Searching for the perfect house

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    Meghan Daum's house in Los Angeles, Calif.

    - 1457avonterrace.com

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    The living room of Meghan Daum's house

    - Megan Larson / Marketplace

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    Meghan Daum's backyard

    - Megan Larson / Marketplace

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    A look at Meghan's kitchen.

    - Megan Larson / Marketplace

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    Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal interviews Meghan Daum with the help of an engineer.

    - Megan Larson / Marketplace

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    The patio of Meghan's house

    - Megan Larson / Marketplace

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    Meghan's dog Rex

    - Megan Larson / Marketplace

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    The stairs to Meghan Daum's "Roman Ruin"

    - Megan Larson / Marketplace

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    Meghan Daum shows Kai Ryssdal her "Roman Ruin."

    - Megan Larson / Marketplace

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    The "Roman Ruin" in Meghan Daum's house.

    - Megan Larson / Marketplace


Kai Ryssdal: Meghan Daum is a writer, she's a novelist, a columnist for the "Los Angeles Times," and now a memoirist as well in which she makes a confession.

DAUM: I am a real-estate addict.

That addiction is the subject of her new book "Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House."

Meghan Daum moved a lot as a kid. She hopped New York apartments all through her twenties, constantly searching for the right place. In 2004, near the peak of the housing boom, she landed in Los Angeles and eventually committed to a tiny rundown Spanish bungalow. That's where we went to talk about her search for the perfect house.

MEGHAN DAUM: I had just moved to L.A., and I couldn't find a place to live, and so I was kind of floating around, and I was living in somebody else's very nice house, by the way, but it wasn't my stuff, and I felt misrepresented. And I think for me once I got into my 30s, I didn't care about my clothes, I cared about my furniture.

Ryssdal: It speaks pretty heavily to this idea that we have in this country of home ownership, and how you gotta have this place that's your own.

DAUM: I was not obsessed with home ownership until everybody else became obsessed with home ownership. Everybody was talking about adjustable rate mortgages and termite inspections, and the best neighborhoods, and what went for what and comps. I couldn't go to the dentist without the dental hygienist giving her two cents about mortgage brokers or where to buy.

Ryssdal: And every day that you delayed, the little bungalow on the corner that you had your eye on, I mean that was going up like $15,000 every time you turned around.

DAUM: I was convinced that I was about to be priced out of the market. By the time I got out to L.A., I was in a position where I had a certain amount of money. I had sold a novel. I didn't have a salary; I was a freelancer writer. I had a certain amount that I could spend on a house. It got to the point where I just sort of have to take anything.

Ryssdal: It didn't occur to me while I was reading this, but did you get this mortgage on this house while you were a freelancer writer?

DAUM: Yes, I did.

Ryssdal: Think about that for a second.

DAUM: Wouldn't happen today!

Ryssdal: Oh my gosh!

DAUM: Who would do such a thing? Bank of America, their crazy time. Yeah, I wanted a house like nobody's business. I wanted a house more than I wanted a boyfriend.

Ryssdal: So you find yourself at the age of 34 in Los Angeles, with a little bit of that book advance left, and you go house hunting. How did it come to be this house?

DAUM: The only way I got this house was that it had been sitting around for 30 days, which in 2004 was an unthinkable amount of time. I mean, this was damaged goods. There must have been something really wrong with it.

Ryssdal: So it gave you a little negotiating room.

DAUM: So I was like, it's for me! You know, it was a time where people were not really getting upset about retaining walls or electrical systems that date back to the Coolidge administration.

Ryssdal: Or as you put it, electrical systems that you could smell.

DAUM: You could hear it and smell it.

Ryssdal: How did you go about fixing this place? Describe for me what it looked like when you moved in.

DAUM: Wall-to-wall carpet, sort of off-white, shaggy, dirty wall-to-wall carpet. And you need to know that I have a long and uneasy relationship with carpet. I have an irrational, just, hatred of carpet. And I've written about this at length. So that first day and that first evening of getting the keys and being in that house, it was exhilarating and yet, it was also terrifying. It was sort of the most remarkable combination of sadness and joy that one can experience.

Ryssdal: Anybody who's ever signed a mortgage understands that terror that first night because you're just, oh my god.

DAUM: Yeah, and I came in, I got the keys. I went back to the apartment that I was renting, that I was soon going to be leaving. I got my dog, Rex, who's a large 85-pound sheep dog. Got a bottle of wine, drove over to this house and just started ripping up the carpet. I was on my knees. I was pulling it up, and I was so afraid that there wouldn't be wood underneath, and there was wood underneath. And it wasn't in great shape and finally it was too heavy, and I couldn't pull it up anymore. There was this mound of carpet in the middle of the living room, and I poured a glass of wine, and I sat on this pile of carpet. And Rex came up and sat with me, and I just kind of cried.

Ryssdal: Meghan got married not too long ago to a guy with a lot of stuff, which means she's selling the house and looking for her next one.

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A pyschiatrist would have a field day here...life is somehow perfect if only a material item is purchased? Life cannot be defined by things more important, that cannot be lost to a house fire or flooding?

Trying to find something outside of herself to fill the void in self identity, she isn't interested in houses until everyone else is, and then she wants to join in--especially with money burning a hole in her pocket, now she can buy her way in to the latest fad rather than earn her way in.

This isn't to pick on her, but to point out how she made herself an easy sucker. How many other people support the American economy by chasing purchases to obtain something they could give themselves for free, rather than make educated purchases?

Does the free market really work if people are only trying to buy "cool"? No, it doesn't.

Book club in L.A.? Let's do it!
Houses are cheap in Nebraska.
Caw, Caw!!

I hear you to having an affinity to wall to Wall carpet. I love the house.When I bought my first house in Nebr. the first thing to go was the wall to wall carpet. I can't wait to read this book.

For those of you who want a link to purchase this book, please click on the link to the excerpt. You should find the information you need. Thank you.

A link to purchase this book would be very helpful. If there is one, it certainly isn't very visible!
(PS: I enjoy Marketplace on WNYC)

A nice little change of pace story. While seeming a bit camp, I think it reflects what many people did at that time. Everything, especially economics, is cyclical.

As victim of the housing frenzy myself, I can really relate to this story. My first home was a "handyman special" and despite a full home inspection prior to closing, the house was full of unpleasent surprises (I had my own horrible carpet that was gone before the furniture was unpacked).

My only wish for this story was to see a degree of resignation on the part of Ms. Daum that perhaps she had learned something from her mistakes like I did. There are much more important things in life than owning a piece of crumbling infrastructure in the vain hope of turning it into your "dream home".

Regrettably, I don't think this piece belongs on the program. Listenable, yes, but really just schmooozing. There are so many "L.A. stories", none of which were even touched upon-it was nearly all personal.
I doubt that in 1988 there were any stops on sprawl nor speculation, so why is one bungalow anything remarkable?
Next time, something about Angel's Flight or the Edge...

Ms. Daum said that she felt "misrepresented" living in someone else's house. Misrepresented by whom? She didn't make this clear. (Interviewer should have caught her on this.)

Why didn't she determine before she bought the bungalow whether or not there was wood under the carpeting? (How could anyone be so bloody stupid?)

Why should anyone care about her visceral reaction to carpeting? And why the hell should I continue to support my local NPR affiliate when they pay good money to syndicate increasingly stupid, juvenile programming like Marketplace?

Ms. Daum reminds me of the truthfulness of a psychiatrist I saw for a while when I was having difficulties re-adapting to living in the U.S. after living and working a long time in Europe. His spot-on observation: the whole (of U.S.) culture is juvenile.

I found this interview to be very interesting, and am looking forward to the book. The author has a great sense of humor!


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