There are many advantages to living in a neighborhood known nationwide as the Chernobyl of American real estate. Movie directors like our barren, graffiti-decorated streets for post-Apocalypse scenes and zombie movies. You can park anywhere and so many stores keep closing that there are sales galore. You never have to worry about irresponsible neighbors who borrow things and forget to return them. Except for the occasional teen-age all-night rave party in a rotting foreclosure, there’s lots of peace and quiet around the clock.
In my town of Mirage Mills nearly everybody bought their homes with funny mortgages that had funny names like Optional Arms and Legs, the Low Down No Down, No Worries No Docs and the popular Alt-A Plan B Cellblock C.
By 2008, they were all in foreclosure and my wife and I had the whole place pretty much to ourselves until ten days ago when three new young families moved in within earshot. They were the first newcomers in years. At first I resented losing our serenity, but then I realized the significance of what I was witnessing and I stopped feeling selfish. A comatose neighborhood was coming back to life. These were the pioneers, the first to see the potential of rebuilding Mirage Mills and turning it into the bustling, happy place it once was. Best of all, it wouldn’t be long before other families followed them and home values, especially mine, would percolate upwards like clockwork just the way they used to. The magic of homeownership was at work right before my eyes.
It took me a week to get up the gumption to knock on the door of the nearest newcomer. The door was answered by a short man in his twenties who looked distracted. Inside I could hear two young children playing.
“Sorry,” he said. “I don’t want any.”
“Oh, I’m not selling anything,” I smiled. “Just here to introduce myself and welcome you to the neighborhood. And by the way, do you think I could borrow a can of lawnmower gas?”
“Don’t have any. Don’t cut the grass.”
“Oh, really? I see. Well, you know I could also use an eight foot ladder if you have one to spare. ”
“Don’t have one of those either. Anything breaks, I just call to get it fixed.”
I was quickly growing concerned. Without the proper tools, this fellow wasn’t going to be much of a pioneer. I felt sorry for him.
“Well should you need anything in the way of tools, I can help you out in a pinch if you’ll return them when you’re done.”
“Thanks but no thanks.”
I finally figured it out. “I’ll bet you’re a first-time homeowner. I was a first-time homeowner myself once. You know, there’s a lot that comes with owning a home, like knowing when to fertilize the lawn in the spring and knowing the last day you can pay your mortgage each month without getting your credit dinged. Fortunately, I’m an expert homeowner and you can call on me anytime.” How lucky he was, I thought to myself.
“Oh, thanks but no thanks,” he said again as he reached for the door. “We’re just renting from a guy who bought this foreclosure and we don’t have to worry about any of that stuff. He does all the maintenance and repairs. It’s so much easier and cheaper. We love it.”
“Who’s there, Freddy?” asked a woman from inside the house.
“Just some neighbor who wants to borrow stuff,” said Freddy as he closed the door.
When I walked away, I noticed that the grass had been recently cut and pansies neatly bordered his drive. I was in shock. The other newcomers must be rentals as well, living in foreclosures bought at deep discount by speculators. Soon I’d be the only owner in a rental neighborhood occupied by a families moving in one day and gone the next. No roots. No community commitment. No tidal wave of new owners. No chance that our home’s value would appreciate. No tools for me to borrow.
I thought of something and stopped walking. I spun around, walked up to the door again and knocked crisply. Freddy looked annoyed when he opened it. He started to speak but I cut him off.
“Just one more thing,” I said in a hushed, super serious tone. “You know, the studies show that children who grow up in renter families get lower test scores than homeowners’ children. ”
“What?” Freddy was thoroughly peeved.
“That’s right. That’s just something to think about when you tuck your kids in at night. Lower test scores just because you don’t want to cut the grass.”
“What?” Freddy shouted. “That’s absolutely ridiculous. Next you’re going to tell me that homeowners have more fun than renters because they simply love being in debt up to their eyebrows. Now get off my property.”
“That’s the point,” I shouted over my shoulder as I left. “It’s not YOUR property.”
I thought about what he said as I walked home, and the more I pondered it, the happier I became. Felicity and I are deeper underwater than the Titanic, yet we had never realized just how much fun we are having.