The first symptoms appeared a few weeks ago: Suddenly, nothing in my house was right.

The kitchen was old, the carpeting needed to be replaced, the landscaping was ugly, the family room was a disaster. The living room needed redecorating, the windows were old-fashioned and the traffic pattern didn't work. The instant deterioration of my house occurred roughly at the same time that interest rates started plummeting. I was seized by the need for change, the urge to move -- an epidemic that is sweeping the country.

At first, I merely looked at real estate ads in the Saturday and Sunday papers. Men look at Playboy; women look at real estate ads. It was an exercise in fantasy that produced at least two bits of reality: one, a great deal of development has occurred in the outer suburbs, and two, houses are certainly getting expensive. One truth does seem eternal: the farther you go from Washington the more house you get for the money. On the other hand, with I-66 and the Dulles Toll Road, you can now go out farther and get in quicker. But I could never beat my current commute. Too, I'm not big on moving children around from school to school and uprooting them unnecessarily. Moreover, the last time I moved I swore I would never move again.

This resolve was hardened a couple of years ago when friends moved from "an established" subdivision in McLean to a new one that was about twice as expensive. It's a terrific house with a magnificent kitchen, except for the fact that they cannot open the refrigerator door completely and get into the vegetable crisper. For $335,000, you should be able to clean your crisper. The crisper joined a long list of anecdotal arguments proving that builders just don't build houses like they used to. One more reason, besides a nine-year-old mortgage, for thinking fondly of my older house, and not lusting after newer houses.

No matter how nice they looked in the ads. Or how big. Or how nice and small their lawns looked.

Or how cluttered my house looked.

Or how many stories there had been in the paper about people "moving up" as the interest rates move down and about people making a killing in the new sellers market.

Saturday morning, shortly after I'd finished my initial browsing through the real estate section, a neighbor knocked on the front door. He was collecting for the American Cancer Society. He also was bearing some extraordinary news. Neighbors up the street had sold their house in one day and he supplied the hard figure of how much they got for it.

My eyes light up. "It's the same house as mine!" I said, echoing a cry being heard across the land. "Do they have a finished basement?" I figured that was worth another 10 grand, at least, or maybe 30. In this market, who knows?

My son the 10-year-old appeared. He didn't know if they had a finished basement. "But their deck is nicer than ours and their back yard is bigger and the front looks nicer."

"Our back yard is too as big as theirs!"

I spent the rest of the day figuring out ways to spend this new-found equity.

The next afternoon, my son had a soccer game in Chantilly, which until very recently, was not only exurbia, it was practically out of state. Thanks to the Dulles Toll Road we arrived at 3:30 for a game that started at 4.

Just enough time to follow the signs toward "section 3" of a new development that had very big houses. With wonderful Victorian front porches. And models that were open. I figured a quick tour might make me like my house a lot better.

By 3:40, my daughter and I were standing in the nicely appointed entrance hall of a house that had a splendid traffic pattern. The living room was a little smaller than ours, but very sunny. The family room adjoining the kitchen was huge. With a stone fireplace. The kitchen was close to divine.

Three large bedrooms upstairs that shared a bathroom, which could be trouble -- but, hey, this was just one model.

And then into the master bedroom, which was not a bedroom at all, it was a suite. Complete with a large sitting room and a very big bathroom -- eight people could have stood around holding drinks in it -- with sinks for two and a whirlpool tub for one.

Until that moment, I had no idea how terribly deficient my present house was.

It makes no sense, of course, for anyone to take on a longer commute than necessary, or to go to the expense of moving just to get a master bedroom suite with a whirlpool tub. I kept telling myself this on the trip back home from the soccer game.

Which took a mere 20 minutes.