Going Incognito at the Open House

My grandmother’s house went on the market this past week. Angie and I have been driving by it almost religiously since September when we found out that my dad and uncle sold it to a real estate “flipper” to settle the debts of my grandmother’s estate. (She had signed the house over to the nursing home to pay for her care.)

My grandparents bought the house in 1962. My dad lived there as a teen and I grew up playing hide-and-seek in the closets, racing Hot Wheels across the hardwood floors, and dreaming about turning the attic into a secret hideaway. I can still see my grandma sitting in her recliner by the front door talking on the phone – a black rotary phone with a 25-foot cord – or making popcorn in an iron skillet on the stove. A lot of memories were made in that house and for a moment, we entertained the thought of buying it, both as a way to preserve those memories and as a place to make new ones.

Granny’s House 2018

The thought of buying a house wasn’t purely sentimental though. Our little town is experiencing a bit of a boom right now. Unemployment is really low (4%) and jobs are plentiful (at least in the manufacturing and service sectors). We’re only 25 minutes from downtown Nashville and it seems everyone wants to live here (except maybe us). I recently read that 270 people move here every month. And because of that, rent has gone through the roof!

Handrail outside our apartment.

Our apartment complex was built in the 1980s. I remember because I was still in high school and had friends who where among the first to live in the “new luxury apartments” of Village Green. Today, the sign out front is about the only thing left that still says luxury. For $859 per month we get the honor of living in a 1-bedroom apartment where there are circles in the ceiling from a prior leak, windows that are so poorly constructed that icicles form on the interior when it’s cold outside, and you can’t hold the handrail coming up the outside stairs because they are caked in bird poop (that’s been here as long as we have). And this summer, our rent will go up to the current “market value” of $919.

Just two short years ago when the house next door to my mom was for sale (for $82,000), we ran the numbers and found that purchasing it on a 15-year mortgage would have made our payments less than $600 per month. It was a newly renovated 2-bedroom home built in 1994 on a 1-acre lot and we passed on the opportunity. My grandmother’s house is also a 2-bedroom home. It sits on a 0.13 acre lot about a mile from the center of town, in a neighborhood that has long since passed it’s prime. I mention this fact for one very specific reason.

The realtor held an open house yesterday, so Angie and I stopped in to see the renovations. Once again, we stood dumbfounded by the shoddy workmanship that people here seem to pass off as acceptable. The drywall seam was showing in the bedroom. There were paint drippings on the floor and corners of the ceiling that had been missed completely with the paintbrush. The brand-new appliances were all scratched up. The countertop was cheap laminate and the carpet in the den was the very same one my dog peed on when he was a puppy (in 1989). The asking price for my grandmother’s house…$169,900.

We nearly passed out in the “newly renovated kitchen” when the realtor handed us the flyer.

Area comps via Zillow. The yellow dots are recent home sales in Granny’s neighborhood. Not a single one even comes close to $169,900.

It was at that moment that I decided not to introduce myself as the grand-daughter of the previous owner; which led to a delightful conversation about the history of the house.

Did you know,” the realtor asked, “that these are the original hardwood floors and they have never been stepped on? The woman who lived here covered them up with carpet. Can you believe that?

You don’t say.” (Funny, but I distinctly remember getting in trouble for leaving black rubber scuff marks on these same hardwood floors when I was a kid, about 20 years before the living room was carpeted. But I didn’t argue.)

And she lived here for something like 25 years.” (More like 50, but again, I didn’t argue.)

And the neighbors all keep their yards really nice.” (Did you see that dilapidated swing set next door? Or the pile of brush the size of a small car in the yard behind us?)

And it’s walking distance to town,” she added, as if that very fact alone might sway us to pay the 112% markup in price over what it sold for in September.

To this comment, I just had to respond. “Have you ever tried walking to town from here?

Well no, but I clocked it on my car and it’s less than a mile and this is a low traffic area.

I shook my head in disbelief and refrained from asking what planet she lived on. My grandmother’s house sits on one of the busiest connectors in the downtown area. Everybody and their brother drives down this road to get to the other side of town and the always busy Department of Electricity is at the end of the street! There are no sidewalks either, and last time Angie and tried walking anywhere from here, we nearly got hit by a car.

Incognito at the Open House

We left the open house with 2 new ink pens, a 2018 calendar, and the very real feeling that the Universe was once again trying to send us a message. Whether for sentimental or practical reasons, buying a house is not what we really want to do. I know this because, if you handed us $169,900 today, we would not buy my grandmother’s house. We would be more likely to opt out of traditional housing altogether and convert a shed into a tiny house or hit the road (again) in a RV.

The buy vs. rent debate is one that we think about often, especially on days like today, when we are waiting for maintenance to fix the kitchen sink. Last night, the sprayer handle shot off and flew across the room when Angie turned on the faucet and we’ve been without water in the kitchen all day. It’s frustrating and frustration (in my opinion) motivates people to make poor financial decisions. Buying a house is not necessarily a bad financial decision but buying a house in a town you hate to avoid paying rent on a place that’s not worth the price definitely would be. We don’t need a long-term solution to a short-term problem. We just need to practice patience, as my mom loves to say.

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