Searching For A Perfect Life 'In That House'

Meghan Daum i i

Author Meghan Daum writes a weekly column for the Los Angeles Times. Laura Kleinhenz hide caption

itoggle caption Laura Kleinhenz
Meghan Daum

Author Meghan Daum writes a weekly column for the Los Angeles Times.

Laura Kleinhenz

It's the ultimate in American fantasies: That a house can actually transform your life.

In her memoir, Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House, Meghan Daum details the real estate dreams of her life, and muses on her ideas about "domestic integrity."

Daum packs a lot of meaning into owning the perfect home. "It's more than just the biggest purchase you'll ever make," she tells NPR's Rebecca Roberts.

Daum believes your home is a "repository for every ambition and anxiety... It's a container for all your goals and your tastes and what you want out of life."

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REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Rebecca Roberts in Washington. Neal Conan is away.

We've all seen those home makeover TV shows, where everything is ugly and the house is filled with clutter and tragic upholstery and ta-da, off comes the owner's blindfold, and there's the home that it was meant to be, the clever storage solutions and clean lines and soothing earth tones of a paradise hiding just beneath.

It's a uniquely American phenomenon, this house lust, this fantasy of the perfect life in the perfect environment. In her new memoir of travels through real estate heaven and hell, L.A. Times columnist Meghan Daum writes: There is no object of desire quite like a house.

Her book traces her own obsession with finding the right place. It's called "Life Would be Perfect If I Lived in That House," a sentiment that many of you might be familiar with.

Meghan Daum joins us in a moment, and we want to hear from you. What is your domestic fantasy, your dream house or perfect apartment? And where are you living now? Tell us your story. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org, and you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later this hour, we'll talk with Ahmed Rashid about what, if any, connection there is between the suspected Times Square bomber and the Pakistani Taliban. But first, Meghan Daum is with us. She is the Los Angeles Times columnist and a frequent guest on this program. She's with us from the studios of MARKETPLACE in Los Angeles. Welcome back.

Ms. MEGHAN DAUM (L.A. Times Columnist): Hi, Rebecca, great to be here.

ROBERTS: So I understand Laura Ingalls Wilder is, in part, to blame for your real estate obsession.

Ms. DAUM: Laura Ingalls Wilder seems to be, in part, to blame for every silly thing I've done in my life.

ROBERTS: At least for most girls who grew up in the '70s, I have to say.

Ms. DAUM: Yeah, yeah, I've got to get rid of those boots with those prairie skirts. It just isn't working in this day and age. Yeah, I had I became consumed with buying a house, and the centerpiece of this book has to do with a house that I bought in 2004.

But what it - you know, what sort of set the tone for this fixation on place and house and finding a new house maybe had, in part, to do with my love for the "Little House" series and just the notion of moving and staking a claim on a new territory, and kind of when things didn't work out for the Ingalls family, they would go on to the next place and try to have it work out.

I mean, they were the original people who pulled a geographic. You know, that's become a 12-step term now, where you think you can solve your problems by just relocating them, and I'm afraid Charles Ingalls was perhaps setting an example, maybe not too great an example, for his family.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DAUM: Certainly not for me.

ROBERTS: Well, it's interesting, and this is sort of a push and pull throughout your book, the difference between wanting to move and shopping for a move versus actually doing it.

Ms. DAUM: Yeah. You know, I moved around a fair amount when I was a child. I went through a period in my 20s where I moved a lot, and in my early 30s, I think, there was a time when I moved about a dozen times in the span of four years.

I was drifting back and forth between the Midwest and the West Coast, and dragging my very large sheepdog with me along the way, and I was living in sublets and house-sitting and breaking apartment leases, and I actually tried to buy farmhouses in Nebraska twice. So the Ingalls family strikes again.

But yeah, it was really about my desire to root myself to the earth in a way, that for whatever reason I wasn't able to feel outside of the realm of home. I really felt that where I lived was a direct reflection of who I was. My house was really a mirror of my soul. And until I found sort of the right mirror, I just wasn't going to be settled.

ROBERTS: And you know, an armchair psychologist would say that's because you didn't know who you were.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DAUM: But what I've discovered is, I actually just simply am somebody who's obsessed with houses.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DAUM: I that's who I am. And I love looking at them. I can spend hours and hours looking at Internet sites on the, on the real estate sites on the Internet. It's like an addiction. I can spend hours looking at realtor.com and Redfin, and I want to look not only at houses that I might conceivably buy, you know, that are in my neighborhood or my price range, but I also want to look at things that are in other cities and other states.

And it's like pornography, in a way. There's something incredibly soothing and incredibly exhilarating for me and I don't think I'm the only one looking at pictures of houses.

ROBERTS: And if you are going to be someone who just loves to look at houses, isn't it lucky for you that you lived in L.A. in, you know, 2004 to 2005, when that's all anybody was doing?

Ms. DAUM: Yeah, I didn't really see myself as a person who was obsessed. I saw myself as a person who was just participating in the national conversation, certainly a regional conversation.

I bought a house in 2004. So I was climbing up the sides of the housing bubble. Things hadn't reached the absolute apex of frenzy that they would the following year, but it was pretty intense.

Open houses were jammed with buyers, and you almost always had multiple buyers competing for the same property, and the result was that you had to decide within about five minutes if you were going to try to buy something.

I've always likened it to a form of speed dating, wherein you have, like, five minutes to decide not only if you want to date the person but if you want to marry them.

ROBERTS: Yeah, and you know, I mean, you made such different choices, and some of it was the speed of that insane L.A. market. But if, as you say, your house is a mirror of your soul, to some degree, how are you, you know, a cool pre-war on the way Upper West Side, a Nebraska farmhouse, and a bungalow in Silver Lake?

Ms. DAUM: OK, well, do you know what unites all of these things for me? Hardwood floors.

ROBERTS: Oh yeah, that's the secret?

Ms. DAUM: All I really care about is, you know, I have this has been a trope in my work. Anyone who knows my work knows about this real preoccupation with floor covering.

I yeah, I have my tastes are diverse, but then they're also, in a way, very, very consistent. I like to live in places that hav,e sort of architectural integrity. I like, I like I tend to like older houses, historical houses.

I always wanted to live in the pre-war apartment when I lived in New York. When I lived in Nebraska, it drove me crazy to see some farmhouse out in the middle of the prairie, very picturesque with stark landscape and the cottonwood tree, and this place looked great, and then you go on the inside and it's been gutted, and they've taken out all the original details and put in wall-to-wall carpeting or, you know, some kind of heart-shaped Jacuzzi where the wainscoting or the mud room used to be, or something like that.

ROBERTS: That's just wrong.

Ms. DAUM: It's just it should be against the law. But this is the kind of thing that you see all over the place. I see it in Los Angeles homes, houses, all the time. And if I was in politics, I would, I would just this would be my political platform. No more gutting-out of old houses. It should be an imprisonable offense.

ROBERTS: Let's hear from Adam in Tallahassee, Florida. Adam, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

ADAM (Caller): Hi, thank you very much. How are you all today?

ROBERTS: We're good.

ADAM: Good. I'm calling because in November, my girlfriend, Erin, and I, who also happens to be from Omaha, Nebraska, bought our what we would think of as our dream house. It's this funky, sort of 1950s, stuccoed, bungalow-style Florida place. And moved in - you know floor covering (unintelligible) tiles in most of the house. It's gorgeous.

Our kitchen, however, started flooding huge gallons ...

Ms. DAUM: Oh no...

ADAM: ...every time it rained, which didn't break my heart because (unintelligible) torn-up, you know, covering on the floor. And since November, has basically made me incredibly broke.

The hot water heater is about three gallons away from being shot, and you know, all kinds of things. Just every month it's something new, and she reveals her personality all the time. But I'm not sure if I'd go back. I don't know if I made the wrong choice or not. I don't know if I'd go back.

ROBERTS: I think, Adam, you're hooked when you start referring to your house as she.

Ms. DAUM: I was just going to say, are you talking about your wife, or are you talking about the house?

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: I think Adam's in that house for a very long time.

Ms. DAUM: I hope you had a pre-nup with that house.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: Yeah, that's, you know, when - there is that dark side to the dream house, that it doesn't live up to your expectations.

Ms. DAUM: No, but nothing ever does. You know, I think one of the things that we get into, especially in this country, is just this idea that the house is going to save our lives. You know, only a house can make you whole. That was really the idea that I had.

I mean I, for just reasons that I'm still kind of trying to tease out, I did not feel that I was going to be a kind of legitimate adult, whole person, until I had a house. And a lot of that had to do, I think, with the fact that I was single, but very happily so, but I was also a freelance writer.

I was a very unaffiliated person. So to have a house, even with all the problems that were involved with that, was really my sort of connection to what it meant to be alive. And what it means to be alive is to have a huge number of hassles most of the time. So you know, it comes with the territory.

ROBERTS: Although, you know, I have to say, your sort of journey reminded me of the day a friend of mine said, you know, I'm frustrated with my dating situation, I am unfilled by my job, and my apartment stinks. And the only one I can fix is my apartment, and I've got to fix one of them, you know, or be driven completely crazy. So I'm going to move.

Ms. DAUM: The apartment literally stinks? Because I would like to know how you fix that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: She left.

Ms. DAUM: I want that person to call in.

ROBERTS: Yeah, and it was a terrible apartment. She was absolutely right to move. But you know, it was one of those feelings where like, this is an area over which I can exert some control, and maybe if I'm calmer in my surroundings, then the rest of it will look like less of a problem.

Ms. DAUM: Yeah, some control, and I also think people, you know, approach their homes as the same way they approach their relationships. I mean, a marriage is not perfect. You have a fantasy about what it will be like to be married, and everything will be great, and of course it doesn't work that way.

And it's the same way with a house, and I think sort of the lower your expectations are in certain ways, the more satisfying it'll be.

ROBERTS: We have email from Esperanza(ph) in Palo Alto, who says: I know my life would be perfect if my family could by an Eigler(ph) house. Living in the mid-peninsula Bay Area gives me constant house envy. One day, one day...

Ms. DAUM: Yeah, that's the problem when you live in areas with great houses, is that you just, you have house envy in a bad, in a bad way. And by the way, for anyone who - out there who's on Twitter and who wants to share their house-related covetousness, we do have a hash tag now where you can express that. Just go to hash-tag Life Would Be Perfect, and then tell us what would make your life perfect about a house.

ROBERTS: My guest...

Ms. DAUM: The possibilities are endless.

ROBERTS: Yes indeed. You can also call us with what you think would make life perfect if you had what kind of house; 800-989-8255 is the number to call. You can also send us email, talk@npr.org. My guest is Meghan Daum. For her, happiness would always be just one move away. We'll talk more about her new book, "Life Would be Perfect If I Lived in That House." And we'll be taking your calls in just a moment. I'm Rebecca Roberts. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBERTS: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Rebecca Roberts in Washington. Few things in this world are capable of eliciting such urgent, even painful yearning as a new house. Few sentiments are at once as honest and as absurd as the one that moves us to declare: Life would be perfect if I lived in that house.

That title sums up Meghan Daum and her new book. As she puts it, a house is the ultimate metaphor, like a really expensive, high-maintenance, inanimate version of ourselves.

You can read about her first house crush, the wood and glass octagon she imagined was inhabited by a named Malcolm Apricot Dingo. There's an excerpt at our website, at npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

What's your domestic fantasy, your dream house or perfect apartment? And where are you living now? Tell us your story. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org, and you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Meghan Daum, we have a tweet from Evie Hartman(ph), who says she'd have her perfect dream home if my refrigerator doors didn't open the wrong way.

Ms. DAUM: How did that happen?

ROBERTS: I know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: I think about how crushing that could be, but you know...

Ms. DAUM: I know. Well, you know, I have to say, I've lived in more than one apartment where the oven door actually hit the opposite wall. That was how big the kitchen was. So, if you can open your appliance doors all the way, I think it doesn't really matter which direction they open.

ROBERTS: Let's hear from Jeff(ph) in Jacksonville. Jeff, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

JEFF (Caller): Well, thank you very much. Ms. Daum, I've got a question for you. Are you married now?

Ms. DAUM: I am. Somebody actually married me despite my...

(Soundbite of laughter)

JEFF: No, I was curious about something. You're equating the whole lust for a house and being single and the settlement of the house thing. I'm single, quite happily so, and I bought a house about a year ago, and I've been rehabbing it and making it my perfect house.

Ms. DAUM: Oh, good for you.

JEFF: Yeah, I'll be moving in this next weekend, actually, but it's -curious because I'm still single and you know, I'm wondering if you had any correlation there between finding a perfect house or making a perfect house, and finding a perfect mate versus making a perfect mate.

Ms. DAUM: Well, it's I don't think you're going to be single for long because, you know, there's nothing more attractive than a man with his own house.

You know, it's funny that came up because single women are actually the second-largest group of home buyers, after married couples. Single men are far, far less likely to buy a house, I just think, for a variety of reasons.

And yeah, a lot of the book, for me, and just a lot of my own experience did have to do with sort of being a woman in her mid-30s at the time, and out there in the world, and kind of wanting to sort of have something of my own, something that sort of couldn't be taken away.

And you know, there's a lot of really interesting things about the sort of history of women and houses. I mean, women houses are very central to men and women, but I think women in particular, and for a long time, they couldn't buy them themselves.

I mean, women could not get mortgages on their own until fairly recently. And once upon a time, if a married couple was going to get a mortgage and needed the woman's income in order to pay it, she had to produce something called a pill letter from her doctor, which said that she was on the birth control pill and would not be getting pregnant and having to leave her job.

So there is something about that. You know, it's like a visceral sort of experience, being a single person and having a house.

ROBERTS: Well, it's definitely the sort of very outward sign that you can take care of yourself. But it's also, as you described it, sort of a backdrop for how you want potential boyfriends to see you.

Like, you were not ready to have a guy pick you up at home until the kitchen looked the way you wanted it to look.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DAUM: No, yeah, that's true. By the time I got to Los Angeles, and this was after a time of some pretty circuitous moves back and forth -and I was driving between Nebraska and L.A., and I had my dog, and I just couldn't pull my act together. When I finally decided to buy a house, I really did not want to have a boyfriend for quite a long time.

I wanted to be established in this house. I wanted every light fixture the way I wanted it. I wanted my walls a certain color. I wanted to be represented accurately. And represented is a word that comes up a lot in my mind and in this book. And it may be confusing to some people, but I think that others might relate to this.

It's really - I think you get to a certain age and instead of worrying about your clothes, you start worrying about your furniture. And kind of, that is really your chief representative on earth, somehow - your house.

And by the way, I'm not saying that this is a healthy thing. It's problematic, but I think that there are - sort of psychological dimensions that are worth looking at, that really go beyond what is acquisitional about home buying.

ROBERTS: Let's hear from Adam(ph) in Alberta, California. Adam, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

ADAM (Caller): Hi, good morning - or afternoon.

ROBERTS: Yeah, morning for you, afternoon for us.

ADAM: I just wanted to say, I called or I just recently bought my first home and was engaged, and that ended. But I found my dream home, and so I just wanted to tell people if they keep trying, you know, it's definitely worth pursuing and not giving up on.

ROBERTS: So you're going to go through with the new house on your own?

ADAM: Yeah, yeah. I'm currently rehabbing it, and it's been a new experience. My father and I have been working on the house now, for two months. And last night, in fact, you know - it's just really frustrating, but there's still that bright light in just being a homeowner, so...

Ms. DAUM: Oh, that's just so inspiring. I love that all these men are calling up and talking about their houses. Usually, it's women calling and saying that, you know, they don't want to get out of bed unless they can get a new sofa, so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DAUM: So it's very nice to hear.

ROBERTS: Well, on the male front, we've got Jim(ph) in Fort Mill, South Carolina, who says, I just love my somewhat small house. Well, it could use more closet space but otherwise, it's great.

I do see homes much bigger but I think oh no, all that work. However, I always thought I lived in a great neighborhood until I saw some Internet site where my 'hood was described as below average.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: The Internet - you know, talk about a cruel mistress.

Ms. DAUM: Yeah, you know, it's really an enabler, and I do sort of use an addiction metaphor a lot when talking about this. I'm a house-a-holic. You know, I really can't stop looking at houses the way people can't stop drinking or, you know, they say they're going to stop.

I've often said, you know, you can look at Redfin for 10 minutes, and then you're going to get to work, and you know, you're really bargaining the way you do when you have some sort of dependence on something that's not healthy.

But it's yeah, the Internet has definitely changed the equation. You don't have to just look at houses that are in your neighborhood. You can look at ones that are all over the place. I can see a house I like, and I can send the link to my friends all over the country and suddenly, they're preoccupied with, well, are you going to get that house? Are you going to make an offer? It looks really nice. I want to come visit that house. And it becomes, again, a sort of group conversation in a way that it certainly wasn't back when I was growing up, and my mother was just going to open houses as recreational activity.

ROBERTS: Well, also, and it probably shouldn't be. I mean, considering this recurring theme of how individual your choice of house is and how much of a reflection of your own interior life it is, maybe the decision by committee is not such a smart thing to do.

Ms. DAUM: No, but it's very hard to resist. Look, people are paying enormous amounts of money for a house. It's really, you have to almost not think about it. You are just signing your life away, in a way that's very hard to grasp for the vast majority of people.

So again, it's kind of like who you marry. If you really asked all your friends what they thought of your fianc´┐Ż, and they were honest, you probably wouldn't like the answer all the time. So it's sort of like, if you really want to buy a house, and there are advantages and drawbacks to everything, it's really a gut decision.

You know, like I say, it's not the biggest it's more than just the biggest purchase you'll ever make. It's like, you know, it's a repository for every ambition and anxiety and really, everything about yourself. It's a container for all your goals and your tastes and what you want out of life. And it's really nobody's business but your own.

ROBERTS: Let's hear from Shelly(ph), who's calling from another place where real estate's a competitive sport, San Francisco. Shelly, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

SHELLY (Caller): Hi, and thank you for taking my call. I didn't have house envy. I had garden envy. I wanted dirt - which meant I was looking for a detached home in San Francisco. At the time, the market was really rising. I probably got the only house under ask in probably a 10-year period, and I now - I finished landscaping last summer, and I now have the garden of not only my dreams, but of other people's dreams.

And my house, which everyone told me was dark and small and was not going to work out, is light and bright, and it was a matter of seeing beyond the dirt and what somebody else had done.

Ms. DAUM: Yeah, I think...

SHELLY: And I couldn't I sit outside with a book and look at my garden, and it's like a complete escape from the city.

Ms. DAUM: Oh, that's great to hear. You have to have an imagination when you look at houses. I mean, one of the things that has emerged out of the housing market having become pretty challenging in the last couple years, is this idea of staging a house.

Real estate agents will come in, and they'll move furniture around, and they'll put flowers in places where perhaps there were never flowers and, you know, tell the sellers to paint and de-clutter, and you really create this very glamorous house.

And the idea is that a buyer can't come in and really have any sense of this being a desirable place unless it's desirable in a very generic, accessible way. You couldn't possibly walk into a house that has the wrong color walls and think, well, I could paint these walls and live here perfectly well. So, I'm glad to hear that there are still people who can kind of see the big picture when they look at places.

ROBERTS: Let's hear from Emma(ph) in Rupert, Idaho. Emma, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION. Emma, are you still there? Oh, I think we just lost Emma. Let's try Matt(ph) in Syracuse. Matt, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

MATT (Caller): Hi, there. Thank you for taking my call.

ROBERTS: Sure.

MATT: So, I am a recent graduate, and I was very sick of the apartment in Yale that I've had for the past - about four years. And I found myself longing for these houses that I've seen on HGTV and on Food Network. And my dream has always been a studio space and a massive kitchen. And so, I've now moved home with my parents because it's cheap and easy, and that's the situation I'm in now.

ROBERTS: Studio space and a massive kitchen.

Ms. DAUM: Welcome to the world. What are you going to do? Are you - do you have - do you have any way to achieve this goal, eyes on the prize?

MATT: Well, I just finished student teaching, and I'm looking for a teaching job currently. And hopefully, come the fall, I will have a job lined up, and I'll be able to fulfill my dream of the house with the studio and the kitchen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DAUM: Well, good luck.

MATT: Thank you very much. Thank you.

Ms. DAUM: It's a worthy goal.

ROBERTS: You talk about the role of those TV makeover shows. And, you know, until you point it out in your book, I hadn't really thought it through, but it's true. Often, those makeovers are really just incredibly tacky - I mean, not in a gaudy way, but they're just kind of unfulfilling and unsubstantial.

Ms. DAUM: Yeah. It's funny. I - you would think that I would really like these shows. And I know people are addicted to them and watch them constantly. And certainly, there are so many, and some are more interesting than others to me. But I really have always found that what they're doing is sort of telling you how to do something as generically as possible, as cheaply as possible. I mean, there are trends, like the wall stencil or the throw pillows or - for a while, it was this sort of Moroccan theme or whatever it was.

And it's not really about having your own taste and sort of getting in touch with your own personal aesthetic and transferring that to the space that you have. It's kind of just about finding out what's in style and sort of doing what everyone else is doing. And it's really staging for the person who's not selling their house. They're encouraging people to do what Realtors do when they put a house on the market. But if your house isn't on the market, why not do what you want?

You know, one of the shows I actually really like - I don't think it's on anymore - was called "Monster House." And it was like - it would take people's - if they had a very specific hobby, like if you were a race car enthusiast, it would sort of turn your - turn your house into a house of race car. You know, there would be, you know, a kitchen - a range, you know, shaped like a car and tires. And it was so over-the-top and absurd but I actually, perversely enough, thought it was kind of a more optimistic and imaginative and ultimately, more positive show than some of these just like - well, you know, make your house generic. We want - if you need to sell tomorrow, you always got to be ready. So you got to have the right flower arrangement.

ROBERTS: My guest is Meghan Daum. Her book is called "Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

We have an email from Rebecca(ph) in Iowa who says, actually, I have the perfect house. It's a lovely, 3,400-square foot, 1855 brick Italianate, with 12-foot ceilings and half an acre in town with wonderful neighbors. My life would be perfect if I could sell this house, which just...

Ms. DAUM: I'll buy it. I'll buy that house.

ROBERTS: ...kills me. Yeah. Well, she's like - I'm telling you, she's giving you the website right here in the email.

Ms. DAUM: All right.

ROBERTS: It breaks my heart completely, but my mother turns 80, and my kids and grandkids live a 24-hour drive away. Anyone looking for a beautifully restored and maintained four-bedroom, three and a half bath house with geothermal in Keokook(ph), Iowa.

Ms. DAUM: You know what, I am a dangerous person. I am like one of these people, especially when it comes to big, old houses in the Midwest. I look at them, and I'm in escrow. I'm like, you know, some women, they look at a guy and they're pregnant? I walk past a farmhouse, and I'm in escrow. So this is dangerous. I'm not going...

ROBERTS: Eighteen-fifty-five, with 12-foot ceilings. You really need to not go see that house.

Ms. DAUM: I really need to not go see that house.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DAUM: Thanks for that.

ROBERTS: David(ph) in Santa Rosa, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

DAVID (Caller): Howdy. Thanks for taking my call. I've been looking for a house that's large enough to accommodate my stuff that I've accumulated over the last 40 years, and all the stuff and the two dogs that my partner has. And about a year ago, I found the house and put in an offer. We were outbid three times its a foreclosure property. And then finally, we got into escrow and still in escrow. And still in escrow eight months later.

Ms. DAUM: Wow.

DAVID: And it's driving me nuts. And so...

ROBERTS: That's what happens with foreclosures.

DAVID: Yeah. It's been a real challenge. And every day that I survive another day, I think, well, this is great, I'm through another day, were a day closer. It looks like it's going to happen. It looks like it's going to happen. And it's just - after a while, it begins to drive you crazy.

ROBERTS: Are you still looking for other places?

DAVID: We're still running comps on other properties just to be sure that this is still as good a deal as it was, and it looks like it is. So, we're always open to other possibilities but it's a larger house, it's on a couple acres. It's a beautiful spot and it's a dump, and it needs a lot of work, so it's got a lot of potential.

ROBERTS: David, thanks for your call. Escrow for eight months.

Ms. DAUM: Yeah. You know, that's whats happened with a lot of these foreclosures. There was a time, you know, a couple of years ago, people would say, well, you know, just wait, just hold on. All these houses are going to foreclose and they're bank-owned and there are going to be these mansions that are - you're going to be able to pick up for practically nothing.

And it's - obviously, it varies in different markets, but it just - it hasn't come to pass. I really think that this was one of these urban myths, and I'm not speaking - I'm sure somebody who's more familiar with the business side of the real estate industry could elaborate. And maybe I'm not completely accurate on this, but just in my own observations and my own house-hunting experiences, I have not seen these mythical, fabulous foreclosures.

So what happens is when you do find something that's good, you do have to wait. It's a process of the bank finally agreeing to sell it to you for what you want to pay. So, hang on there. There are people who've gotten them, so just hang tight.

ROBERTS: Meghan Daum is the author of the memoir, "Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in that House." She joined us today from Market Place Productions in Los Angeles. And you can read an excerpt from her book at our website, npr.org. You can also follow her at Twitter, a use of the hashtag life would be perfect.

Thank you so much, Meghan Daum.

Ms. DAUM: Thanks, Rebecca.

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Excerpt: 'Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House'

Cover of 'Life Would Be Perfect'
Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House
By Meghan Daum
Hardcover, 256 pages
Knopf
List price: $24.95

The first house I ever had fantasies about was a wood-and-glass octagon occupied by an imaginary person whose name I'd decided was Malcolm Apricot Dingo. The way I remember it, the house (which was real) looked more like a giant lemonade pitcher than a place where people might actually live. It sat on a weedy plot of land on a winding street, a tall, barrel-like structure that at certain times of day and given a certain arrangement of the window shades provided a view all the way through to the backyard. I was six years old, and this was a source of unending delight; the house made me feel as if I had X-ray vision, as if I were bionic.

Twice a day, my mother drove me past this house on our twenty-minute drive to and from my school. The commute had been made necessary by our recent move to a new neighborhood and my mother's last-minute decision, amid my begging and tears, to allow me to attend first grade at the same school where I'd attended kindergarten. The summer before, my parents had bought their first house, a yellow brick bungalow in a state of nearly unfathomable decay, and for all of my mother's enthusiasm about the new neighborhood she hadn't taken the final step of forcing me to attend school in the proper district. In retrospect, this deferment of the inevitable seems by turns tender and useless. I'd transfer to my zone-appropriate school the following year. The year after that, we'd pack our belongings in a rented Ryder truck and move seventeen hundred miles to yet another town and another school, where I'd stay for three years before another local move necessitated another clumsy navigation through a brine of strangers.

But in the year of the octagonal house, in those ten months when I passed it twice daily, each time announcing to my mother (I have an explicit memory of this, though she only vaguely recalls it) that Malcolm Apricot Dingo was watching us from behind the glass of what I was sure was his second-floor study, that having glanced up momentarily from his very important work he was waving to us, and that it was only polite that we wave back, I knew nothing of the gut-rattling chaos of being the new kid in school. I knew nothing of eating lunch alone while gamely pretending to read a book, of the indelibly bad impression that can be made from wearing the wrong clothes on the first day of school, of trying to forge friendships with people who've had the same best friend since before even the last time you were the new kid.

I also had little territorial frame of reference other than the lush, heat-stroked hill country of Austin, Texas, where we'd moved when I was three and where we'd stay until I was nearly nine. Though I was born in Palo Alto, California, and had trace memories of suburban Chicago, where my family had done a six-month stint when I was a toddler, the bulk of my early childhood was pure Texan. I had a drawl; I said "y'all" and "ahs cream" and assumed that everyone else in the world did, too. I also assumed that every summer day everywhere topped out at 108 degrees and that all cockroaches were the size of turtles and that armadillos were a common form of roadkill. My brother, who was four years younger than I, had been born in Austin in 1974, making him a native Texan. The retired couple who lived next door and whose college-aged children I worshipped were like surrogate grandparents. The city was also home to my friends, my babysitters, my school, my cat — in other words, everything that mattered. I was blond and perpetually tanned and pocked with bites from Texas mosquitoes.

I also happened to have an almost alarming fixation on Little House on the Prairie (first the TV show and, as soon as I could read, the books). I wore a sunbonnet passed down from my maternal great-grandmother, kept my hair in braids like Laura Ingalls, and occasionally called my parents Ma and Pa. When the bonnet wore down to a rag, my mother got out her sewing machine, which she often used to make our clothes, and whipped up a new one. At my request, she also helped me put my mattress on top of two box springs and leaned a stepladder against it, thereby mimicking the loft-bed setup of the Ingalls girls. In the yellow brick bungalow, where my mother built an elevated wooden play structure among the pecan trees in the backyard, I wore my bonnet along with an odd, scratchy calico skirt (a garment that could only have existed in the mid-1970s) and reenacted all manner of scenes from the books and TV episodes: the barn burning down, the dog getting lost, the whole family nearly dying from scarlet fever.

One day, my mother came to me and said that we would be moving away to New Jersey. I remember sobbing in her arms but also taking comfort in her promise that there would be snow in the new place. Since there was snow in the Little House on the Prairie books, I figured we were moving closer to the frontier. When she told me there'd be a real wood-burning fireplace in the new house, I imagined us using it for cooking corn bread.

Ridgewood, New Jersey, was no frontier, just a leafy village of perfectly clipped lawns abutting perfectly maintained houses. Mothers there did not sew clothes, much less build backyard play structures. In fact, they appeared not to do much of anything except play tennis, a discovery that seemed to turn my mother, who'd spent her Austin days attending Equal Rights Amendment rallies in peasant skirts, into an unhappy person almost overnight. Ironically, it was she who'd spearheaded the plan to move to Ridgewood. When my father, who'd been teaching music at the University of Texas, decided he wanted to live the life not of an academic but, rather, of a freelance composer (for commercial jingles, then hopefully for film and television) in New York, my mother had repeated the thing she'd apparently said shortly before they wed: "This marriage is about your career." She then sought relocation advice from our neighbors/surrogate grandparents, who, as it happened, had lived much of their lives in Ridgewood, New Jersey.

"It's a little pricier," they'd said. "But it's the best."

"I like it here," I said.

"Of course you do," my mother told me. "But if we stayed here, we wouldn't get to live in a new house!"

Excerpted from Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House by Meghan Daum. Copyright 2010 by Megan Daum. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

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