We opened the door and the four of us were greeted with a glare approximating the surface of the sun. The wood floor was beautiful actually, top of the line stuff, but it reflected the horrendous yellow of the walls--two shades of yellow, to be precise, above and below a strip of moulding--to a harrowing degree.
"We can always paint," said my girlfriend (Emet, meet Offsprung; Offsprung, Emet), just before her corneas combusted.
Sure, we could always paint, but we'd also have to replace the perimeter of tile in the family room that failed to match the wood floor, the plum-colored carpet and a handful of other stylistic abominations, the most egregious of which was the study, where the homeowners matched the plum carpet with similar-colored paint. I don't have a clue how anyone could study, or even breathe in a room which looks like Grimace exploded all over the walls, but hey, to each his own. If there were a fancy Pottery Barn name for this particular hue, I'd imagine it would be something like Blueberry Vomit or Radioactive Fruit or Mauve.
Welcome to The Great House Hunt of Aught-Nine, which might drag into next year, thus necessitating a name change and prescription muscle relaxers.
No, it's not going so well. Prices are depressed (maybe we should get THEM some drugs) compared to the ridiculous run-up of a few years ago, but still not exactly cheap. The media is proclaiming a) the recession is over and b) it's a buyer's market. It is not. And it is not. The first step in buying a house is finding a house to buy. Therein lies the problem. There aren't any.
Oh sure, nearly every neighborhood in my desert hamlet is flecked with empty homes, brown-grassed foreclosures (or, in some cases, I kid you not, front yards PAINTED green). Except you can't buy them, because they are not on the market thanks to artificial moratoriums and a back-logged foreclosure process (now taking two years) and banks not wanting to flood the market with the homes they now own, lest prices drop further. In the meantime, these homes go unmaintained.
Even more common is the dreaded Short Sale. These houses are not actually for sale. This is a stalling tactic, given excellent cover by the Obama Administration's "Making Home Affordable Program," which purports to help save homes for people who've fallen behind in their payments. Of course, more than two-thirds of people who would qualify for such assistance are beyond help. Others are likely to become delinquent again. It's a fine idea, but it ain't working. And, honestly, for a number of homeowners, it shouldn't. They over-extended themselves to absurd degrees, took second and third mortgages to buy toys. We've seen houses where the "owners" have loans for $300K more than what the house's purchase price was. Why exactly should these people get our tax money?
The banks got some, though. And now, thanks to their feet-dragging and accounting tricks (listing a non-foreclosed home on the balance sheet at its previous market value, so No Losses Here! on paper), they've become hoarders of properties, a concerted effort to take their losses as slowly as possible. These short sales are everywhere and it's in the bank's interest to let them just fester, allow the current "owners" to hang out free of charge while making a public display of "compassion" for these troubled underwater souls, eventually beginning the trudging foreclosure process while the property goes to seed. Some folks even willfully destroy the place. We saw one where the evicted and bankrupt former owners took the cabinets, every single one, from the walls.
Which leaves us with that rarest of beasts, the standard sale. Believe it or not, some people have managed to maintain equity, presumably by adhering to such old-fashioned notions as "Buying What You Can Afford" and "Not Taking Out Second and Third Mortgages To Buy Jet Skis" and "Fixed-Rate Loans."
A standard sale came on the market last week. The realtor began showing it on Saturday. We saw it at 1 p.m. Loved it. Beautiful home. We made an offer. Above list price. By Sunday evening, the realtor had 18 offers. In two days.
I know what you're thinking. Kent, this isn't funny. Where are the poop jokes? I thought this was a parenting blog! Well, this is about responsibility. We, as parents need to make good decisions and hope our children emulate them. We need to show them how to make their way in life, when to zig and when to zag. Above all, they need to know that life isn't fair.
They need to know that you can make sound financial decisions, have impeccable credit, have a 20% down payment burning a hole in your bank account and you remain at the mercy of corporate institutions and government, both of whom, right now, are more concerned with their own bottom lines, feckless populist policies that rescue gross mismanagement (not in all cases, of course) and, most importantly, public appearance.
The last is as effective as painting a lawn green.