The International Writers Magazine: Hearing is Believing
Adventures in Real Estate Fiction
So I was at the Society of Children’s Writers social the other day where I met several American writers in an extremely noisy Wetherspoons in London.
Among them the diminutive Kimberly Pauley (It Sucks to Be Me) and Jules and Catherine (both aspiring writers) all earnestly discussing Real Estate fiction and I was very concerned as I hadn’t heard a thing about this genre of fiction. I sort of imagined teens in Century 21 blazers or Foxton’s Mini’s dashing about flogging luxury one bed apartments to each other. Where would they get the mortgages? They must have very rich parents … what’s the plot? Is it anything like Pretty Little Liars… when one of the girls looks at me with a withering glare - ‘It’s R e a l i s t i c Fiction’ she said tersely, ‘we want to write real stuff’. God damnit, all those years of listening to Robert Plant at full volume has destroyed my hearing. Nevertheless, a quieter venue might help…
So on the subject of real estate – I’m dangerously close to getting an offer (but then again not that close it seems). This is unusual you say, especially when I read that luxury art deco apartments on South Beach FLA are going for around $125,000 if they can ever sell them at all. Well I have news for you. Despite what you might be reading about economic slumps and doom and gloom, the South and anything in the London catchment area (which means Hampshire) is undergoing a sudden boom.
I was in Wimbledon village last week and my guess is that every single builder in London is working there right now ripping old buildings apart or building monster homes for nervous middle eastern oligachs and their children. Average time it takes to sell a house or flat there, three/four days. (An estate agent I met in Le Pain Quotidein assures me that he sold two places last week in an hour!)
So I returned home with renewed hope that my house would be getting interest any day now. After all it has been four whole weeks on the market and that’s a long time in a hot market. I went to get my Times in the morning (yes I still read it on paper) and noticed the new builds by the station had suddenly all sold. My real estate agent calls to tell me that he sold five properties on Tuesday alone and mine is the only property they have left to sell! The house around the corner to mine and identical in every way, except they squeezed a loft room into it, took all of two days to sell and it is 40 grand more than mine. Curses that I don’t have a darn loft (or the cash to build one). Anyway – seems I may be left out of the wedding invitations. Being the last house that hasn’t actually sold in the street has its advantages. People get anxious and think they ought to buy it, stick a loft in it and make a killing. Well here's hoping.
Seriously though, money is washing through the South and people are buying up everything – so don’t tell me the economy is busted. Someone has money. Perhaps it’s trickle down money fom the bonus pool? Who knows, I’m not complaining if they buy my house.
So why sell? Why not borrow more to install a loft and make that killing.
Being a total pessimist means that I think that come the summer, there will be so many properties on the market prices from people being made redundant, prices will fall. Also when you are made redundant you have to rethink your strategy in life and that epiphany took place on New Year’s Eve for me. Being mortgage free is probably the way to go, especially as interest rates rise (as they will). If you have to own a home, owning it outright so they can’t take it from you is a plus. One might work again, (I’m a pessimistic optimist) and if so, I’ll rent the darn thing out, but it will be mine and be a place to return to when the job runs out, as it no doubt will in this climate.
This is the real Real Estate fact. You don’t own a house. It owns you. You are never really free. Don’t own and you become a victim of a landlord. Own, you are hounded by mortgage companies or property taxes. Walden had a point.
I decided to research up North. In the UK there is a great North/South divide in real estate. Everything south is worth at least double (on average) than what it is in the North. York and Harrogate aside. Thus people in the South believe they are worth double a northerner and must therefore be living a better life. The trouble with this equation is that as long as you have a job in the north, or at least own a home, your standard of living is about double any southerner. Not for Northerners pebble beaches. They have golden sands to walk on. (The sea is a murky grey to be sure) They can overlook that on good days. They don’t commute in crowded trains and get to be held hostage by Bob Crow and his minions.
Sadly also have the highest death rates in hospitals, the highest mortality rates (a combination of a nutrition free diet and alcohol) but the fish in the fish and chips shops is at least two days fresher. I was trying to think of something more positive to say but then began to notice the endless potholes on the roads and the boarded up shops and although I found a fabulous Victorian house with a lovely garden, the area around it has gone to hell with borded up medical centres, lawyers offices and well... the kind of place where you might eventually need a shotgun. Not quite Detroit but headed that way. Spoke to the neighbour and he said he'd been burgled 8 times in the last year. I retreated. Lovely house though.
Ok, well at least they one can enjoy misery at a better price than in the south. I could be hiding out in Lincolnshire, the county that prides itself on never having bothered with motorways and divesting itself of most of the railways too, so that it resolutely sticks in some feudal timewarp. It wants little part of the 21st Century (or even 20th). Lots of people retire there then wonder for the rest of their lives exactly why they did that. Once out of the south, you can never go back friends warn you. It’s true, there is no denying it. But I had visions of owning a dog, walking on the golden sands until I saw the sign (No Dogs on the Beach). I had plans about arriving home for toasted crumpets and steaming mug of tea but they are now on hold.
Back South again, I'm thinking maybe an apartment might be safer. Instead of getting rid of the mortgage I'll borrow more. If it goes tits up I can rent it out to cover the debt- right?
All this will, of course, all end in tears. That's Real Estate Fiction
© Sam North Feb 25th 2011
Author of Mean Tide - a child, a ghost and a grisly murder