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Shelf Life

Searching for the perfect house

Marketplace Staff May 3, 2010
Shelf Life

Searching for the perfect house

Marketplace Staff May 3, 2010


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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