Things I’ve learned as a potential homebuyer
- People assume you’re going to put in “sweat equity.”
- Sweat equity requires a hammer, two types of screw drivers, familiarity with a place called Home Depot, the desire to spend weekends splattered with paint sweating through an old and preferably gray t-shirt.
- People still buy, sell and smoke crack in Los Angeles.
We find the perfect house. I find it. That’s how deep in this shit I am. I found it on Instagram. We drive south to the open house. Everything is south.
It’s a gorgeous craftsman bungalow. It’s been beautifully restored by a Frenchman who knew love, lost it, then found it again in Riverside County. I don’t actually meet him. I learn a version of this from his realtor. Her eyes pull in opposite directions so I stare at the smooth skin between her brows.
We love the house, but we can tell this is going to be competitive. There are many skinny, bespectacled men with tuffs of hair protruding from their collars. The ones we’re most concerned about look like Moby and have Asian wives. There are three Moby look-a-likes with Asian partners and each is more serious than the last.
She says we should act fast. We talk to the realtor about how much we love the home, the community, the rich history of this part of LA that we’ve avoided for ten years. Actually, I don’t say any of this. I’m locked in on the realtor’s eyes again and the magnetic force pushing them apart. She says it’s a gorgeous home, has no answers for our “hard questions” (Where’s the electrical?), and unprovoked, says that the neighborhood is safe. We decide to take a walk around the block.
The Mobys, their Asian wives and their African American realtors huddle outside. We size each other up. It’ll be awkward later when we’re trying to determine which of the five silver Subaru hatchbacks belongs to us. 4 out of 5 have National Parks passes hanging on the rearview, but we’re a long way from Yosemite.
We walk the block and remark: Not bad. A few looks from neighbors – we wave. It’s good to see people outside. It’s like a built-in neighborhood watch where people gather on their porches and stoops to stay hydrated with, well, 40s, but still. It’s encouraging. I point out a woman sitting outside, taking in the afternoon sun. This is a good sign. We wave. She exhales and a plume of smoke hangs in front of her face. No matter how you cut it, it’s good to see residents enjoying the neighborhood. That’s what we tell ourselves.
We round back to the house and pass another cluster of Moby couples before heading inside. We confirm: it’s big, it’s a little more than we wanted to spend, but let’s do this. We shake the wild-eyed realtor’s hand and assure her, Oh you’ll be hearing from our realtor.
The woman in my passenger seat mentions the police station on a corner named for a Civil Rights activist who was murdered. Historically, a street named for him is a telltale sign that you’re in a place that doesn’t have a ton of pressed juice options. That’s okay. I don’t really like juice, pressed or otherwise. She says we should get their opinion on how the neighborhood is changing. We know that they see the worst side of society yet we remain unflinchingly optimistic.
The Southwest Division is quiet this Saturday morning. A TV in the corner plays silently. There’s an enormous bust of a former chief. Behind the counter are three white officers in their mid-twenties with biceps protruding from under their blue uniforms. They look like guys who played varsity football in towns just outside of Sacramento, Sedona and Salt Lake City. “Would you like to file a report?” No, no. Nothing like that.
We lay out our situation. We give them the address of the home we just toured, say we’re planning to move to the general vicinity and we’re eager to hear any advice or insights they might have. We want to go in with our eyes open.
The moment hangs and we get it – there’s a lot to discuss. They look at each other then burst into laughter. All three of them. Heaving. Buckled over. Tears running down their faces. They have to lean on the desk to steady themselves. And just when we think they’re through, they buckle over again. This lasts for about seven minutes.
Then they confirm, “You two,” they point at us, “want to move to this neighborhood?” They shake their heads. One guy pulls out a map of the gangs in the area. Admittedly, there are a lot. “Those are just the Black gangs.” He turns the page, “Here are the Hispanic ones.” The tallest of the three gets angry, “Don’t move here. Move to Silver Lake.” We tell him that’s where we live. Stay there. They show us a map of all the crimes in the last 24 hours. They tell us about a shootout two blocks away from the house we love. They tell us about someone who had a potted succulent thrown at her head, which doesn’t land on us the way they had hoped it would. We love drought-conscious plants.
They urge us to not move down here, but if we’re going to insist on turning ourselves into “walking victims,” we’ll have to fortify ourselves. Walls, bars on windows, barbed wire on top of the fence, flood lights and cameras everywhere. We say we want to keep the integrity of the craftsman bungalow. They say it’s in our best interest to mirror another piece of classic American architecture: Camp Fallujah.
So are we out of our minds for considering to move here?
They nod. Stay in Silver Lake.
Where do you guys live?
We get in our silver Subaru, drive 14 miles north where we slurp tonkatsu ramen and lick our wounds. Later our realtor texts us. The house is going for 100k over asking, site unseen, all cash. I’m guessing they didn’t swing by the police station.