The Crazy Real Estate Game

My old house at 155 Clover Hill Court in my town just sold for $1,335,000. I saw it in the Homes section of my local Sunday newspaper.

My ex and I paid $286,000 for the house in 1987. We suffered big-time sticker shock, coming from the Midwest, where his house cost him $85,000 and mine cost me $29,000.  It was that time in California real estate that if you didn’t make an offer upon the first visit, you’d lose out to another buyer.

But not this house.  The bi-level at the end of a quiet court was a fixer upper. It had shag carpet, wallpaper in every room, and tacky wrought iron railings. Ironically those are back in style now but they weren’t in the 80’s.

The first day I pulled shiny orange floral wallpaper off the kitchen ceiling. It took months to get the rest of it off the bedroom and bathroom walls. My baby crawled through the orange shag carpet and found all kinds of things, which she promptly put into her mouth. I fished out screws, nails, and other yucky things. She never swallowed anything, using her mouth as a purse since she needed her hands to crawl.

We only lived there for four and half years. Our son was born during that time.  He was two when we moved. The back yard wasn’t big enough to throw a ball. My ex wanted a star player.

After totally remodeling the place, we sold the house, closing the deal days after the Oakland firestorm that burned 3500 homes and killed 25 people.  My oldest turned five that week, and we had to bring in the birthday decorations because of the high winds, not knowing what was happening on the other side of the Caldecott Tunnel.

I don’t remember how much we sold it for, but it was in the $350,000 range, not a big gain considering all the work we had done.

We bought a same-sized single-level house in a better neighborhood with a bigger yard. But now we were on a hill. All those tricycle rides through the old neighborhood on safe sidewalks were over. If my son dropped a ball when getting out of the car, it would roll downhill for a mile before it stopped.

That house cost $485,00. We had another kid while we lived there so needed another bedroom.  We sold it for $930,000, but again, we had remodeled every room, added on to the kitchen, and added the bedroom and bath. My ex wanted to do a second story while we lived there. I said, no way, Jose.

We bought a huge home next to two schools, a baseball diamond, and a football field — flat lot, flat driveway, two kids could walk to school. We paid over a million for it. We got divorced a decade later and sold it at a loss.  Why? Because it was a bad year for real estate and we had remodeled every room, and there were many rooms.

What’s the point of this post? Maybe that when my adult children look at how much everything costs and believe they will never be property owners, I have to remind them that someday they will inherit something from at least one of their parents.

The price of real estate in California is insane. The family joke is that they could move to the Midwest and buy a mansion. There is nothing wrong with the Midwest, but they are native Californians, through and through. Once you’ve had this weather year-round, it’s hard to give it up.

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