A friend reported that the suffering economy had apparently not hindered the ability of everyone he has visited recently to update their kitchens.
â€œLet me guess,â€ I interrupted. â€œMarble or granite countertops and stainless steel appliances?â€
â€œCorrect,â€ he said. â€œHowâ€™d you know?â€
â€œThose are the latest, keep-up, status symbols. Youâ€™re nobody if you still have butcher block or black. Nobody, I tell you! Imagine what that makes me with white appliances and Formica.â€
He confessed. His Formica countertops prove that he is a nobody with me.
In all my life, I can only remember seeing a couple of countertops destroyed beyond repair. Cutting boards or trivets sufficiently covered most of the mishaps Iâ€™ve seen. Maybe Iâ€™m out of touch, though. Are Formica and ceramic tiles on the growing list of things that will kill us if we donâ€™t replace them immediately? If so, I will swallow some of these words with a spoonful of sugar.
My mother owned three refrigerators in her life. She lived to be seventy-four. At fifty-seven, Iâ€™ve bought as many. Obviously, they arenâ€™t lasting like they used to but itâ€™s still hard to imagine that all of the non-stainless ones that have been replaced in the last few years actually bit the dust making those replacements necessary. Iâ€™m betting people are replacing perfectly useful counters and appliances because thatâ€™s what people do these days. Iâ€™m also feeling very old saying these days.
My friend said he had priced marble and granite and decided the switch could wait until he is ready to sell his house. Then, of course, he will have to update the kitchen and bathroom to attract buyers.
â€œHuh?â€ For the sake of making this as accurate as possible, I will embarrass myself by typing my grunted response. â€œWhy would you make those changes to a house you are going to leave?â€
â€œBecause thatâ€™s what they tell you to do if you want to get the best price,â€ he explained.
I might have told him that I think they always say stupid things. Iâ€™m certain I said, â€œBut they are game players, the people who run up the cost of buying a home. And you are playing their game.â€ Iâ€™m certain about that part because my accusing him of playing their game is what made him furious with me.
He explained how he could put a little money into updates and get more than a little back, which made my head want to explode. I was shocked to hear this from a friend who usually lashes out against Corporate America and materialism with more venom than even I use. I must be missing a lot these days (and getting older by the paragraph since I keep using these days).
â€œWhy not give the buyers the opportunity to decide when they would prefer to make this investment?â€ I asked. â€œLet them choose the countertops and appliances they want when the time comes since they are going to have to pay for them. Updates arenâ€™t free, you know, just because the seller makes them.â€
He said something about wanting to get as much as he could for his house. Iâ€™ll admit that I closed my ears because I didnâ€™t want to hear this from my friend.
â€œIt costs everyone more,â€ I argued. â€œThe buyer pays more because the seller wants to make more, and the bank or mortgage company takes their cut, then the real estate agent boosts his percentage, and the closing attorney gets a few cents . . . all because the Joneses went into debt to keep up, creating a domino affect in the neighborhood which in turn helped out the bank by loaning money to replace perfectly useful trappings (old lady word, totally appropriate, and a liberty claimed for my willingness to own up to my nonstop rant).
If I hadnâ€™t been in such a fossilized tizzy at that point, Iâ€™m sure my friend, who is usually reasonable and patient with my rantings would have explained how the bank would use that extra money to create jobs, and the people in those jobs would be able to buy more expensive homes, and perhaps the next status symbol will be floor coverings and above ground gardening boxes since they already have kitchens built into their mortgages, thereby helping other industries, and eventually the economy will improve and everyone will be sitting on easy street all because of marble and granite countertops. Iâ€™m sure my hateful growling of the words foreclosure and rackets are what made him change the direction of our conversation.
â€œMy house is an investment,â€ he explained. â€œI bought it to make as much money as I can. Why did you buy your houses?â€
And there we had the difference. Whew. At least this made some sense of the disagreement.
I bought homes to live in, not houses to invest in. The first one had a different ugly carpet in each room. Hideous would better describe the absolute most disgusting outdated floor covering in that kitchen. The front sidewalk had been painted red, leading to a black and white porch, attached to a house with green trim, making me almost grateful for the overgrown hedges framing the front and side yards. Almost. I would never have chosen the paint color in a single room or the sidewalk of that house, or the foil wallpaper that clashed with the hideous kitchen carpet. And I will never understand why the previous owner nailed plastic fruit to the doorframes. But I will appreciate the real estate agent who did not advise the previous owner to spend money on updates that would have made this place move-in ready. Iâ€™m positive â€“ absolutely, positively, without a single doubt positive â€“ she would not have chosen what I wanted. Also, at age twenty-four, I barely qualified for the mortgage as it was, so I probably wouldnâ€™t have been able to buy this house with those costs added to the price.
I cleaned the ugly carpets and walls, collected old furniture from garages and basements of friends and family, and moved in with big dreams. I would save a little from each paycheck and eventually paint and replace carpets. Maybe, a few raises and bonuses down the road, Iâ€™d buy furniture, a piece or a room at a time. Meanwhile, I had my own home. When I looked at that house, I saw what I knew it would be, not the fixer-upper it was.
I replaced everything in that house while I was there. Seriously, every wall, the wiring, floor coverings, the furnace and air-conditioning, light fixtures, electrical outlets and covers . . . At times, I lived with plywood floors and studs without drywall while I saved for what I wanted to cover them. That way, the interest that might have gone to the bank became my profit. When I left, I sold my home to the first potential buyer, making a little profit which I then used as a down payment on another house that I saw as the home it could be instead of the mess it was.
And this concludes my story about one of the ways I think the housing market went to Walmart in a hand basket. Next time, I plan to talk about investment buyers and how I hope their homes are as overpriced, drafty, leaky, and miserable as the ones they rent.
Found what I consider to be a related lecture: