Open house, L.A. (Photo by C-M.)
In April, Celso and I drove cross-country, from Los Angeles to New York. We did the southern route, using mostly back roads: through the Southwest, into Louisiana and the Florida panhandle, before turning north and hitting the Blue Ridge Parkway into Pennsylvania. We shacked up with friends or stayed at the Motel 6. Along the way, we hung out with reality TV producers, small-town cops, artists, oil men and retired military. The whole trip took three and a half weeks.
Besides the economy, one of the favorite subjects of conversation — regardless of who we were with — was real estate. In each community, whether it was middle-of-nowhere Arizona or metro Atlanta, we’d hear about which homes were selling, and more likely, which ones weren’t. We got the lowdown on floreclosures, on the neighbors who had gotten in over their heads, on districts that were emptying out and others that were filling up. On the Gulf Coast, we talked about what Ivan and Katrina and Rita and those other first-name basis storms had done to the market. (This was pre-BP spill.) In Alabama, we stayed with friends who had been foreclosed.
In so many ways, this obsession of middle class American life imbued much of our trip. In L.A., we visited open houses, in an old African-American enclave from the ’60s that is being transformed by Hollywood types. We went on dozens of personal home tours, respectfully attending to discussions about wall paint and roofing. And in New Mexico, we hiked around a gated subdivision that channeled a rugged, mountain aesthetic. The area was wooded, the houses nestled deep into the forest and the roads were winding. But the rustic look was engineered. The place was governed by a strident homeowners association that, among other things, forbade the installation of above-ground propane tanks for cosmetic reasons. Barbecues as big as a storage shed, however, were a-okay.
Throughout the country, whether in blue states or in red, in burned-out refinery towns or genteel beach communities, the one subject that seemed to bring everyone together was property — it’s acquisition, it’s maintenance and it’s display.
Politics may tear us apart, but real estate brings us together.