Randall Gerard writes back...

Location: Out West

An old-fashioned guy grappling with new-fangled ways.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Houses and the incredible shrinking dollar..

The move across town went well, so here I am a day early, still sitting among boxes but otherwise established enough to sit down and write. We had to pare down our belongings enough to squeeze the contents of a 5 bedroom house and attached double garage into a 3 bedroom double-wide and 8x12 shed. Mission accomplished. It's always easier to pitch stuff in the trash or give it to thrift shops then it is to grease and shoe-horn everything into less space. We probably still have too much when you consider how long it's taking for us to find a place for everything. I have a feeling we're not quite done pitching stuff.
Let me tell you what we are finished with though. We're finished paying usury; at least usury in the form of mortgages. If you're going to pay for a house 2 or 3 times over the next 30 years, you may as well rent. At least then, if the plumbing breaks, it's the land-lord's problem not yours. Oh, I know all the arguments for owning: you can deduct mortgage interest, but not rent payments; when you sell your 'investment' you get to keep any 'profit', not your land-lord; when you own, you can add on, improve, remodel as you please. Well, the mortgage interest deduction doesn't amount to much when you're single income to start with. The so-called 'profit' I made on my house is but a fraction of the usury I paid while I lived there, and who the heck wants to remodel anyway? Constant change just because we can is a modern addiction. There ought to be a 12-step program for compulsive remodelers and improvers. The last real improvement in houses occurred when indoor plumbing and electric lights were invented, and contrary to modern opinion, these aren't necessities. Think about all the centuries mankind did without both! If these aren't necessary, then surely every improvement since then has been window dressing. And very expensive window dressing at that.
Previous generations had a far different view of housing then we do today. For the most part they thought of it as functional shelter, a place to maintain body temp, a durable good, like a car or a refrigerator. Not an investment and not a status symbol; not a place to store more and more junk, but a corner out of the wind. Back in 1969, my parents bought a 2 story, 5 bedroom, 1 bath house, a small barn and two other out-buildings, all on 2 acres on the outskirts of town. The plain and sturdy house featured one electrical outlet in each room and usually, but not always, one electric light mounted on the ceiling of each room. That was the extent of the luxuries included in the home. The lawn sprinkler system was a hose with an oscillating sprinkler on the end, which we physically moved every half hour or so, when we needed to irrigate at all. The garage was the dirt track that ran between the house and barn. But there was enough ground to plant a huge garden and graze chickens and a calf or two every year. My parents paid a whopping $11,000 for it. I would gladly pay 4 or 5 times that amount for something similar today, but 20 or 25 times is probably more realistic.
Instead, the minuscule 'profit' I just made on my suburban house, which incidentally was on a tiny fraction of an acre lot, wouldn't purchase what I'm currently living in. I'm living in a 30 year-old double-wide set up on concrete blocks, on a tiny rented lot. I could perhaps buy the tiny lot, or the glorified refrigerator box that sits on it, but not both. But, it would have bought my parent's first house lock, stock and barrel, with money to spare. I am deeply offended by that.