Sold: Perfect Little House in Red-Hot Market

Today, I signed the papers. With each initialing of each page I became a homeowner, a patron of True Value Hardware, a property-tax payer. No longer could I blissfully vote for school levies knowing the landlord would pay the piper. No longer would she fix the pipes, either.

Buying in Seattle now is about as easy as getting across Los Angeles on public transportation. The world seems to have noticed that "latte land" is safe, civilized, and surrounded by stunning scenery. Shopkeepers are pathologically friendly, and there are still hundreds of intersections with no stop signs, no yield signs, just human goodness to govern them.

But the bad news is, thousands of 30-something Microsoft employees are roaming the city trying to nest, making cash offers that are snapped up much faster than bids from us lowly mortgaged souls.

Most houses in my neighborhood seem to stay on the market less than a week. The one I bought appeared on a Wednesday and was under contract by Sunday, after a bidding war that included the dreaded dueling escalator clauses - "I agree to pay $1,000 over the highest offer, up to a certain amount." My final bid was just a few hundred dollars over the other folks's, and way over the asking price - hard to swallow for someone who never pays retail.

It's easier in other cities. While the median cost of a 2,200-square-foot home in Seattle is almost $278,000, the same house costs $245,000 in Denver, $199,000 in Phoenix, $169,000 in Detroit.

My Realtor has worked with people who have spent nine months looking, and those who have bid unsuccessfully on five different homes, paying for inspections of house after house. Many buyers here are foregoing their right to an inspection at all, in order to win the bidding wars.

It shouldn't be this hard, especially for a first-time home buyer. Without the generous help of my parents, who contributed to the down payment, I'd still be paying rent. This is a small house - two bedrooms, about 2,000 square feet - and it shouldn't cost what it did. But it has a view and is in a popular, convenient neighborhood, so I don't think whining at this point is appropriate. No government agency has the mission of making homes affordable in particular parts of the world.

I would, however, like to see the Endangered Species Act extended to small homes in livable cities. As modest houses are demolished to make room for big ones, and as more farmland is plowed under for subdivisions with big lawns, a small home like mine on a bus line seems like an efficient use of resources.

I won't have to drive to get to the convenience store or to the park the dog likes, and not too many trees died for the construction of my house. It won't cost much to heat because it's little. And the street, because of the size and density of the houses, feels like a neighborhood.

I've had only one unwelcoming greeting - from the man who works on the phone lines. He politely told me he was mad at me for buying the house, as he had wanted it, but when he came to the open house my offer already had been submitted. He forgave me but sounded discouraged about the whole topic of house hunting.

My new house has "a forever view," according to the little information sheet from the Realtor. Before I saw it, I wondered if it was like the "forever" fulfillment promised in a personal ad I once read. Actually, there are many linguistic similarities between personal ads and real estate blurbs: Both are eager to please and emotionally charged. Potentially duplicitous, too.

I realized that as sure as "curvaceous" means "chubby" and "kind" can mean "homely," "has great potential" spells doom for both prospective homes and mates. When the house I had rented went on the market, it was described as "pure 1920s bungalow," though its renovations were impure, 1950s, and bungled. In this market, one can expect white lies.

But the view from my new house, while not infinite, is panoramic, over the arboretum, out to the mountains and Lake Washington. I wonder what it will mean to own a view, if that's even possible. I wonder if the poems I write and the friendships I begin in this house will be slightly deeper, slightly more enlightened, because of the number and size of the windows.

And I wonder if, in the next few years, any of my friends will be able to afford housing nearby, especially if costs continue to rise, as predicted, by $1,000 a month. I hope so. I'd hate to see more sprawl on the farm fields to accommodate them.

* Tina Kelley is a freelance writer in Seattle.

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