Monday, May 9, 2011

House Hunters Anonymous

Lately I've been watching unseemly amounts of the HGTV show "House Hunters." Both the domestic and international versions. In case you've never watched this show, I'll give you a basic rundown of what happens: A couple needs to buy a house. We'll call the people Sheila and Bill, just to make things easier. Sheila and Bill have a budget of $350,000 and they are looking for a starter house in, let's say, the Chicago suburbs. Bill doesn't want to be too far from the commuter train. Sheila is really concerned about being in a neighborhood with good schools for their son, Paul. Oh, and Sheila really wants granite countertops in the kitchen, a big walk-in closet in the master bedroom and a nice yard for Paul to run around in. She thinks this makes her unique in some way. Sorry, Sheila, but it doesn't. Everyone on "House Hunters" wants these things.

The couple walks through three houses, none of which truly meets their needs. There is the small house that needs updating (no granite countertops) that is under their budget. There's the house that is right at their budget that has most of what they want, but maybe is in the wrong location. Then there is the perfect house, replete with granite countertops, walk-in closets, a swing set for Paul in the backyard, right across the street from Bill's commuter train, but it is of course over budget.

Brandon and I used to watch this show together. We loved making jokes about the couples they feature on these shows, laughing about the obligatory joke the guy always makes about closet size relative to the number of shoes the woman owns. "I don't know where his stuff is going, but this closet will be perfect for me," quips every woman who has ever been on House Hunters.

Brandon prides himself on his ability to predict which house the couple will pick. He has an uncanny ability to guess which item on their wish list the couple will be willing to give up or compromise on. This show has provided much entertainment for us, a couple who has been renting for nine out of the ten years we've been married.

Recently, I have started watching "House Hunters" alone, though. Brandon always seems to be busy at 10 pm. when the show comes on. Without his fun commentary, the show is a little boring. I know it's hard to believe that people walking around empty houses could possibly be boring, but it is. I have taken to watching "House Hunters" while surfing real estate websites on my iPhone, something akin to the dirty feeling you get from eating junk food while watching Oprah talk about how she gained 30 pounds from eating nothing but blue corn tortilla chips all summer.

I'm not sure I can be entirely objective, but I think my house obsession may be entering Oprah blue corn tortilla chip territory.

There I admitted it. That's the first step, right? I am more than a little preoccupied with the idea of buying a house and then living in it for the next, oh, fifty years of my life. You see, since I graduated from college many, many years ago, I have had approximately fourteen different addresses. We have lived in condos, apartments, townhouses, and in single-family houses. We have lived in the suburbs and in a bustling city. Our countertops have ranged from granite to corian, to our current "vintage" countertops that are off-white and flecked with gold. I have had enough countertops to know that granite, while it is nice, does not really make your life better or make you a better cook. I would still like it in my future dream kitchen, though.

I also know that, as with granite countertops, owning a house is something I would like a lot, but won't really impact my life in a way that truly matters. Oh, who am I kidding? It totally will!

It's not just the house that I want. This is not shear materialism rearing its ugly head, or at least I hope it's not. Like with Oprah and her tortilla chips, it's what the thing promises rather than the thing itself that I crave. I doubt Oprah was really hungry for all those tortilla chips. She was hungry for something else: for comfort, for the feeling of well-being and fullness that a salty snack can bring. I am hungry not just for walk-in closets and a soaking tub, but for the security and peace of mind that come with having a house you know you can stay in forever if you want to.

I will spare you all the details, but Brandon's job situation is making another move a very real possibility. I'm not even exactly sure which city his job will lead us to next, making my searches and Charlie's kindergarten registration all the more interesting.

I'm really tired of moving. I'm really tired of living in someone else's house. I want my own house. My own swing set, my own countertops that I can change if they are not to my liking.

I read a book this summer called Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in that House by Meghan Daum. This book is a memoir about one writer's attempt to find happiness through real estate. Daum can barely make it through a semester of college without changing dorm rooms. This constant need to improve upon her surroundings continues when she moves to New York City and becomes obsessed with space or her lack of it. When she can't live in the kind of place she wants in NYC, she decides, pretty randomly, to move to Omaha, Nebraska, where she can buy an old farmhouse for what she used to spend on cabs in New York. Eventually she moves to L.A. and buys a tiny bungalow in a slightly shady neighborhood at the peak of the housing bubble.

The moral of this story is that a house does not guarantee happiness. I know this intellectually, but I still get a thrill at the end of every "House Hunters" episode, when the show revisits the couple after they have been living in their new house for a few months. Their lives may not be perfect, but they definitely seem happier than they were at the beginning of the show.

I wonder if I will still like watching "House Hunters" once we finally find a permanent home? Something tells me, the show won't appeal to me anymore. Oh well, then it's onto the home improvement shows, right?