viewing to get their opinions, and Drew drove over early in the morning to do a commute check. We finally decided it was time to take the biggest risk of our lives. We ran the numbers in our heads, decided what our initial offer should be and made withdrawals for a downpayment.
And then the hard news came. The mortgage broker’s numbers didn’t match up with ours. She told us that we weren’t making a big enough downpayment, so we didn’t qualify for the interest rate we thought we did. All those incentives for first-time buyers weren’t enough to help us, and we decided not to make the offer after all.
No home, not now. No more open houses, at least for the near future. There’s no sense shopping around until we can answer a question which baffles us both: how did all those other people afford their homes? Home Hunt 2004 has taken us through neighborhoods we never knew existed, most of them lined with shoebox homes on tiny plots of land that are all worth over a million dollars. (Ah, the LA real estate market…) It took us months to find a place that wasn’t worth anywhere near that much, and even that proved to be out of our reach. And it’s not like either of us makes minimum wage or anything. If we can’t afford to enter the housing market, we really don’t understand who can.
It’s disappointing, and it’s frustrating, but most of all, it’s hard not to look back now at all those people whose homes we judged and denigrated and wonder how they all managed to achieve something we can’t. We want to know what it’s like to have a tacky home, dammit. Tell us, Bill Clinton/Benny Hill guy, and Schlong Guy and Fish Tile Mosaic Family, how ever did you afford to buy these places we wouldn’t be caught dead in?
If there’s one thing I am starting to understand, it’s why all of your homes are so incredibly, unbelievably tacky. After all, at these prices, who can afford to remodel?