November 11, 2009

This Home is Not My World

2009 1531 page30 cap’VE BEEN EXPLORING THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF REAL ESTATE. IT’S BEEN an education outside the four walls of a classroom, as is so much of education. I fortified myself with hours of HGTV (and popcorn), attended open houses, studied “properties for sale” promotional magazines, and finally went in person to see a bewilderingly large number of properties. Or should that be, I saw a large number of properties and wound up bewildered?

One of the bewilderments is that though I never knew I had a favorite type of house, many I liked happened to be Cape Cod style. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Cape Cod. Who knew? Another discovery was that if I didn’t take careful notes, I couldn’t recall which detail went with which house, even when I was quite sure that I would. And an important third bewilderment was that although I thought I’d barricaded my brain against it, I found myself easily taken in by surface rather than substance.
A property I toured twice comes to mind. It was a lovely little Cape Cod-style home—older, renovated, a facade so precious it looked like something from the cover of a magazine. Way out of my league, so to $peak, but it sure was a charmer. Walls freshly painted in the very colors of my furniture, living room fireplace, large deck looking out over wetlands affording unusual privacy. The first time I saw it, I was captivated. I could see myself sitting on the deck in the late autumn evenings, the chimney warming my toes as I sipped lemon tea and watched dynasties of deer walk majestically through my yard. Yes, it was $55,000 over my target price, but I wanted this house!
2009 1531 page30The next time I went to look at it, I forced myself to lay emotions aside. And it did look different. Or at least I looked at it differently. This time, I pondered whether the wetland would tweak my allergy to mold. And realized the basement wasn’t as large as I’d remembered. The two upstairs bedrooms hadn’t been renovated, their sloping ceilings scarcely allowing my 5’3” frame to walk upright, and they contained no closets . . . at all; which in realty-land means they may not actually count as bedrooms. On closer inspection, the living room moldings turned out to be a bit of a handyman special with corners and joints that didn’t match up.
But the biggest discovery was that the much-touted living room fireplace was actually electric; and in order to accommodate the wooden base on which it stood the owners had cut into the baseboard; and the mirror behind it covered an old door that led two steps to nowhere. Some of the things that had impressed me most were actually only cosmetic, surface changes, and there remained some real work to be done. For all that, this would be a great house for someone, though at that price point, it would not be me. So the search continued.
Still, with each property, I learned. In my informal real estate dictionary adorable means small; rustic often turns out to mean unpaved and unimproved; character means bizarre; cozy means tiny; and fixer-upper means really, really needs help.
So it’s a good thing we sometimes do go back to take that second look. Because the world that is our earthly home will also advertise itself in the most flattering of terms, in its own unique language. It’s easy to get taken in, to confuse surface with substance. The enemy of our souls has no predilections against dishonesty, and he’ll do his best to sell us an eternally bad deal. Unfortunate enough in real estate; eternally tragic in real life.
Valerie N. Phillips is associate director of the women’s residence hall at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where she has ministered to collegiate women for more than 25 years. This article was printed November 12, 2009.