Saturday, February 24, 2007

What Is This Thing Called Own?

On the morning of the 2006 winter solstice, I bought my first house, ever---a tiny, 650/sf Baltimore row house secreted away on an alley, off an alley. It is two-storys high and a very slim, ten feet wide. The inside has been remodeled by a former owner who apparently did not have a level. Nothing is plumb. The place must be gutted and improved.

These tasks require money, which, for the first time in my life, I am borrowing from a bank. This is called: the mortgage / construction loan. Friends insist that I must have a mortgage so I can build equity. You must have equity! So, I have assumed the burden of a mortgage, which, when the "mortgage interest tax deduction" is applied, computes to about the same amount I was paying for rent.

This is no news for seasoned homeowners. But, I am still not quite a believer in the fabled "mortgage interest tax deduction." Next tax year I should become a believer. We shall see.

What I am interested in is my desire for a home. I would not be able to do this if the house was not a steal. The most recent owners sold it off-market, at a reasonable profit, because they wanted to reduce their capital gains exposure. They wanted to sell it to a person they liked and they decided that they liked me. So, for $107,000, I purchased a house with an appraised, unimproved value of $149,000. This is a rare coup in Baltimore, where prices only go up and a mid-range home in the city is selling for $240,000.

I will invest some construction dollars in it and I shall, god willing, move into the house in a few months. I work for an architectural firm which will do the drawings for me. I need a capable, honest, frugal contractor. With luck there will be no big problems revealed under the skin of the structure and its bones will be sound. I am on the way.

Why am I doing this? The reason seems to be two-fold. First, as my friends insist, equity. I feel foolish pooring my money into the rental black hole. It makes no financial sense, if I can pull off the mortgage. This is the first time in my life that so many means for doing this have converged. Second, an urgency for "home" emerged.

I had not wanted a home before. I made "home" wherever I landed. Those days are passing though and, as I grow older now, I continue to bump into the idea of the security of place. Even if I don't live in this house for long and I rent it to others, it will be there. Just imagining this space and this firmness of place fills me with relief.

So the narrative in my head is telling me this---to have a home is to be protected and surer in the world and that having a home will also strengthen my ties to friends, and a partner, if that's in the cards. They will come into my home and participate in a life of place. And somehow, I think this kind of home is deeply personal in a way my rental housing has not been, though I have had wonderful apartments. An owned home also means I am grounded in a place, even though I may travel, or even live, in other places. I am no longer a transient. When I fill out a form that asks: rent or own, I will be checking the box that says "own." I have not filled out that form yet, but it is coming. My pen is already in the air.

So I will follow this narrative of home/ own and see where it goes. Will there be a difference between the reality of home and my mental narrative of home that I am (emotionally) responding to? How will the owned home feel in comparison to the rented space. Will friendships and relationships be different? I'm going to be thinking and writing about this narrative.


sheigh said...

We've already bought the pink Dixie Cups for the housewarming party. And a Tweety Bird pinata.

Did you want the ballpark franks that plump when ya cook 'em or some of those *kebaps*?

jamm said...

Sheigh, just no tiki stuff, ok?