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If you buy this house we’ll even throw in Father

I haven’t posted about it lately but we have been continuing with the house hunt. For the past month we’ve been going out every weekend, sometimes more often, looking at houses with a realtor. Usually we do a drive-by ahead of time to make sure it’s something we really want to see (and in a lot of cases that’s exactly what it has been — just drive by and keep going!) and there have been only a handful of really good prospects. Prices just haven’t come down in WNC as much as in other areas. It’s also amounted to a crash course in the many ways creative photography and some, uh, interesting remodeling have been be employed.

Yes, we’ve learned that “new metal roof” sometimes means the old rotten roof is still there underneath. What do you call that, a roofover? And if there are any real estate listing agents reading this, I have a bit of advice: buyers who do not want to buy a trailer are not going to change their mind if you try and trick them by calling it a ‘ranch-style,’ ‘one story,’ ‘one level living, ‘or ‘cottage style’ house. Nor will taking the photo from the bottom of a hill below it, or (my personal favorite) hiding the trailer behind a tree in the photos, change this fact. It’s just annoying. Do you really think someone is going to say, “oh, we didn’t realize this was a doublewide. But since we already drove all the way out here to see it, let’s go ahead and buy it anyway!”

Some very creative wording is also employed. Maybe we should create a dictionary for navigating the real estate listings. Here are a few sample entries we could add:

  • secluded – hope you have a four wheel drive vehicle.
  • cozy – really, really tiny
  • country living – enjoy the view of the trailer park next door!
  • lots of potential – plan on replacing everything from the ground up
  • charming – see ‘cozy’, above.

There was one house we were seriously considering that wound up — once we really looked at it — being a potential disaster waiting to happen. It was a very sound-looking brick house with nearly two thirds of an acre fully fenced, a full basement, and a deck. The first time we looked at it there was a problem with the lockbox code and the realtor couldn’t get us in. Then there was some confusion as to who had changed the locks, and why. The seller claimed no knowledge of it and apparently was behind on payments, but not foreclosed.  When we finally got inside, we thought “this is really dated but with some work it could be great,” however, we had a laundry list of potential repair issues and worried we’d be getting in over our heads. In the end, we decided regretfully to pass on it but came back one last time with our real estate agent a week later, just to be sure we weren’t making a mistake.

It had rained since we were there the last time. The house now had a definite mold smell and a chunk of the ceiling, where it had been previously patched, had fallen on the floor. In the basement bits of paneling had fallen down from the dampness as well. And we discovered, through the rep from the listing agent’s office that had come to let us in, that apparently there was a grave in the yard! We hadn’t noticed the gravestone that said “Father” prior to this.

She said that the sellers really needed to get the house sold and had lowered the price again, and would be willing to do some repairs but what those repairs sounded like were just re-hiding the problems, like patching the hole in the ceiling again (um, but where is the water coming from in the first place?) and the spin she put on the unexpected discovery in the backyard was, “in New Orleans people would pay extra for that.” Uh, no thanks.

I hadn’t realized until recently it was legal to bury someone in your yard, and I don’t necessarily have anything against that idea in principle. It’s not like I think something would rise up at night and attack us in our sleep. It’s just sad and disturbing to contemplate having someone else’s abandoned relative under your backyard. How do you landscape around that? How weird would it be to be doing yard work and having to step around “Father” as you raked? And this was not in some remote corner, it was smack-dab in the middle of the lawn.

We quickly moved on.

Sign(s) O’ the Times

Has anyone else noticed more and more of those giant billboards along roads and interstates showing advertising for the billboard company, or just a blank white face? I’m not a big fan of roadside advertising, but the fact that there’s less and less of it does seem to reflect how bad things are right now. Of course, it’s also annoying to see the energy that is still being wasted to light up these empty signs, yet another example of how dysfunctional our society is…

There are also a lot of businesses sitting empty. One day when we were driving back from Hendersonville up Highway 25, I counted the empty storefronts along the way. By the time we were in Arden I guess my pointing out vacancies with rain man-like thoroughness got a bit old and Joy suggested that I might find something else to occupy my time… but the point here is that there were a frighteningly large number of them. There are several brand new strip malls in Arden that already have restaurants that have closed, and yet developers still are chugging ahead with more of them. I don’t think “if you build it, they will come” applies in this economy. More like, “if you build it, you will lose your ass” but no one seems to be listening.

Last week I had to drive to Tazewell, VA and stopped at one of those big truck stop plazas for a restroom break. I always feel bad using a store’s restroom without at least buying something; as I scoped around for a bag of nuts or something else at least vaguely healthy I noticed that the shelves were strangely empty. Maybe they were restocking? Or the store looked pretty new, maybe they had just opened? I made the mistake of asking about it when I paid for my nuts.

“We’re goin’ bankrupt, hon,” the tired-looking lady at the counter replied.

What do you even say to a statement like that? I floundered a bit and said I was sorry to hear it. She kind of shrugged in a ‘what can you do’ gesture and said they’d get through somehow, and I wished her luck as I left. I noticed that all of the gas pump nozzles were covered with plastic bags. It was very sobering.

A day or two later I went into the West Asheville co-op and noticed that they were out of what I came in for. Then I noticed they were out of a LOT of other things as well. I asked about it and the guy at the counter said that there were some budget problems. Again I was at a loss for words and just kind of wandered out of the store feeling unsettled and perturbed. All of the news reports about businesses going under due to the economy just don’t quite hit home until it, well, hits home.  I hope the co-op isn’t at risk of closing, it’s a really neat place and they’ve worked so hard to make it thrive.

Frightening as it is to watch the economy contract, to a large extent it needs to happen as our current way of life is unsustainable and damaging. Hopefully what emerges on the other side of this mess will be a better society less obsessed with materialism. I have trouble feeling bad for the loss of big box stores selling cheap plastic crap – junk that ends up in a landfill within a few years (or even days) – but watching all the little local businesses that are getting crushed in the carnage is very sad.

Enough already

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We woke up this morning to a light dusting of snow and 19 degrees. It wasn’t even enough snow to actually coat the grass, it’s just that we are so ready for winter to be over this year, the cold is just dragging on and on… I don’t think I would have minded so much if we’d gotten at least one good snow instead of all these days where we had just enough snow to make the roads hazardous, followed by days of bitter cold. Hopefully, next winter we won’t be dealing with only electric fireplaces and a feeble propane monitor heater to stay warm.

Freeloaders

This is what goes on at home, while we are out busting our butts working to pay the rent…

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I need to start taking my camera to work…

I snapped these pictures at various scenic overlooks along Highways 321 and 441 today, on my way back from a service call in Tennessee. The blackberry takes reasonably decent pictures but just didn’t capture the sheer scale of the mountain views.

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Highway 321

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Highway 441 in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Sign for Webb Overlook

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Views from Webb Overlook