January 29, 2007

An American's Home is His Castle

(Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love
The Distinctive Properties and Estates Section
of The Wall Street Journal).

OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, I've come to realize that few things in American life excite people as much as the residential real-estate market. As a younger man and a renter, this is not an excitement I particularly share, as for most people my age it is a big step when one simply finds a place with a dishwasher, or a separate washer and dryer. Why, some days even the idea of a carport seems like an unimaginable luxury.

Still, I do find the discussions people have about their real-estate fascinating, particularly when they get to talking about the market itself. People talk about which way prices have moved, and which way they should move; they talk about the insufferable cheapness of buyers or the wretched stubbornness of sellers. People will also sometimes offer friendly advice about the market, and taken together, these myriad opinions are as different as the snowflakes at Mont-Tremblant. Indeed, it is enough to make any renter confused. Should I buy now? Should I wait? Should I buy in the city or an hour north? Should I buy a condo or a house?

The way I see it, though, there's an easier solution than to worry about these questions. Namely, I read the The Distinctive Properties and Estates Section of The Wall Street Journal, along with its affiliated sections like the City Residences listings. This way, I can live vicariously through the experiences of overpaid investment bankers and other buyers who, despite a knack for squeezing the last pennies out of a major equity trade or making money through exchanging cotton futures for contracts on frozen orange juice, will pay ridiculous sums of money for semi-desirable property.

Of course, I am an admitted skeptic when it comes to these types of things, which makes it even more enjoyable. For instance, one recent advertisement referred to a New Jersey home which was allegedly "distinguished by interior and exterior magnificence." Have it all covered, do we? Then, there was the one-bedroom New York apartment notable for its "amazing details" -- at the seven-figure price the owners were asking, the details better have included solid-gold fixtures in the bath.

Also, apparently every other listing proclaimed a buyer would live on one of such-and-such's "most prestigious estates" in a "gated community" -- in short, a "once in a lifetime" experience for any executive, at least until he went to a dinner party at the nicer home of Murray, that sycophantic bastard down on the bond desk. All the superlatives and descriptives and blaring of trumpets are enough to give one a nose bleed.

I did like the advertisement, though, from the unnamed Florida broker who proclaimed his area was full of "SELLERS IN PAIN." I thought it rather inventive and frank, both of which are selling points in my book. And of course, there are plenty of homes listed which are downright spectacular and which I will never be able to afford until I finish the Great American Novel, which has been languishing for years. But there's something to be said for a little vicarious living as opposed to seriously pining away for the unobtainable.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at January 29, 2007 08:19 PM | TrackBack
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