With a combined income of about $65,000, Doug and Laurita Doan went looking for a house. They wanted to live in Washington. "No suburban 'villes' for me," said Doug. But therein was the rub.
Up on Capitol Hill you can spend $100,000 for one bedroom with a toilet and if you go over to Dupont Circle, you can get the deluxe studio basement version.
The Doans didn't even look in Georgetown.
So what did that leave them? For starters, it left the tax man's hand in their pocket. In an age of baby boomers who don't have babies, there is always Uncle Sam to support.
Which made the Shaw neighborhood look real good.
The Shaw neighborhood is supposed to be one of the toughest this side of the Anacostia River, but when the Doans viewed a house for sale near Ninth and P streets NW, they forgot about the winos and hookers.
Twelve rooms with high ceilings, two fireplaces (with four more and a dumbwaiter hidden in the walls), cedar floors and a brick patio have been known to glaze the eyes.
Say you can have it for $115,000, and people have been known to cry, "I want it," as Laurita did.
Factor in mortgage interest rates that have been declining since 1982, and the real estate agent is likely to reply, "You got it."
Just give the agent $5,000 in "promise money," another $10,000 for the down payment and throw in $7,000 for the closing cost . . . and make sure to set aside a few hundred for the movers.
Now the Doans have had their house since October, moved in on Halloween and spent the night giving dimes and pennies to neighborhood trick or treaters, who will surely return this year.
The crew of movers who helped relocate the Doans from their apartment in downtown Washington tried to charge them $5 a step down eight flights of stairs.
Thirty days later, a gas bill arrived for $1,100 for the new house.
The Doans began to invite friends to bask in the comfort of 100-year-old wooden walls and floors and otherwise eat their hearts out.
But friends, being friends, wanted to know if the Doans had ever been robbed. "How can you leave your car outdoors?" one asked. "Are you getting a dog or a gun?" asked another. "How about a Doberman that can shoot?"
"If we had known all of what was involved, we probably wouldn't have bought it," said Doug, 29, an Army officer on assignment with the National Security Council.
"When you buy a house, it's like testing the water with both feet. I feel like I've been playing 'Monopoly.' "
"It's more like 'Macbeth,' " said Laurita, 28, a Washington writer and novelist. "Once you start down the path, you get so steeped in blood that you can't go back."
But now that they are almost settled in, they don't want to go back.
Regardless of what some of their friends think, Shaw is home -- and it isn't that bad.
Somebody's got to start picking up the trash in the neighborhood and start using the new "Cleancans" that the city government distributed a few weeks ago.
Somebody's got to start patronizing the businesses invested in the neighborhood, and as more people like the Doans move into Shaw, the chances of these things happening increase.
"Our goal is to help clean up the schools and have kids," said Doug.
"I get violent about trash," said Laurita. "When I see people throw candy wrappers next to a trash can, that means war."
"Don't paint us as 'yuppies in the ghetto,' " says Doug. "This is our home and, philosophically, we feel a commitment to our neighborhood."
But first things first. After all, they've got 12 rooms and a basement to fill.
Expanding their creative horizons through window shopping and household magazine scanning is only half the fun. (Tax breaks are the other half.)
As the Doan case shows, you get a lot more than a mortgage when you buy a house.