June 28th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

House. Shopping.

Out walking the other day, I saw that they had a stack of fliers posted in the yard of the new house they built across the street and halfway up the block from bakadragon. So I grabbed a flier, and when I got to where there was some light, I read it ... and choked. For a 1300 sq ft house in a lower-working class neighborhood on no lot (subdivided from the house behind it, the walls go right up to the property line on 3 sides and the front barely has room to park one car), they're asking $164,900. That's criminal. That's insane. So I did some checking on Realtor.com, and it turns out that it's also really, really improbable. Yes, it's newer than the other houses in the neighborhood, and yes it has a more modern floor plan, but that doesn't make it worth double to triple what the other houses in the neighborhood are going for. God's pity on anybody who buys it at that price.

Now, this was a very dangerous thing for me to look up, because it tempts the Fates. You see, about 15 years ago I sat down to peruse the real estate listings just on a lark, with a sincere, frank determination not to buy a house any time in the next couple of years. 24 hours later I owned a house. I don't regret it. It was absolutely worth more than the asking price, and I knew what (temporary) neighborhood problems were depressing the price at selling time. Not only was it worth more than I paid for it a matter of months later when the biggest derelict property in the neighborhood was commercially rehabbed, I went on to more than double my money less than 4 years later by selling it to a commercial developer, and had a lot of fun in the meantime, and those profits paid for my two years of living in a motorhome. So I laughed nervously when I fired up Realtor.com, for fear that I'd find an equally good deal.

Gods help me, I may have. The idea is giving me panic attacks that are cutting right through the Wellbutrin. But I may have found a deal that really is too good to pass up. It's in this neighborhood, only in an even more convenient location, just as close to the Walgreens and the major bus lines and only a third the distance to the grocery store and the nearest convenience store. It's small for a house, but almost twice the size of this tiny little apartment. And the asking price? $15,000. I've walked by it once; it seems to have been at least somewhat maintained and there are no condemnation signs on it. Yes, I'm aware that there has to be something serious wrong with it. But with even a 15 year mortgage, even at rates as high as 8%, that's a monthly payment of around $100. That's a quarter of my rent. OK, closer to half by the time you count in the water and sewer bills that I don't pay as a renter, plus insurance, but that still frees up $200 a month plus the remainder of my disability back-pay settlement to pay for whatever repairs or upgrades the place needs. Even if I just fixed whatever is bringing its price down to 1/4 to 1/3 of the asking price of houses on the same street and flipped it, I'd clear $30k or more -- are you telling me that whatever is wrong with it could cost more than that?

For all that dealing with people like realtors and mortgage brokers and inspectors and city government types and so forth hammers my fight/flight reflexes much, much harder than being confronted by J. Random Psychopath with a handgun and a knife does, I'm going to have to call the broker and if nothing else, if only out of curiousity, ask, "What the heck is wrong with the place?" Now I've at least got to know. Even if I don't buy it, it's in my neighborhood and if there's something that seriously wrong with it, dragging the rest of the neighborhood down, and I'd at least want to know that. But if I'm not careful, I could find myself owning a house again (he said wryly).

(Update, Thursday afternoon: Got part of the story. Current owners got it in "some kind of a tax sale." They had it listed at $40k or so for a couple of months and it wouldn't move; now the owners just want it gone. The actual broker's hard to get ahold of right now and is the only one who has the full information, but one person in the office speculated that it might need "a total tear-down." I left my phone and email, and am curious to tour it. In the meantime, there is at least one roughly $40k house in the general neighborhood; smaller house, smaller lot, but with a half-finished basement instead of a slab. Affordable, but probably not powerfully tempting enough to get me to buy a house this far in advance of when I'll be ready for it.)