Over Easy: What a home is worth

  • Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

For the Valley News
Published: 9/6/2019 10:00:19 PM
Modified: 9/6/2019 10:00:06 PM

One of my consistent pleasures through the years has been to meander through the Valley News real estate section on Saturday. It’s been a way to follow the market and also dream of what might have been: There I am, atop a tractor, like a country squire on my 25 delightful acres in Thetford. Or hermiting like Henry David Thoreau in a cute and cozy cabin in Canaan, where I can think deep thoughts about truth, beauty and the Red Sox.

After three-plus decades in the Upper Valley, I have put aside dreams of country life and recognized that our little West Lebanon bungalow suits us perfectly fine. We have friendly neighbors with whom we regularly communicate face to face, not via text or through lawyers. For many years I commuted two miles to work. Two miles! A traffic jam was when someone held me up for 30 seconds taking a left into Dunkin’ Donuts.

Of late I have been taking notice of the proliferation of million-dollar homes in the Saturday ads. There are usually a couple each week, and sometimes four or five. They look fabulous, but I reveal my pedestrian outlook when I think, That’s a lot of house to clean!

On a real estate website this week I spied these asking prices: $1.75 million in Sharon, $2.5 million in Lebanon, $2.95 million in Barnard, $4.9 million in Hanover, a cool $5.5 million in Woodstock. Allow me to make this observation: Yowza!

Years ago you had to buy the Sunday New York Times to glimpse such offerings. I assumed the ads were aimed at titans of industry or other holders of old money.

Now million-dollar homes are in our own backyards. Not my particular backyard, next to the rusty metal shed that holds our snow tires and an impressive backup supply of lawn chairs. I could sell my home for a million bucks only if the sale included $750,000 in gold bullion. For fun, I would bury it in the yard, perhaps near the tires — which I would toss in for free.

Curiously, I’ve seen several Upper Valley homes recently listed for $995,000. I can’t help but think, C'mon, throw in a nearly-rust-free 2008 Toyota Corolla with 129,000 miles in that six-bay garage and make it a million. But I suppose people who live in million-dollar homes drive Camrys at a minimum. I bet they spring for heated seats, too. Chilly cheeks are so proletarian.

The wave of million-dollar homes hit other markets long before it reached here. San Francisco is rotten with them; reportedly four in five homes in the City by the Bay are worth that much. There are million-dollar mobile homes in Malibu, Calif. — location, location, location.

According to a USA Today story that ran late last year, “The number of U.S. homes valued at $1 million or more increased by 400,702 this year, the largest annual rise since the housing price recovery began in 2012.”

The real estate research firm Trulia has reported that the share of homes valued at more than $1 million has increased four-fold since 2002. The share of homes valued at $5 million or more has increased five-fold.

You may have heard something about income inequality in America. Here’s a summary: It’s growing.

Trulia further reported that the homes at the top of the heap increasingly have more bathrooms than bedrooms. (Insert your own wisecrack about trickle-down economics here.)

But seriously, I think back to the lower-middle-class home where I grew up among five children, two adults and one bathroom and the times we kids yelled “Hurry up, HURRY UP!” to siblings in desperation and I remember the painful and cruel slow passage of time and the agony of almost bursting. I see the point of American bathroom expansionism. There was a time when I would have paid dearly for one more.

That I cannot now join the million-dollar club is perhaps my own fault, owing to all those years when I concentrated on short-term things — food, fuel, taxes, Christmas presents for my children — rather than capital accumulation. But we have managed to add a second bathroom to our home, so there are three bedrooms and two full baths at the Mackie compound in West Lebanon. It is not palatial, really, but I think back to the desperate hours of my youth and I appreciate the improvement in the odds.

Our house has not astronomically increased in value, but it has increased in comfort and memories. We raised our children here, a thought that turns sunny and golden on weeks like this one, when we see school buses back on their rounds, and the posting of first-day-of-school photos of young ones with jack-o-lantern smiles. So many of our stories begin and end with this place, this home.

How do you set a value on that?

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.

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