walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_House Lust_, Daniel McGinn

Subtitled: America's Obsession with Our Homes

There are three callout boxes on the cover: "An unyielding urge to make our houses bigger, bolder, and more luxurious, no matter the cost", "An irrational desire for cathedral ceilings, mud rooms, and natural stone countertops" and "The national pastime that is taking its toll on american wallets, relationships, and minds"

Yesterday, I went to Toadstool, an actual bookstore, for the first time in I'm not sure how long. I walked out with only one book (which I still find surprising), this one.

I read a chunk of it last night, and the rest today. It was nice. R. watched T., and chatted with J. who is ripping out rotted wood around our front door and repairing it. Which is very nice, given that a different contractor, who shall still remain nameless, did absolutely nothing (including failing to respond to phone calls) for 6 weeks. We were patient largely because the painting work had been good. And we did not pay ahead enough to cause us any particular qualms.

So this is really pretty appropriate reading material: I've been looking at real estate for months now, partly online, partly at open houses. We got pre-approved (online). I sold enough stock to cover what a conforming loan would not, for the range we'd decided was reasonable. We're all set to make a move at a moment's notice. If only we could find something we wanted at a price we thought was reasonable. We can find stuff we love -- but not where we want it. We know where we want it -- and those are still too expensive. This could go on for a while, and meanwhile, we're back to discussing the possibilities associated with renovating.

McGinn covers oversized housing (which I'm absolutely not interested in -- we decided we wanted something around 2500-3000 square feet and would under no circumstances consider anything like a 5000 square foot house. Altho, if it had a ball room. . . He covers new housing, which we have no particular interest in. He devotes a chapter to renovations, which was entertaining, altho having reno'd a kitchen and 2 bathrooms, I figure I have some clue about what's involved (altho I've never moved exterior walls, so I don't _really_ know anything). He covers coverage of real estate. He covers buying rental property (in Idaho?! When he lives in Boston?! Yeah, nothing can go wrong there.). He covers the changes happening in Realtor-land as the boom turned to bust at the time this book went to press, and as the internet shakes up traditional 6% commissions in a way that may prove permanent. And he covers vacation property in its myriad forms: owning it, time-sharing, vacation clubs, whether to rent it out, trading time-share weeks, etc.

McGinn specifically stays away from the larger trends that fed this boom, altho he mentions them in passing, noting that they deserve a different book. His authorial voice is pleasing. There were a few things he said that struck me as Just Wrong. In McGinn's world, no one showed off their upstairs bathroom until the 1980s and he quotes "veteran homebuilders" in support of that assertion. R. and I both recall taking new visitors to our family homes on the "nickel tour" of the house: upstairs and down, bedrooms, bathrooms, the whole thing, including any noteworthy closets. We even called it the same thing, even tho his father was a lawyer and his mother went to college, and my father was an electrician and my mother finished high school and never worked outside the home. But his father was raised working class, so maybe we were both socialized working class. In any event, the "nickel tour" displayed working class house pride back int he 1970s. Is McGinn right for other classes? I can't say.

There were other remarks along the same lines, assertions in support of the idea that house lust of the 1980s and forward is/was somehow different from what went before. I'm not convinced.

These are minor complaints.

Fun stuff; I doubt I'll reread it, so I'll be passing it along to the library (which is why I bought it hardback, rather than trying for a kindle copy). It might not be worth your hardback dollars, but if you see it in paper, it's a fun read (and might get an afterward about more of the bust by the time it comes out). And there's always your library, too.

FWIW, my kitchen reno did involve granite countertops back in 1999. If I redid it now, I'd probably go with stainless steel, and make a few other changes to make it usable as a commercial kitchen. And that's what I'll eventually do either here, or wherever we land. My first bathroom reno was pretty straightforward: made the shower bigger, ripped out the vanity and replaced it with a pedastal sink and standalone storage furniture. The second bathroom reno was more extensive. The "garden tub" (wide but shallow) was replaced with a two-person soaker (deep, no jets), and the toilet room was expanded at the expense of the two-sink vanity (why? Because I've always wanted a bidet.). The vanity and storage furniture have the standalone look (the storage is moveable; the vanity is plumbed of course). As with the pedastal, it Costs More to do things this way, because the previously hidden area needs to look good enough now that it can be seen. Ain't it ever so?

I went with marmoleum flooring (battleship grey -- sheet, not tile, unwaxed) in the kitchen and one bathroom. We did bamboo in the master bath. I will not bore you with the details of appliances (other than to say I went with stackers in the laundry in the kitchen, instead of the side-by-side I previously had since the _whole point_ of the kitchen reno was to get a double oven). And unlike some people, once I'd had all that work done, I couldn't bear the idea of selling the place, even tho I haven't lived in that condo since 2003. My sister rented it for a year, and now I have friends who live there -- even tho I lived in Seattle for a year and a half, I left the tenants in place, knowing I'd be gone before they would. The second bathroom reno occurred while they lived there, and they were quite patient about the pain of living with a renovation.

Someday, the condo will be where we retire. Perhaps before then it will be our vacation-home-in-Seattle, that is, assuming air fare stays low enough to visit often enough. And I can soak in that tub R. and the kids, maybe; that'd be a lot of fun.

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