Our friends Hannah and Kate just bought their first house. It came with a chicken coop, which was a bonus, since they wanted chickens someday. When they got the keys and started to move in, danged if they didn’t already have chickens. Did they know the place was going to come with chickens? Had that been discussed?
Well, no. But there they were, three chickens, plus an index card with their names on it. Hannah consulted it. “The black and white one is Henrietta, the orange one is Ophelia, and Suzie is that funky one over there. I think they’re depressed.”
“What makes you think they’re depressed?”
“Well, they haven’t laid any eggs since we got here. I mean, think about it: Their people just abandoned them ...” She blinked back a tear. Henrietta did look a little down in the beak.
It’s rough out there. The real estate game is not what it used to be. When I bought my first house, I didn’t have to pounce on it. I moseyed, more. The first one I looked at was on a double lot with a cherry tree. The flow of the house was odd, but it had a huge kitchen I could imagine cooking in, if I learned how to cook.
It was 1978. Nobody was moving. Americans were being held hostage somewhere, you couldn’t gas up your car on even-numbered days, and everyone was hunkered down in their houses with a case of malaise. It wouldn’t be “Morning Again in America” for another few years, when money would start to flow out of everyone’s pensions and into the financial sector where it became pretend money and perked people up for a while before it got siphoned uphill and vanished from the middle class altogether. Meanwhile, a half-dozen homes were going begging in Portland, Oregon, for about a buck fifty each, and I had all the time in the world to think about it.
The place with the double lot and the cherry tree was OK, but the listing agent had moated the place with bark dust, sprayed the whole inside of the house Navajo White, and put down a shag wall-to-wall carpet in deep rust.
“That’s the first to go,” I said, right in front of him, and he shrugged bleakly. He was sitting behind a card table in the dining room with a little stack of business cards and expected to be there for months.
But after a few weeks I bought it. I wondered if it was really possible to pay $368 a month for 30 years, which was three times more than I’d ever paid for rent, for longer than I’d even been alive.
Update: It was.
These days – despite the shutdown – if you have a good real estate agent, you could hear about a likely house the day it was listed. But if it took you more than 20 minutes to get there, you’d already lost it to some guy who’s still on the golf course. The phone in his pocket had had a three-way consultation with his agent and lending institution, and automatically fired off a heartfelt essay to the seller along with an order of freshly baked cookies delivered by drone. Also, he had an extra hundred thou to chip in. He probably got it from your pension in the ’80s.
This made regular buyers jumpy. You know, the kind that tend to their credit ratings and save up a down payment. After they lose the first two houses, they’re bidding on certified dumps and upping their offers to include an extra year’s salary, season tickets to the opera, and a bank to be knocked over later.
But somehow Hannah and Kate stayed calm, found a nice place, and didn’t go over their budget. It can still happen. And the chickens are coming around.
The next day there was a fresh egg in the coop. For them, at least, it’s morning again in America.