Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Affording the American Housing Dream

I am a woman of competing dreams.  This morning, I'm thinking of home, and my deep desires that coexist but can't all come true.

In my earliest days as a reader, I devoured Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I wanted land to call my own.  I dreamed of farms and prairies that would yield abundant increase.  Sure, the books warned of long winters and locusts and all the thousand things that could upend those dreams.  Later I learned how the homesteading acts destroyed both native groups and settlers alike--it was very rare for either group to survive the Homestead Acts.  Settlers starved or went back east defeated, and native groups died from a variety of causes.  But those yearnings for land are planted deep, and some part of me still wants acreage.

At the same time I read those Little House books, I watched the classic MGM shows, like the first Bob Newhart series that revolved around city life in a glamorous apartment.  The later Bob Newhart show also fueled dreams of a charming country inn, but earlier, it was that apartment with the twinkling city lights beyond.  I imagine that Sex and the City fueled similar dreams in a later generation.

During my teenage years, my dad had Air Force Reserve duty, two weeks in Washington DC in the summer, so we would all go with him and stay at The Guest Quarters hotel, a highrise in Alexandria, where the family rented an apartment.  We would take the Metro into the city to go to Smithsonian museums.  We would eat exotic breads, breads that later generations would call artisanal.  When I thought of grown up life, I thought I would live in such a place, having a career in the arts, returning to a beautiful apartment where I would dine on items that weren't available in the hinterlands.

As I've gotten older, I've wanted a house that's paid off, whether it be on a small plot of land or on acreage.  I bought the American dream, but we've found it increasingly hard to afford in South Florida.  We could pay off our current mortgage, but we'd still need to set aside 2/3 of that mortgage payment amount each month to pay for insurance and taxes.

Let me list a specific amount, just so I remember it in the future.  We pay for 3 types of insurance for our home:  flood, wind, and homeowners.  The flood insurance alone is $3550 this year--yes, 4 digits.  When I lived in South Carolina, our complete insurance was $300 a year, and it would replace everything if the home blew away or burned down.

These costs, taxes and insurance, will not be going down in the coming decades.  But right now, we have a blisteringly hot housing market.  Despite these costs, people want to move to South Florida and buy our houses.

I have been thinking of these housing dreams as my spouse and I have been thinking about the next few years and making plans.  When we first bought this house in 2013, we had an eye towards old age.  We thought we might could age in place here--it had few stairs, a walk-in shower in one bathroom, and we've made improvements with an eye to accessibility, so the house is wheelchair friendly with door handles instead of knobs.  

But now, we're in a time of transition before we expected to be.  Part of it is the hot housing market.  Part of it is the shift in employment outlooks in academia.  When I got my PhD in English in 1992, I thought that the world would always need English teachers, at least in a part-time way.  Now I'm no longer sure that will be true in the coming decades.  So I'm on a path to seminary, which might mean that we stay in South Florida after I'm done or maybe not.

Now is the time to sell, but we haven't wanted to sell and not have a place to live. Yesterday, we found a place to rent.  August 1, we will have a lease a mile away from our current house, a lease for a condo in one of the newer high rises on the Arts Park circle in downtown Hollywood.  The building was one of the few buildings in Hollywood that didn't lose power during Hurricane Irma in 2017; it's solidly constructed.  And the lease includes all utilities, even electric.  It's far less than our mortgage, and once we sell the house, we won't have the costs of pool chemicals, repairs, our yard guy, and all of those expenses.  There will be other types of aggravations to be sure, but we'll be reducing our costs significantly.

It's another chapter in our American Housing Dream.  Stay tuned! 

1 comment:

Mary Beth said...

OH MY that insurance! I'm excited for your new chapter!!!