“Real” Hobby – By Pip Helix (Davin’s Den)

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I have a slightly weird hobby. No, nothing like that.  Sicko.

I like to relax by looking through those real estate free magazines they give away in the supermarket. I’m not in the market to buy or sell a home, I just became addicted to looking through these magazines years ago when I was looking for my first house, and now I can’t stop.

It’s fun to look at the photos, and ooh and aah at the really nice, expensive houses, the ones I will never come close to unless I win the lottery.  I see features that look amazing…but I still see them from a not-rich person’s perspective.  Oh look a koi pond!  I would never be able to keep them alive, but man that is nice.  Oh, a loft over the garage with heating and a/c!  Wait, that would be an instant magnet for every down and out friend we have, and we’d never get rent or have privacy again.  Scratch that idea.  Oh, but look at this house with all that land…acres of lawn that we’d have to mow…nope.  Oh wow, that house has 5 bathrooms?  Oh no, 5 toilets and showers to clean…

It never occurs to me during these little fantasy real estate splurges that if I had the kind of money to buy the mansion I am looking at, that I’d also have the kind of money to throw at all of those chores, too.  Keeping the fantasy splurge in the realm of my real life keeps me from lusting for these bigger houses too much, and makes me appreciate what I have more.

The houses that are in my price range don’t really interest me that much, unless they seem to have features that we would really like, and I wonder how I could get that to happen to our house.  I never consider leaving here, because after applying the “would it be worth the money, time, effort, upheaval and stress to sell this house and move THERE” test, none of them ever pass.  Sometimes I get a little envious of the people who seem to have paid less money for better houses, but then I see that they live X many hours from New York City, and I think, nope, nope, not moving to the “sticks”, thank you.  Not yet, at least.

The other really great part about the real estate books is figuring out which houses are the real dogs of the bunch.  Sometimes, it is merely the location, and knowing that although it may be a nice house, that I would never live there in a million ice ages.  Those are fairly easy to spot.  The ones that are fun are the more challenging ones, where the photo is conspicuously shot at a weird angle, and you have to use your best Sherlock Holmes skills. You just know that the photo is cropped so tightly on the left, because they are right next to a nuclear power plant or a Super Fund clean-up site.  Sometimes, you wonder if it is a terrible photo, or does the house really look that awful?  You’d think that they want to put the place’s best foot forward to sell it, and if the picture makes you wonder what you are looking at, you are probably in for a sorry surprise.

Sometimes the language in the description is the smoking gun, because they use all of those clever real estate euphemisms to make that horse ready for the glue factory sound like a champion.  The descriptions are hieroglyphics to be deciphered carefully, to really see what the buyer is about to get into.  “Cozy” is worrying (tiny), emphasis on “newer” features (the stuff is old, but not broken) could mean trouble, and “potential” (you will have to bring your imagination, lots of money, and you will be living at Home Depot) a little scary.  Still, perhaps the scariest term is “as-is”, which means RUN, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.  “This is a money pit, and we are almost ashamed to lure you in here, but we need the money.”  That is the one that makes the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  You know there is some crazy mess going on in there.  Like, “kill it by fire” kind of mess.  Some people call that arson, but I just call it self-preservation.

If you really want to see some “how the other half lives” action, the most fun is taking the next step and looking up the photos of the highest priced and the lowest priced properties online.  Woo boy, sometimes you have to shake your head and wonder what the hell people are thinking when you see how they decorate their homes.  I get some really Judgey McJudgersons fun out of seeing both the shameless, tacky displays of wealth and the dollar store reject curtains in the homes on both ends of the spectrum.   It’s harmless fun, because the people will never know that I laughed my ass off at their awful furniture or that I gasped at their creepy, terrifying basement.  I also marvel at how beautifully some homes are preserved, or the obvious craftsmanship and love that has gone into places, but really, the worse the place looks, the more I enjoy it.  The absolute jackpot is when the outside of the house is the polar opposite from the inside, like a beautiful Tudor mansion with velvet Elvis-style décor, or a real bargain basement looking wreck has all the modern conveniences you could ever dream of.  Those are the real Easter Eggs I live for.

I told you it was a weird hobby.  Just know that when you list your house, I will be looking.  And laughing.

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