The photo on page 87 that opens “Price Anxiety,” this year's real estate package, is very telling indeed. It's of a guy, supine on a psychiatrist's couch, cradling his house. We chose that image because our collective real estate madness seems to show no signs of calming down.
Uncertainty, worry and indecision are in the air. Every party I go to, talk turns to the obsessive questions: “Is the boom over?” “Are we going to feel the bust like Boston and New York?” Writer Larry Stains bravely lays out his own home angst for you. (Yo, Lar: When you nab $825,000 for your digs, we've got to reexamine your per-word rate, dude.) Just in the past couple of weeks, I've been in the same spot as Stains. My wife and I looked at a $550,000 house in Delaware County; the next morning, I awoke certain that I wanted to be back in Center City, and started crunching numbers with that goal in mind.
Until, that is, I said to myself: “Self, stop it.” There's a whole lotta stuff to worry about in this world, particularly when you've been raised by a loving Jewish mother whose eloquent example taught you that danger lurks on every doorknob and at every stoplight. (My mom calls the front passenger seat of a car “the death seat.”) Worrying that he'll get $825,000 instead of $899,000—Stains's dilemma—isn't worth the angst. Seems to me that getting caught up in the obsessional real estate game, while ostensibly an exercise in extreme pragmatism, is really about fantasy; we're dreaming about the life we're not leading. “Bigger,” “better” and “more” become stand-ins for really changing our lives.
But what the hell do I know? Last week, I went to a Sixers game. Allen Iverson wasn't playing due to injury, so my buddy put down $1,000 on the Sixers to lose. I'm not a betting man, nor had I ever contemplated betting on my team to lose—that would lack character. But lose they did, and my friend made two grand. The whole way home, I was kicking myself for not making the same bet. (Character, schmaracter.) And my buddy was kicking himself for not putting down $10,000. I was reminded of the old joke: A guy prays every day to God: “Please, God, let me win the lottery.” Year after year. Finally, God responds to his prayer. “Jerk,” God says, “why don't you try buying a lottery ticket?”
So in this issue, under the aegis of editor-at-large Tim Haas, we give you all the information you'll need if you are, indeed, going to buy that lottery ticket. (Haas's slightly shabby house in Audubon is worth 200 grand, and no, he's not selling.) We've increased the number of towns and neighborhoods we track by 60 percent to provide you with our largest and most accurate price report ever.
So use us to inform your decisions, by all means. But also remember to breathe and be calm. It's just a house, after all; that realization can either be depressing (I've spent all this time worrying about that ?) or totally liberating. I know—I sound all Zen. But truth be told, I'm still beating myself up for not putting money down on that damn game.