Monday, June 24, 2013

House Lust

Almost every day, I walk past a bench in the garage of my apartment building. It's a wrought iron bench, with the name of the apartment building stenciled on it in enormous spray painted letters. It's in the garage, right by the elevator, at a place where there's a bend in the driveway. One glance at this bench will tell you that it's been hit by a car - at least once. The bench isn't much good for sitting, but that's okay. I've never seen anyone sit there. Several times a week, though, residents put things out they no longer have a use for. I don't often find things on the Free Bench that are particularly interesting, but every once in a while, I snatch up a gem. This time, it was this book:

Those of you who know me in real life know that buying a house is definitely on my list of life goals. I'm living in an apartment where I'm really quite happy - nice neighborhood, good management company, quiet neighbors. But, I think I'd be happier in a different neighborhood - closer to where I work - and I'm saving up to make it possible to get a mortgage. So, when I spotted the title on this one, I was definitely intrigued. I looked at the copyright and noted that it was in 2008. I almost left the book behind once I noticed that, because I think our world was really different then, especially when it comes to residential real estate. But, then I reminded myself that beggars can't be choosers. What did I have to lose by taking it upstairs and giving it a try? If I hated it, I could always bring it back to the free bench.

I didn't hate it at all! I thought that this book was going to be primarily aimed at people who are hoping to buy their first home. However, I think the audience is much broader than that. Sure, people who are looking to buy a new home would be entertained, but so would anyone thinking about improving a home, buying a second home or timeshare, or becoming a real estate investor or agent. The style of this book actually reminds me a little of Michael Lewis (who wrote The Big Short and Moneyball), who travels and interviews interesting people to weave together a collection of anecdotes to make a bigger point. That point, of course, is that there are lots and lots of people in our country who have "house lust." That would include even people who browse the real estate listings for fun. (Wait - some people DON'T do that?) This book was published after the trouble in the housing boom had become apparent, so the author does consider the possibility that "owning real estate" is going to look different in the future than it did in the past. This book certainly gave me some things to think about as I consider the possibility of buying a place of my own. It's not a "how to buy a house" guide, but instead presented examples of things that went right and others that went wrong. I know I'm making the right choice to hold of buying for now... and I'll probably want to read this book again before changing my mind!

I so enjoyed reading this book that, before I was even done with it, I was thinking of writing this post for you. Then, I thought it might be too much to try to write a post whose point was so ambivalent. And then I watched this!

I didn't just watch the trailer, I watched the whole movie: The Queen of Versailles. This movie is basically a documentary illustrating the themes of the book House Lust. I watched it on Netflix streaming and I would highly recommend it. David Siegal owns a company called Westgate Resorts, which made him very wealthy through sales of timeshares. He and his wife (#3, I think), Jackie, had begun construction on their dream home shortly before the economic difficulties in 2008 set in. This "dream home" was a 90,000 square foot residence in Miami that was explicitly modeled on Versailles. This movie tells the story of how they became so wealthy and how that wealth was jeopardized by the financial crisis. Hint: it's all about real estate. The movie was super interesting and I'd definitely encourage you to watch it, if only to see how the very wealthy live, or to spy on what may be the largest private residence in America, or to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the time share industry. If you have House Lust - which I do, and I bet you do too - then you should watch it!

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