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Friday, January 4, 2002
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle
NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE know that SF Gate (www.sfgate.com), the online home of The Chronicle, also produces original material, and some of it is quite wonderful. Lately I have become addicted to "Surreal Estate" by Carol Lloyd, which is about the subject closest to the hearts of true Bay Area residents: housing.
Lloyd deals with housing as a sort of drug and the search for better housing as a sort of addiction. Her column for Wednesday, for instance, talks about the irrational need of renters to find a home to buy, even though the place they are living in is wonderful and the rent is affordable.
That's because real estate lives in a reason-free alternative universe. Our region has suffered a terrible economic downturn, and yet housing prices have stayed stable and even risen a little. People want houses because they believe that there will be no houses left.
It's a need, it's a craving. And the houses that people start looking at are available for a reason (odd smells, odd molds, under a freeway), which just increases the anxiety. So people go into massive debt in order to fill that craving. Hey, the down payment is no problem -- we can always sell a child.
I think Lloyd is very smart to deal with housing as a psychological phenomenon, rather than as a social or financial one. I remember the first time I did my taxes after buying a home and I realized what deducting the mortgage interest actually meant to my tax bill. Finally, I was an American!
Get property, understand the system. It used to be that only landowners could vote. Now landowners get tax write-offs. And when rents are as high as mortgage payments, why not pass through the gates of escrow and learn more than you ever wanted to know about drainage?
ONCE YOU BEGIN to see housing as a vice, other obvious analogies pop up. Pornography, for instance -- all those shelter magazines providing photographs of homes that you will never possess, impossibly beautiful homes worked over by stylists for days and days before the pictures are taken.
Beautiful, seductive, unattainable, really good for fantasizing: living- room centerfolds.
And there's all manner of human corruption in the exchange of real estate. No offer is ever really final, no deal is ever really done. Until your toothpaste is in the medicine cabinet, baby, assume nothing.
Under-the-table money never hurts, either. It's not bribery, really, it's a fee for special services -- like screwing that nice couple from Wisconsin who are even now flying back to Milwaukee to pack their belongings, sure that they have a house in the Bay Area.
Also, there's the search for a single room, just a dry floor from which a young person can launch a career in the fast-changing world of e-commerce, that is, graphic design, that is, stage lighting.
Lloyd has told me that trading sex for space is not unknown in the rental market. It's like under-the-table money for people who have no money. I would not be surprised to learn that murder has been committed over a 10-by-10 room above a tallow factory.
ERRATA: THERE WERE a few errors in the Xmas Quiz, alas. Close examination reveals that the Malaysian state of Sabah, not its next-door neighbor Brunei, is in fact due south of Beijing.
Whether "lento" is a faster or slower tempo than "adagio" is a matter of debate, and definitions have changed over time, but I accept that right now, most experts agree that lento is slower than adagio. Grr.
Finally, the status of Western Sahara is a vastly complicated matter, Morocco's control of same being the subject of much controversy between it and Mauritania. The United Nations is trying to work out a peace proposal to aid the Saharawi people, but things are not moving rapidly. This does not make my answer wrong, but I am always happy to add another regional conflict to our growing awareness of the world in a hand basket.
Oh yes, and there's Neva Chonin's Live! Rude! Girl! from time to time
Fast, cheap and out of firstname.lastname@example.org.
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