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 Trulia.com 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?

10 comments:

April said...

Love it. This is foreign to me, though. I think I have next-to-no nesting instinct. The kitchen is where I would be most likely put time and effort into updates, but even that takes me ages to get around to even wanting, much less executing. I used my old hand-mixer for YEARS after my aunt bought me a KitchenAid stand mixer. Once I started using the stand mixer (only after my hand-mixer went caput) I wondered where it had been all my life, but I wasn't exactly pining for it before that. I think this may be weird of me. Very good post. :-)

Katherine said...

If we had cable -I'm sure I would be doing exactly what you do at 10 pm every night. As it is - I just spend (approximately) 3.25 hours a day looking for houses on Redfin. :) We've been married 14 years this summer and have always rented (and we're solidly into year 2 of our house search). I think our fascination with things like that is definitely anticipatory. You watch wedding shows until after you're married - then you watch baby stories until you actually have kids - you watch house hunting shows until you actually get a house, then yes - on to the home improvement shows. At least that's my plan once we have a house. :)

Someday they'll have to come out with either "nursing homes hunters" or "Retirement Communities International" so we have something interesting to watch on TV. :)

Elizabeth said...

April, you are a much purer soul than I am. I would have been all over that Kitchen Aid from the get go.

Katherine, I think we are "kindred spirits" as Anne of Green Gables would say. It is all about the anticipation. I have been reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and something I read last night reminded me of your comment:

"Because money permits a constant stream of luxuries and indulgences, it can take away their savor, and by permitting instant gratification, money shortcuts the happiness of anticipation. Scrimping, saving, imagining, planning, hoping--these stages enlarge the happiness we feel."

Maybe watching House Hunters while dreaming about our future house is as good as it gets. Maybe it is better than the reality of actually having a home. No wonder I like this show so much.

Thanks so much for the thoughtful comments. I love 'em!

Elizabeth

gwen said...

Oof, I hear you. I'd settle for just knowing what state we're going to next...

I sometimes think that the home-ownership gene skipped me, because I see all the unpredictable (expensive) repairs springing up and feel glad that we're renters and will be for the foreseeable future. But then I think about how it would feel to choose things about houses that seem immutable, like countertops or floors or, like, layouts... and that does sound kind of nice. T

hat Meghan Daum book has been on my to-read list forever, and I think you've just moved it up to spot #1.

Things That Inspire said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. My husband and I both moved quite a bit growing up (I moved 8 times before High School, he moved 7 times). However, since we moved to Atlanta after my husband graduated business school in 97, we have lived in one place, one house. We purchased this house before we had kids, with the thought that it was our 3-5 year house. And now, 14 years, 3 kids and a dog later, we are still here!

For a long time, I still had that desire to change my environment by changing my house - perhaps a reflection of the many moves in my life. My husband's inclinations took him in the opposite direction - he wanted to put down roots somewhere, and those roots grew deeper and deeper as the years went by. We have been pretty entrenched in the house we bought in 97.

However, that didn't stop me from looking at other houses, especially as we began to outgrow our current house. The search intensified 5 years ago. Houses and architecture are a passion for me, so nothing was ever quite right - I was not looking for perfection, but knowing my husband's hatred of moving, I knew that I only had one move in him, and the move needed to be right.

So I was patient. There were a few houses that tempted me, but weren't the one. Finally, two years ago, my husband suggested that we build a house. Within 2 months I found the ideal lot, and now almost 2 years later we are within a few months of completion of the house build.

Will living in this house make me an intrinsically happier person? No. I have seen many women mislead by the idea that material possessions are what make you happy, and as a person of faith I know this is not true. However, I do think the house will make the quality of my life better; it will cut hours of driving a week from my routine, the layout is much better for a house with 3 girls (one of which has already hit the teenage years), and my husband can work from home. I actually somewhat fear that moving will be, paradoxically, a bit sad - because I have so enjoyed the experience of dreaming about the house, designing the house, and building it - what will I do when the house is complete?

Your words will certainly stay with me - I will enjoy "the security and peace of mind that come with having a house you know you can stay in forever if you want to". I like that thought, especially since we plan on staying in this house for at least 40 years.

- Holly (a Rice friend of your sister)

PS - I have heard that Bill Bryson's book At Home is a fascinating perspective on houses. It is next on my reading list!

Brandon said...

Thank you for your thoughtful, great comments, Gwen and Holly. I love hearing about others' thoughts on houses. I read this passage recently and just loved it. It's from Virginia Woolf's husband Leondard's autobiography, Downhill All the Way.

"The house determines the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute quality, colour, atmosphere, pace of one’s life...It is the framework of what one does, of what one can do, and one’s relations with people...The Leonard and Virginia who lived in Hogarth House, Richmond, from 1915 to 1924 were not the same people who lived in 52 Tavistock Square from 1924 to 1939; the Leonard and Virginia who lived in Asham House from 1912 to 1919 were not the same people who lived in Monks House from 1919 to 1941. In each case the most powerful moulder of them and of their lives was the house in which they lived.”

Elizabeth said...

Thank you for your thoughtful, great comments, Gwen and Holly. I love hearing about others' thoughts on houses. I read this passage recently and just loved it. It's from Virginia Woolf's husband Leondard's autobiography, Downhill All the Way.

"The house determines the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute quality, colour, atmosphere, pace of one’s life...It is the framework of what one does, of what one can do, and one’s relations with people...The Leonard and Virginia who lived in Hogarth House, Richmond, from 1915 to 1924 were not the same people who lived in 52 Tavistock Square from 1924 to 1939; the Leonard and Virginia who lived in Asham House from 1912 to 1919 were not the same people who lived in Monks House from 1919 to 1941. In each case the most powerful moulder of them and of their lives was the house in which they lived.”

kristen g. said...

Love this post and love these comments!
If there is a NOVA club for obsessed with House-hunters, count me in.
I moved every 3 years growing up, and in my almost 9 years of marriage we've lived in 7 different homes. My "moving itch" kicks in around the 6 month mark now, but I find myself wanting to buy a home and call it our own... Maybe settle down? What does that even mean? We already have 2 kids and a minivan. :) We're in the same boat though, moving again is probably in the future so my home search has expanded nation-wide. Good luck to you guys and maybe B will start watching House Hunters with you again!

Robin said...

Hey, Elizabeth! So fun to read this post and to commiserate. Here we are in our first home...have been here almost 5 years now...and guess what? I'm still addicted to HGTV. Truth be told, I never watched it before we owned a home! There's just something really fun about thinking about the next great place you will live. But just so you know, I've always thought you did a terrific job of making your "place" a home...whether it was on Mass Ave. or in Reston or wherever!

Hugs,
Robin

Nicole said...

My husband and I are addicted to House Hunters too. We move every 2-3 years because we're military, so I feel your pain. So, we generally watch the shows creating a mental wishlist for when we too settle down somewhere. Do you ever wonder how they can afford the second vacation home that is $500,000? That always stumps me.....I need their job. ;-) Great post!