Thursday, July 29, 2010

What Is Home?

A recent study showed that moving multiple times in childhood can have an emotional toll when those kids grow up, especially if they are introverted.
I could have told them that.
I moved approximately nine times in childhood before our final move to the Midwest when I was in high school (I moved one more time with my family after that, from a rented townhouse to a single family home).
Many of these moves were in the middle of the school year, which was a huge challenge for a kid like me - I was very shy and anxious, and had trouble making friends at first. A move was always presented to us kids as a big adventure, and I would immediately start daydreaming and planning about my the new image I could cultivate. A new school meant a clean slate, and I always felt I could somehow pull off being beautiful, popular and well coordinated enough to join sports or cheerleading. Of course, the reality was always that no matter where I went to school, I was still the quiet girl with the braces who liked to read and write.
And while I was a good student, the moves often caused gaps and disparities in my education. For example, when I moved in the third grade, the new school was already doing long division, which my old school hadn't started yet. Or I was learning the violin at another school, and then moved to a school that didn't offer orchestra.
The worst move for me as a child was the one we made in the sixth grade. We were moving from a medium sized city in California back to the small town I'd attended kindergarten through second grade in. On paper, it seemed like it'd be a seamless transition. I could reunite with friends I'd had in elementary school and we knew a lot of people in the town. I'd start middle school at the beginning of the year, just like everyone else. However, nothing was that simple. The old friends I'd had in elementary school had changed, moved on, and all had their own groups of friends. They were nice enough to me, but they had their own lives, ones that I didn't know anything about. When we got our classroom assignments for the year, I was not in class with anyone I used to know. I started with high hopes, and found a table with some girls who looked nice. "This seat is reserved," they told me with a suppressed snicker. The year went downhill from there: I was teased, bullied, things were stolen from my desk, a rumor was started that I was a lesbian (and at an innocent age 12 I had no idea what that even meant!), once I was pushed down in gym class and kids forced used gum into my mouth.
Once seventh grade started, we could switch classes and I got on friendlier terms with my old friends. My mom started working part-time at the school, so that helped too. Things got better, but I never really felt accepted or welcomed in that town.
So our best move was the next one, to the Midwest. On paper, that seemed like the move that might have caused the most social upheaval for me as a kid. It was halfway across the country to a place I'd never been, where we had no family and it was the middle of my freshman year of high school. But it was the one that changed my life. The school we enrolled in was a big brick building with lockers (our school in California did not have them), more academic programs and a large student body. On the first day I met one of my closet friends to this day. A couple years later I'd meet my now husband. The people there were warmer, friendlier, and while I never became hugely popular, and experienced plenty of ups and downs, I got to know people, they got to know me, and I found my place in the world.
Anyway, I'm a pretty happy and well adjusted adult now. I still live in the same metro area where I went to high school, am still friends with many of the same people I met over 15 years ago. I finally feel like I have a history with people. Moving every 2-4 years as a kid meant I never had life-long friends. I didn't share inside jokes, have the same funny stories or memories. I was constantly "getting to know" people instead of just knowing them. That was hard.
In terms of this blog, I also never had a real "home." When people ask where I'm from, I hesitate, not knowing quite how to answer that question. We always rented, so while we did live in single family homes, they were never ours. I couldn't paint my walls, and if I tried to redecorate, it might be pointless because we could move a year later.
My upbringing is probably the reason I am so focused on stability and home. I certainly don't begrudge my parents for moving us so much, but it's not what I want for my son. Once he starts a school, I want him to stay there. So it could be why I fret so much about where we live now. I can't see us living in a condo with elementary school aged children, or teenagers. It feels like sort of a "temporary" place. It was meant to be a "starter" home. A rung on the ladder to a larger, single family home. We may end up living here longer than we planned, because of the real estate market, which means we may end up tied to this area for good. Which could be okay. It's just not what I'd planned.
It's funny; I've already lived in our condo longer than I've lived any one place in my entire life (at 4.5 years). I can paint the walls, tear up the carpet, and make it mine. I can live here forever, if I so choose. So while it was meant to be a starter home, maybe it's okay that this is where my son will someday say he grew up.
And, even if we do move to a house before he goes to school, or even after he starts, I think the community is more important than the physical dwelling. We have a large group of close friends, all with toddlers around the same age. My son has many "aunties" and "uncles" and we have a huge, makeshift "family." That, to me, is home. Perhaps we'll live in the condo until we're 80. Perhaps the market will skyrocket, and we'll buy a house in 5 years. One thing I know is that we're settled in this metro area, and not going anywhere. We have too many friends, too much family, and so many ties. We have a home.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Association Woes

I don't want to reveal too much about my association, as I don't have others' consent to be blogging about it, but lately we've been experiencing the downside of communal living. A little under a year ago a contractor working on someone's condo hit our development's sign. I was not privy to the decisions that were made about what to do about it, but I gather that the choice given to us was the contractor would replace the sign at cost, or put back up the old one for free. They decided to put back up the old one (after the smashed sign laid on the ground for around a month. A classy look.)
Well, the city got involved, because now the old one wasn't up to code, so we couldn't just slap it back up, especially not without a building permit. So, the association got together, and voted to buy a new sign. We also got a new president and board, one who was more interested in making changes and doing it right, instead of DIYing to save money.
We spent time tracking down a contractor, voting on the design, and within a couple of weeks, we had progress. It was looking good! But then the actual wooden sign was much smaller looking than the blue print. The contractor had made a mistake, a fight ensued, and he walked.
So now we have a blank wooden sign at the front of our development, as we wait to find yet another contractor to finish the job. And during the meeting other residents started arguing back and forth about what the sign should look like, how much they wanted to spend, etc. It's been extraordinarily frustrating. If we ever wanted to sell this condo, we'd really have to get the association in line, because this is just one example of deferred maintenance.
It's taught me a lot, and made me realize that buying into an association was a mistake (for me). I like to get things done. If a problem like this had happened at my single family home, it certainly wouldn't be 10 months and counting before it was fixed.
If I had to do it all over again, one, I wouldn't have bought in the winter, because some of the issues (a badly beat up parking lot, scraggly, dead branches on a lot of the trees) weren't apparent until the spring. I'd also have requested some past meeting minutes from association meetings. The outdated bylaws didn't give us a clear picture of how things were run. The association's financials looked good, but now that we're more involved, we realize that a lot of that is because no one wants to spend any money.
Things are looking up, though. The association agrees that some of this deferred maintenance is coming back to haunt us, and is more expensive than taking care of it the first time. I do have high hopes that things will improve, and that by this time next year, we will have a much nicer place to live. But in the meantime, things look a little old and shabby, and I feel very powerless to do anything about it.

Will The Plummeting Ever End?

I've been pretty happy in our little condo the past few weeks. Summer's a good time for our neighborhood - there are trips to the park, afternoons spent exploring the nature center and impromtu walks to the library and out for beers and dinner on restaurant patios. I like to happily exclaim that I adore our neighborhood, and am so happy to be out living in it, instead of being tied to a house with lots of maintenance projects.
Then I see things like huge, well maintained houses in our neighborhood for sale that are not that much more than we spent. And of course, I then look at comparable condo units on the MLS, and well, they're a good $50-$60k less than what we paid.
And interest rates are so low right now, that it would be great to refinance our mortgage. But we can't with as much negative equity as we have.
Finally, I find articles like this, where housing is predicted to continue plummeting for the next year. Moody's Analytics says our metro area will see a decrease of 2-8% by next year.
It's hard being underwater. I try and put a happy spin on it, but the reality is, we're stuck, and probably will be for a long time. And no amount of redecorating is going to change the fact that we're in a negative "investment."