I have always imagined us living in our own house. Not necessarily with a white picket fence, but a yard of some sort, a basement, maybe a porch.
Buying real estate is out of the question for now, for a bunch of reasons. We don’t know how long we are going to be living in this town, we don’t know the area well enough to choose somewhere that we want to live ForEver, and oh yeah, money. Since we are far less rich than we are poor, we have crammed ourselves into a one-bedroom with a big closet (hellllo, baby’s room!). And the dreaming has begun.
There are so many beautiful homes around here. Lots of really cute brick houses, or those old romantic castles with princess towers (which make me roll my eyes, but there is a 2-year-old currently living in a closet who would give up a kidney for a princess tower). Everywhere I go, I end up drooling over houses along the way.
And the prices! There are huge, beautiful houses here for under $200,000. Our dog would have a yard. We could barbecue. And have guests over. And keep our clothes in closets. And be able to unload the dishwasher without blocking access to the cabinets (hey, architects: that is a design flaw). We could probably pay on a mortgage not that much more than we would pay if we moved into a bigger apartment.
Owning a house is overrated, say the experts. Property values are going up, but gone are the days when you could consider real estate a sure-fire investment. It’s been years since I saw one of those “Flip This House” shows, and owning is no longer the default middle-class experience. Here’s a fun calculator by the New York Times that can tell you how long you have to stay in your house for it to be economically worth it.
But honestly, even though I think about money 23 hours a day (the other 1 hour is when I am at the gym watching trashy reality TV), it’s not about money. It’s about being able to paint the walls whatever color I want. It’s about not having to worry about the landlord deciding to sell, or finding out that your sister-in-law was staying for longer than the lease allowed, and kicking you out. And even though this is kind of weird, I really hate it when things break in my apartment and the landlord has to come and fix it. I’m constantly worried that they’ll tell me that I’m to blame for the dish disposal breaking, or give me grief about how stained the carpets have become, or they’ll go back into the office and talk about how my sink was full of dirty dishes. This is stupid. But what isn’t stupid is that renting an apartment means that there is always the possibility of somebody looking over your shoulder. I want a houuuuuse.
That is, I wanted a house. Until last week.
Last week, the weather got nice. And suddenly, in our apartment complex, the kids from the area flooded out into the common spaces. Flooded is too strong of a word, there are only maybe ten of them, but this one-bedroom apartment with no private outdoor space suddenly became a big storage unit for our stuff while we spend all of our time outside with a community. Living in an area with common space (there is a playground here, tennis courts, a pool, basketball courts) means that the community is there. Ready for you. All you have to do is get swept up.
And living in a house, at least in my experience, has meant that unless you are motivated to go somewhere, there’s no reason to interact with your neighbors. I’m sure there are houses with built-in neighborhoods, but when you have no personal outdoor space, it forces people to use what you have in common. In the last two weeks, I have tentatively built up friendships with several other tenants. Me! Who lived in an apartment for five years in graduate school and never did more than wave to my neighbors!
But it’s not about me. It’s about my kid. And sort of about me, too.
I have lived in fear of the day when she would start having friends and I wouldn’t know the parents. And I’m not the kind of person who gets to know other adults easily (see above note about neighbors). I have met some of the other parents at gymnastics class, but at the rate that’s going, it’ll be years before we end up really knowing each other.
And all of the parents of all of the kids are out at the playground in our apartment complex. Sofia has learned more English in the past two weeks than she has in her entire life. She bolts out the door and sprints to her favorite kids, desperate to hug them. In the meantime, I’ve gotten to know their families, and I feel pretty confident that those kids aren’t going to sell her drugs. Or if they do, or if she sells them drugs, all of the parents will be on the same page.
I’ve been thinking more and more about this – the dream I have of moving into one of these amazing houses. I want to. I yearn to. For a million reasons, none of which changed when the economy tanked.
But then I hear Sofia babbling on a fake telephone about the baby that she saw on our playground, and the doggies, and the meow-meows, and how they played with a ball, and her friend Audrey helped her go down the slide, and all of those reasons why having a house is important seem so silly. I don’t know if I can put a price on community.
I still drool at the for sale signs in the yards of amazing houses that we drive by. But that American dream of owning a house, for me, might just be better as a dream than a reality.