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Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House

Cover of Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House

Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House

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From the acclaimed author and columnist: a laugh-out-loud journey into the world of real estate--the true story of one woman's "imperfect life lived among imperfect houses" and her quest for the four perfect walls to call home.

After an itinerant suburban childhood and countless moves as a grown-up--from New York City to Lincoln, Nebraska; from the Midwest to the West Coast and back--Meghan Daum was living in Los Angeles, single and in her mid-thirties, and devoting obscene amounts of time not to her writing career or her dating life but to the pursuit of property: scouring Craigslist, visiting open houses, fantasizing about finding the right place for the right price. Finally, near the height of the real estate bubble, she succumbed, depleting her life's savings to buy a 900-square-foot bungalow, with a garage that "bore a close resemblance to the ruins of Pompeii" and plumbing that "dated back to the Coolidge administration."

From her mother's decorating manias to her own "hidden room" dreams, Daum explores the perils and pleasures of believing that only a house can make you whole. With delicious wit and a keen eye for the absurd, she has given us a pitch-perfect, irresistible tale of playing a lifelong game of house.

From the Hardcover edition.

From the acclaimed author and columnist: a laugh-out-loud journey into the world of real estate--the true story of one woman's "imperfect life lived among imperfect houses" and her quest for the four perfect walls to call home.

After an itinerant suburban childhood and countless moves as a grown-up--from New York City to Lincoln, Nebraska; from the Midwest to the West Coast and back--Meghan Daum was living in Los Angeles, single and in her mid-thirties, and devoting obscene amounts of time not to her writing career or her dating life but to the pursuit of property: scouring Craigslist, visiting open houses, fantasizing about finding the right place for the right price. Finally, near the height of the real estate bubble, she succumbed, depleting her life's savings to buy a 900-square-foot bungalow, with a garage that "bore a close resemblance to the ruins of Pompeii" and plumbing that "dated back to the Coolidge administration."

From her mother's decorating manias to her own "hidden room" dreams, Daum explores the perils and pleasures of believing that only a house can make you whole. With delicious wit and a keen eye for the absurd, she has given us a pitch-perfect, irresistible tale of playing a lifelong game of house.

From the Hardcover edition.

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    PROLOGUEYesterday, a piece of my house came off in my hands. I don't mean that metaphorically. I banged the garbage can against an outside wall, and a piece of stucco about the size of a sheet of paper came ever so slightly loose. When I touched it, it fell gently into my palm. It was as if the house were giving me a lock of its hair, or perhaps coughing up phlegm. I was concerned, but it also happened that I was really busy that day. I just couldn't get into it with the stucco, not right then anyway. Also, I was coming up on my five-year anniversary of owning the house, and if there's anything I've learned in five years, it's this: if a piece of your house falls off and you don't know what to do with it, throwing it in the trash and forgetting about it is a perfectly viable option. And it so happened that the trash can was right there. Once upon a time I would have made a beeline to the yellow pages to look up "stucco replacement," but I've come a long way since then.

    So has the house. I bought it in 2004, and as I write this, it's supposedly worth $100,000 less than what I paid for it. By the time you read this, it will probably be worth even less than that. I try not to care because if I cared too much, or even thought about it too much, I'd go insane. I've spent enough time here being insane, believe me. I was insane when I bought the place, and I went even more insane afterward. Then again, the whole world was high a few years ago. The whole world, or at least the whole country, was buying real estate and melting it down to liquid form and then injecting it into veins. For my part, it's tempting to say I succumbed to peer pressure, but it was really much more complicated than that. There is no object of desire quite like a house. Few things in this world are capable of eliciting such urgent, even painful, yearning. Few sentiments are at once as honest and as absurd as the one that moves us to declare: "Life would be perfect if I lived in that house."

    I'm writing this book in homage to that sentiment, which is to say I'm telling the story of a very imperfect life lived among very imperfect houses.

    A large part of that story, of course, involves the house that is now falling apart in my hands, the gist of which is basically this: In 2004, I was among the nearly six million Americans who purchased real estate. Like roughly a quarter of them, I was a single woman (single men don't buy houses nearly as often), and I was making the leap for the first time. Again, this was a time when the real estate market had reached a frenzy that surpassed even the tech boom of the mid-1990s. It was scarcely possible back then to attend a party or even get your teeth cleaned without falling into a conversation about real estate: its significance, its desirability, its increasing aura of unattainability. My dental hygienist, for example, had robust opinions about reverse mortgages.

    Like many of my friends and neighbors, I attended so many open houses and made such a complete study of the Multiple Listing Service that the homes on the market seemed like human beings. We discussed the quirks and prices of these properties as though we were gossiping about our neighbors. At the risk of making a perverse and offensive comparison, I truly don't think I'd observed so much absorption with one topic since the attacks of September 11, 2001. As in those chilling days, we could literally speak of nothing else. People who had never put a thought toward home ownership were being seduced by record-low interest rates and "creative" financing plans. People who'd happily owned their homes for years were doubling and tripling their equity and suddenly realizing they could...

About the Author-
  • Meghan Daum is the author of the essay collection My Misspent Youth and the novel The Quality of Life Report, a New York Times Notable Book. Her column on political, cultural, and social affairs appears weekly in the Los Angeles Times and is distributed nationally through the McClatchy news service. She has contributed to public radio's Morning Edition, Marketplace, and This American Life, and has written for numerous publications, including The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, GQ, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and The New York Times Book Review. She lives in Los Angeles.

    www.meghandaum.com

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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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