I suppose I should get down to the business of talking a little about my new book. It's called Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House
and it's a memoir about real estate addiction. Not that it's an "addiction memoir." There's no hiding bottles in frozen turkey carcasses (thank you, Mary Karr, for Lit
and that unforgettable image) or unanesthetized dental surgery (thank you, James Frey, for the now-celebrated fabulism
). But it does deal with my years of obsessive house hunting and my inability to peel myself away from open houses and internet real estate listings. The centerpiece of the book involves buying a house by myself in Los Angeles in 2004, just before the housing bubble inflated itself into a distended behemoth.
For years, I'd been fixated on moving from place to place (across cities and states and the country itself) and, eventually, on shopping for a "permanent" house. After I finally made my purchase I spent about a year totally consumed with repairing the house, with finding the perfect wall sconces on Ebay, and with various do-it-not-very-well-yourself improvements such as prying up bathroom tile in the middle of the night with a butter knife.
Despite my predilections for moving every time I decide I no longer like the color of my bathrooms walls, I managed to stay in this house for six years. Admittedly, there was much changing of paint colors (originally I'd painted the living room mint green and the bedroom a bright azure; later I changed the living room to a terra cotta color and the bedroom mint green) and a rather ridiculous attempt to make my kitchen cabinets look like barn wood. But nonetheless, I have, as of this writing, made it 2,145 days without calling a moving van.
That, however, is about to change. I am moving again. More than four years ago, I met a guy. Two years ago he moved into my house (no small thing) and about seven months ago we got married. The house is 890 square feet and has no garage and very little storage space. My husband, in addition to being a serious journalist, is a competitive cyclist and owns three bicycles and untold quantities of cycling and other gear. We also have an 85-pound sheepdog who's been my companion since he was seven weeks old and who's been accompanying me on my moves for 10 years. Our household was beginning to resemble an episode of Hoarders, so we decided to sell this place and look for something bigger.
We did not, however, intend for the sale of the house to coincide with the publication of my book about the house. Though a few people have suggested — kiddingly, but not really — that the house sale was an elaborate publicity stunt to benefit the book (or, my preferred theory: that the book was merely advertising for the house), the truth is that it's just awkward timing. I would have sold the house last fall but, as it happened, my mother was terminally ill and I spent most of the end of last year with her in New York. It would also have been my preference to wait to put the house on the market until at least a few months after the book was released, but there was the not inconsequential matter of the April 30 tax credit for new home buyers. Given that this house has "first-time buyer" written all over it (often in the form of walls that have been repainted numerous times because the rookie homeowner couldn't make up her mind), I needed to take full advantage of this nifty little government incentive. And I'm glad I did, since I got a bunch of offers and the house sold in four days. This was due in large part to my Realtors' "staging" techniques (hint: we put a flower arrangement in the shower) and some glamorous and highly deceptive photos. More on the emotional fallout of that here.
But the photos and the quick sale have been the easy part. The less easy part is that now I'm in the somewhat surreal position of going around the country and talking about a book whose subject — my house — is in a state of real time flux. Audiences ask me if the plumbing, as I described in the book, still "dates back to the Coolidge Administration," and I worry about my answer because I'm afraid of jeopardizing the sale.
Radio hosts ask what I'm looking for in a new house and end up fielding calls from listeners who suggest that I could buy their houses (one woman with an Italianate mansion in rural Iowa almost succeeded).
Meanwhile, we are closing escrow (I kid you not) tomorrow. And I am on a plane to Seattle, where I will read tonight at Elliott Bay Books and wait for the inevitable "What does your dream house look like?" question.
These days, it's any rental that will take three bicycles and an 85-pound sheepdog. And a landlord who hasn't read my book.