Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Modest Condo

Note- NSW: The links are funny but not safe to read aloud in church.

Ah, dear reader, isn’t life queer? It’s amusing how we kid ourselves. I will be standing with other homeowners and we’ll all be proudly saying how our houses are worth a lot more than we paid for them. None of us will add that, if we did sell, any new house we might move to would also cost more… I’m-staying-put.

I’m old enough to remember when they invented home movies. One weekend, when grownups gathered, my Aunt Tilda brought over a big two-reel projector to show the clan. We turned out all the lights, and there it was: a clip of distant relatives silently going down an outside flight of stairs. No sound track, of course. “Oooh … awww” said the grownups. I didn’t care: The relatives were all strangers to me…. In those days, as might be expected, homeowners kidded themselves as to how much others cared. A popular joke at the time was the plight of a married couple trying to sneak out during a boring home movie… only to snag their ankle in the dark and pull out the power cord!

One day it was my turn to become a proud homeowner. And there I was, in my Toastmasters (public speaking) Club: Where the lights are so bright, not only is it impossible to sneak out, you can’t even doze off without getting caught. I surveyed my captive audience, and said brightly, “I’m going to tell you all about my new home!” I went easy on them.

Afterwards, a real estate agent, a man who, at the time, was less than a year from giving up his day job and becoming a full time realtor, thanked me for the speech, and told me he had learned a few things. I didn’t have the nerve to ask what had surprised him.

So here we are: I can write you a nice essay, all about my “new exciting home”… if only the home of a “cyber acquaintance” could be exciting. Don’t worry; I won’t fill the page with boilerplate, telling how my home is the same as so many others. Instead I ask: what would surprise you or my realtor friend?

Well, I’m at the city limits, using a boundary road that is city on one side, and farms, where the land drops down out of sight, on the other. By city I mean empty lots and flat roofs of industry, and big diesels. How cool! Call it a “guy thing,” but l love industrial areas. The farms, while not as exciting, are cool too, being adorned with rustic abandoned old buildings. No boring brown cattle, but instead, occasionally, lamas, goats and sheep. Sweet!

If you too would like to buy your own home, I might have some surprising advice.

As I see it, “a Boy Scout is thrifty,” and so am I. In fact, everybody in my clan is thrifty, which means I wouldn’t even consider buying in the beautiful city core. And no moving into a MacMansion, either. In the end, I made a nice choice: My place is down the road from the trailer park, in the last building you see going east out of town: a big economical four-story condominium block. Only four storys, because any more floors and the building code would have required ritzy steel frame construction. I was quick to grab a suite on the ground floor, right across from the garbage shed, where I can meet all my neighbors. Besides, the builders wanted an extra thousand bucks for every gain in height. That’s three thousand extra clams just to be on the top looking across at duplex roofs and satellite dishes. No thank you.

By buying a suite on the north facing side, I’m able to avoid the incoming solar radiation. My neighbors on the south side, unhappily, have to keep their fans running all summer. Either that, or buy really thick curtains, and keep them closed. Another delight to dodging those pesky photons: My original oil paintings won’t fade. My walls, of course, are painted “art gallery white.”

It was comedian Alan King, back in the days of home movies, who joked, “Anyone who owns their own home, deserves it.” I guess, in part, he was thinking of gruesome lawn mowing and sidewalk snow shoveling: I can’t believe realtors dare charge extra for a corner lot. I know what Mr. King would say, about anyone who buys one.

So there I was, determined to buy a modest condo, but where? Now, in the southern part of the city, which has extended far beyond the provincial park, you can get a lot of square footage for your buck, only… It’s a long commute, where the traffic flows along a couple of vital arteries. And I do mean vital: one little accident and everybody’s held up. And “time is life,” especially for a restless soul like mine.

From my formative years I retain a memory: A slushy evening, miserable, the windows on the bus pitch black, standing and swaying, glum, longing for home, and vowing: “When I finally settle down, I will never commute by bus for more than 45 minutes… and if by car, never more than 30.” Yes, I’ve heard rumors of how people in Southern California commute for longer, while traveling much slower, but somehow, their foolishness is no consolation to me.

When we look for a new home, I think we kid ourselves. We have a clear idea of the maximum price we can afford, and the commute time we can afford, and off we flit to go to look at houses. Only to weaken and say, “I could commute a little more, shovel a little more sidewalk. Yes, maybe I could pay a little more per month.” Well.

More money for more floor space? One problem is that even if the new house is "big enough," then, as with big downtowns and big parks and big office headquarters... after a time, you adjust, and then you wish it was ten per cent bigger. Like my new paycheque. You just can't win.  

The real problem is: life is short, and mortgages long. Another memory: While in university, rarely would I take a maximum course load. Usually, after some doubts, I would settle for a normal course load. Occasionally I would even take a semester with a reduced course load. And then, in each and every semester, when it came to midterm exams, I would be struggling, “Arrg! I don’t know how I’m managing… Thank God I didn’t take any more courses!” The lesson? No matter how small your mortgage, it will be a millstone around your neck; you’ll be awfully glad you didn’t weaken and try to pay a little extra.

It’s like when we were teenagers and I gave my little sister dating advice, kidding myself that she would listen to a big brother sporting a hickey: “Decide in advance how far you will let a boy go, and then stick with it!”

Sean Crawford,
Listening to spring birds twittering in the parking lot,
With enjoyment,
Because my modest mortgage, on my tiny "ships cabin" is all paid off,
March 2012

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