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Over Easy: Surreal estate in a hot housing market

  • Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

For the Valley News
Published: 4/23/2021 10:29:11 PM
Modified: 4/23/2021 10:29:08 PM

I am sitting here at my keyboard contemplating the possibility that the roof over my head may well have increased in value overnight. The real estate boom never sleeps.

Homes for sale in our West Lebanon neighborhood are being snapped up in days — or hours. A Realtor.com analyst says Manchester, N.H., is the hottest market in the U.S. Concord is sizzling too.

Close to home, online algorithms I don’t entirely trust tell me my bungalow is worth more than I would have imagined a few years ago. Those creaks we hear in the night aren’t the house settling, but our net worth going up.

Yippee?

We’ve been watching the real estate market with hope, jitters and doubts for nearly 50 years. As members of the small potatoes investment class, we’ve relied on the “rising tide lifts all boats’’ principle to carry us. But a rising tide can also flood all basements.

We bought our first house for around $20,000 — imagine! — in the mid 1970s. It was an overly conservative purchase, too small, on a tiny lot. A hot market bailed us out. We sold it a year later and our $2,000 down payment turned into a $10,000 profit. Not bad, but small potatoes, even adjusted for inflation.

Our grown children curse the good fortune of the baby boomers when we tell them how easy it was. The mortgage on our second home in the 1970s was less than $350 a month, and the payment included property taxes and title insurance.

Those wheeling and dealings happened in Rhode Island, but in the early 1980s we settled down in West Lebanon — really settled down. I am still here, in the same house on the same dead end street — not like a rusty Ford Fairlane sinking into the ground but I like the metaphor.

Actually, any home profits will have been earned. We paid around $40,000 for our bungalow in 1984, and over the years added a living room in front and a bedroom in back. We planted trees and bushes that bring me satisfaction and fall and spring chores. We replaced the roof and redid the wiring and plumbing. I have grudgingly mowed the lawn over and over, and it rewards my sweat with turf that might be the product of seeds with names like Random Green Matter, Insipid Fescue, or Crabgrass and Friends.

I have painted the exterior twice and it’s still not satisfied. I painted the interior rooms again and again, at the urging of my wife, Dede, who apparently believes in human and household progress.

Meanwhile, the neighborhood has changed, slowly but surely. More of our neighbors have some connection to Dartmouth Inc., the college and hospital, which means it’s uncouth to keep an unregistered car in the driveway, as I did a couple of times in the distant past. I must have believed that an old Volvo or VW Beetle would heal if left to rest for a year or two. Eventually the junkman was summoned, and I felt an emptiness when I received $100 or nothing for the hopes and dreams that had idled away.

One of the pleasures of our neighborhood is seeing a new crop of babies, toddlers and young kids romping about. We observe the hard work of young parents managing tantrums and then the golden hours when busy children dig, twirl, ride, laugh and run —away from their mothers and fathers and then back into their arms.

It makes us sentimental. We think about how nice it would be when it’s time — we are getting hints we are not immortal — to sell to a young family. Our place would be perfect. You can walk to the school and two playgrounds. The street is safe for wobbly beginner bike rides. The neighbors are cordial. Our own children found best friends just down the street, or around the corner.

We’d hope someone else could have all that, happy hours turning into happy years, maybe even decades. Would we give a do-gooder discount? Or should we just sell to the highest bidder? After all, when it comes to dough, we are not rolling in it. And someday it all will go to our kids — or the hospitals and nursing homes.

For now, we ignore the siren call of the algorithms. Even amidst imperfections, we have found a place sufficient for contentment.

That’s the thing about owning a house for a long time. We mostly invested not money but years. The returns? I guess we’ll know when the final accounting is made.

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




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