There's keeping up with the Joneses - and then there's keeping up with our house

We just had our house appraised and, gulp, it's worth five times what we paid for it 12 years ago. We did the math and discovered that we're sitting on a fortune.

Who would ever have thought our weathered cottage would cause us to totally rethink our lifestyle? Because surely you don't treat a house that's worth as much as ours the way you would a bungalow in the low hundred thousands.

What we used to think of as our little California home near the sea is now a "property," and as such deserves to be maintained in a manner befitting its market price.

Translation: Our days as do-it-yourselfers are over. We wouldn't even know where to buy the kind of nails you put into a house of this value. Painting, caulking, filling in the little cracks with wood putty. Those chores aren't for people of our new net worth.

True, professionals who do those jobs may charge $30 or $40 an hour. But how insignificant is that when you're talking about a "property"?

Another thing we've learned is that treating our "property" properly also means getting rid of our penny-pinching ways when it comes to home improvement.

Before our rise in circumstances, if we needed to screen the backyard - now referred to only as "in back" - we might have opted for white pines and forsythia.

But that's si bourgeois for a "property." Now we wonder if we shouldn't gravitate toward Japanese cedars and Arabian jasmine - a bit pricey, sure, but in our bracket, cost surely should be no issue. And while we're at it, it's unlikely you'll be seeing those old $4-a-pot geraniums in our window boxes. Our vision is to have the kind of plants that more closely reflect our newly elevated tastes.

And it doesn't stop there. Our wardrobes, once limited to faded Levis and Ft. Myers Beach T-shirts, perfectly appropriate for owners of a modest house on less than half an acre, now make us look underdressed. I guess we need to shop for designer jeans.

Still, even when the clouds have silver linings - or in our case, gold - they are still clouds, and that's what we're dealing with now. Unless we sell our house - which we have no intention of doing - we have no more money than we had before we found out our house was a "property."

Yet, the only way we can afford to keep our "property" up in the manner it deserves is if we sell it. It's a conundrum.

Don't think we're not grateful for this real-estate boom. It's just that every so often, when we hear the current market described as a "bubble," we're rooting for the side with the pins.

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