Op-Ed From real estate porn to love at first sight

One year ago my husband and I decided to sell our home of 15 years. We loved it, our Big House. We had seen our youngest son through high school there, and had recently completed a major renovation. But we were facing a nasty jump in our mortgage payments, and with the kids gone, the two of us could do with less space. Besides, we’d lucked into a moment when ours was one of the most in-demand ZIP Codes in Los Angeles. We couldn’t afford not to move.

Within a week of listing the house, we had multiple bidders. We made a good deal; the new owners gave us 90 days to find a new home. Our real estate agents offered me direct online access to the Multiple Listing Service. Then, reading me correctly as both zealous and difficult to please, they backed away.

I set up an MLS profile with our search criteria: desired square footage, price range, number of bedrooms and bathrooms. I could have sat back and waited for the matches to sift into my inbox. Instead I downloaded apps for Zillow, Redfin, Trulia and Realtor.com — and checked them all hourly.

My husband soon decided I was addicted to real estate porn. I think online dating is a better analogy. “It’s like falling in love,” friends agreed when I told them about my house-hunting passion. “You’ll know it when you feel it.” The MLS was my EHarmony.

Every Tuesday and Sunday I dragged my husband through open houses. While I tried to picture our life unfolding in each new space, he sought out pictures of the people who were leaving. Suffice it to say, the man I married was not romantic about real estate. Having been raised in a Bronx apartment, he considered the whole notion of homeownership to be suspect — aren’t we all just renters, in the grand scheme of things? What mattered most to him was finding a space where he felt like he belonged, which he gauged by his ability to identify with the current “tenants” — their ages, occupations, preferred sports and taste in family portraits and decor.

I grew up in a suburban house designed and built by my parents. More to the point, on the many occasions when my mother was unhappy with her life, she’d fantasize about moving. House hunting replaced therapy in our family, the possibility of a new home masking the deeper longing for a new beginning. We never did move, and I eventually understood that house hunting was no substitute for therapy. Still, I’d been trained to equate the right house with the right life.

But what if the “right” life was behind us? My husband and I had spent our first 20 years together in a ZIP Code, unlike the one we were about to leave, where neighbors looked you in the eye and said hello. When the family next door built an addition, I helped them nail up sheet rock. I walked my sons to the local charter school and bumped into fellow parents at the grocery store.

We’d moved from that life, in part, to escape the police choppers that in those days circled incessantly overhead. But the real reason was that my husband had bought the First House during a previous relationship, and I never truly felt I belonged there.

Many of our friends remained in the area, however, and crime had dropped. Maybe, if we found the right New House, we could go home again. I reset my search criteria to target our old neighborhood.

Swipe, swipe, swipe. Curb appeal was proving to be as deceptive as Tinder body shots. Our time in the Big House ran out.

We leased a small Dutch Colonial not far from the First House. And it was fun. Walking distance to the village. Neighbors introduced themselves. Our landlord fixed the leaks and paid the taxes. We really were renters now, which satisfied my husband.

But I couldn’t quit. Sure, we had liquidity, but we were living in limbo. I kept checking the MLS listings with the avidity of a junkie, snuck around to open houses, and begged random agents for their “pocket listings.” I looked up stats on properties that weren’t even on the market.

After each spate of disappointing searches, I’d fantasize about the house we were renting like Henry Higgins assessing Eliza Doolittle. Though the owner had no desire to sell, I imagined how I’d personalize the wallpaper, lighting, kitchen and yard — if only the Rented House were mine. Unfortunately, my bum ankle made the climb upstairs unfixable. And anyway, the house’s purchase value would have far exceeded our budget.

We had three months left on our lease when I panicked. The matchmaking algorithms were not delivering, and my plan to turn back the clock seemed doomed. The only houses for sale in our old neighborhood were either out of our league or complete duds. So in a last-resort mania, I began to binge-search every single prospect from Koreatown to the beach. Using Zillow’s area maps, I crawled, virtually, thumbnail by thumbnail, map by map across some 50 ZIP Codes.

About three hours into this exercise, in a part of town we hadn’t even considered, a picture appeared of a single-story modern Craftsman infused with Zen sensibility. The floor plan flowed seamlessly. The garden resembled an open-air living room. Just barely, the asking price fit our budget.

I fell hard. Astonishingly, so did my mate. (It helped that the owners had moved already, allowing the Right House to seem like virgin territory.) After our second walk-through, and after meeting the cellist next door and discovering the cafes nearby, my husband confessed that he hadn’t actually wanted to reprise our old life. He loved the idea of a new beginning, a new adventure, even at our age, just the two of us.

He had only one doubt. If we took the plunge, would I quit searching for a better match?

I took his hand. I promised. And as soon as we closed escrow I deleted every one of my real estate apps.

[Source:-Los angeles times]