Monday, March 30, 2009

Real Estate advice

Almost two decades ago, my new husband and I took our entire nest egg, gifted us at our wedding, and bought 14 acres with two buildings: an overgrown garage with rotting walls and a stained mattress inside, and a hideous 1950’s concrete block “cabin” done up in harvest gold and avocado shag that was slowly mildewing, out in a drained tamarack swamp two hours from the city where we worked as freelance artists. We were one of those high risk mortgages—no visible means of support. We had no first home in the city where we worked, and this was a real fixer upper but we were young and we had a vision. Strike that we were young and we were stupid. We didn’t know wells and propane tanks. But there was a stand of white pines where the wind whistled through the trees and a big meadow perfect for bonfires. There was a field of periwinkle. There was a view from the back that went on for miles. There were cows next door.

We have never ended up fixing up that shack in the woods. Underemployment, big medical bills, kids and a steady stream of muddy dogs kept putting it off, and in the course of almost two decades, our second home has become our real home. With real estate values in a tailspin, this is either the best time ever or worst time in history to buy a little dacha, a Ferienhaus, or as my grandma would say, a coliba of your own. For us, buying our little place in the woods was one of the best decisions we ever made, but NOT because it was a good investment. We may never know if it was or not because we are not likely to unload it in my lifetime. I would hock my left kidney before I would ever give up the land where all my kids learned to walk and catch snakes, where we’ve eaten Thanksgiving dinner with a revolving crew of artists, friends and family for 18 years, and where every one of our long string of pets is buried.

Those marshy acres are our true home. We have seen shooting stars and a moon so bright it casts your shadow, we’ve lost a necklace of baby teeth, read books, shot off explosives for 4th of July and New Years, and gone to sleep by the light from a jarful of fireflies. It’s become the place I go when I meditate. It’s the place we always go back to. We have grown up, grown close and are growing older on those acres, and if I’d tucked the money into a mutual fund, I surely would have tapped it by now to pay bills. And if I’d put it in a 401k—hah! It would be gone.

Forced to jam our loud family and all the animals into a tiny house with one iffy bathroom and no tv reception, we must get along in a way we aren’t required to in a house with a phone and internet hookups and reliable hot water.

Nature and weather has a more profound effect here, regularly knocking out power. We are constantly reclaiming the place from mice and infestations of biting ladybugs and stink bugs. But we spend major holidays there and as the memories telescope out, the place summarizes our lives.

So buy a second home, but not as a financial investment. Buy it as a spiritual down payment on the memories that make up your memoir.