Before my wife, Beth, left on the jet airplane to buy us a new house, we sat down and figured out what our Price Range was. We used the standard formula where you take your income and divide it by three, which gives you the amount you would spend annually on housing if you bought a house that is much cheaper than the one you will actually end up buying.
With that figure in mind, Beth took off for our new home-to-be, south Florida, and my son and I, who had never been in charge of each other for this long before, embarked on the following rigorous nutritional program:
Breakfast: Frozen waffles heated up.
Lunch: Hot dogs heated up.
Dinner: Choice of hot dogs or frozen waffles heated up.
Also in the refrigerator were many health-fanatic foods such as presliced carrot sticks placed there by Beth in hopes that we would eat something that did not have a label stating that it met the minimum federal standard for human armpit hair, but we rejected these because of the lengthy preparation time.
Some of you may be wondering why, considering that this is the most important financial transaction of our lives, I didn't go with Beth to buy the house. The answer is that I am a very dangerous person to have on your side in a sales situation. I develop great anxiety in the presence of salespeople, and the only way I can think of to make it go away is to buy whatever they're selling. This is not a major problem with, for example, pants, but it leads to trouble with cars and houses.
Here is how I bought our last car. I didn't dare go directly to the car dealership, so, for several consecutive days -- this is the truth -- I would park at a nearby Dairy Queen, buy a chocolate cone, then amble over to the car lot, disguised as a person just ambling around with a chocolate cone, and I would try to quickly read the sticker on the side of the car where they explain that the only part of the car included in the base sticker price is the actual sticker itself, and you have to pay extra if you want, for example, transparent windows. After a few minutes, a salesman would spot me and come striding out, smiling like an entire Rotary Club, and I would adopt the expression of a person who had just remembered an important appointment and amble off at speeds approaching 40 miles per hour. What I'm saying is, I shopped for this car the way a squirrel hunts for acorns in a dog-infested neighborhood.
When I finally went in to buy the car, I was desperate to get it over with as quickly as possible. Here is how I negotiated:
Salesperson (showing me a sheet of paper with figures on it): Okay, Dave. Here's a ludicrously inflated opening price that only a person with Rice-a-Roni for brains would settle for.
Me: You got a deal.
I am worse with houses. The last time we were trying to buy a house, I made Beth crazy because I was willing to make a formal offer on whatever structure we were standing in at the time:
Me: This is perfect! Isn't this perfect?
Beth: This is the real estate office.
Me: Well, how much are they asking?
So this is why Beth went to Miami without me. Moments after she arrived, she ascertained that there were no houses there in our price range. Our price range turned out to be what the average homeowner down there spends per month on roach control. (And we are not talking here about killing the roaches. We are talking about sedating them enough so they let you into your house.)
Fortunately, Beth found out about a new financial concept they have in home buying that is tailor-made for people like us, called: Going Outside Your Price Range. This is where she started looking, and before long she had stumbled onto an even newer financial concept called: Going Way Outside Your Price Range. This is where she eventually found a house, and I am very much looking forward to seeing it someday, assuming we get a mortgage.
They have developed a new wrinkle in mortgages since the last time we got one, back in the '70s. The way it worked then was, you borrowed money from the bank, and every month you paid back some money, and at the end of the year the bank sent you a computerized statement proving you still owed it all the money you borrowed in the first place. Well, they're still using that basic system, but now they also have this wrinkle called "points," which is an enormous sum of money that you give to the bank, right up front, for no apparent reason. It's as though the bank is the one trying to buy the house. You ask real estate people to explain it, and they just say: "Oh yes, the points! Be sure to bring an enormous sum of money to the settlement for those!" And of course we will. We consumers will do almost anything to get our mortgages. Banks know this, so they keep inventing new charges, to see how far they can go:
Mortgage officer: Okay, at your settlement you have to pay $400 for the preparation of the certificate of indemption.
Consumer: Yes, of course.
Mortgage officer: And there's $550 for the bond of righteous exactitude.
Mortgage officer: And $430 for pastries.
But it will all be worth it, to get our house. It sounds, from Beth's description, as though it has everything I look for in a house: (1) a basketball hoop and (2) a fiberglass backboard. I understand it also has rooms.