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Hundreds of condo open houses later, one thing is clear: Theyíre all ridiculously overpriced

I DONíT KNOW what makes me think I can afford to buy a condo in the city. I can barely afford to rent here. And yet on Sundays I find myself traipsing all over town, from one open house to another. Iím not entirely sure why. Perhaps I just like to dream that, one day, Iíll be able to own a home in the city I live in. Maybe itís because the realtors amuse me ó itís fun to ask them silly questions. Or perhaps I just like the chance to look inside the closets of strangers. Regardless, Iíve recently become addicted to open houses. Hereís some of what Iíve seen.

4 Absurdity Place, two-bedroom, $322,000. "Would it be okay if I took some pictures?" I ask the realtor as I take out my digital camera. She seems nervous. "Um, I havenít really asked the owners, but I guess that would be all right," she tells me. Moments later she adds, "Youíre taking the pictures to show someone, right? I mean, youíre not casing the joint, are you?"

She says this with an awkward laugh so Iíll think sheís joking, but I can tell sheís a little worried. I wonder if I should be insulted. Apparently, I look more like a burglar than a genuine homebuyer. Considering that Iíd have to take up theft in order to afford this condo, she may have a point.

I pause just long enough to increase her anxiety. "No, I just want to show the pictures to my girlfriend," I tell her. Granted, I donít have a girlfriend right now, but if Iím going to imagine that I can afford to buy a condo here, I might as well imagine a girlfriend, too. (In case youíre wondering, sheís a knockout.)

126 Cockamamie Street, two-bedroom, $309,000. There are three two-bedroom units for sale in this building, and theyíre nothing special. But one feature does jump out. The building has only one parking spot, and they are asking an additional $25,000 for it.

After running that through a mortgage calculator, I realize that the monthly payment on the parking spot alone comes to $166. Iím tempted to ask whether I can just buy the parking spot and live on it. Throw in a cheap van, and thereís your affordable housing.

29 Cassandra Street, two-bedroom, $319,000. Is it a bad sign if a black cat crosses your path as youíre leaving an open house? Does it mean you shouldnít buy the property? Perhaps so. Thereís also the fact that theyíre asking $319,000 for what feels like a shoebox. Itís a pretty shoebox, but a shoebox nonetheless. Next.

1530 Chicanery Street, two-bedroom, $295,000. I spot this one on the way home from the supermarket. I almost donít stop, since Iím juggling two bags of groceries. Can you attend an open house while carrying groceries? Or will that automatically disqualify you from obtaining a mortgage? "Iím sorry, Mr. Lavin, but we prefer to sell to someone who doesnít have to buy his own groceries. Iím sure you understand." At the very least, my chips and cold cuts are not likely to endear me to the realtor. Since I have all this food with me, I think briefly about asking to test out the refrigerator. "You donít mind if I leave some bologna here overnight? I just want to make sure itís a good fridge."

In the end, I cram all my groceries into my backpack, crushing my chips in the process and no doubt making myself resemble the hunchback of Notre Dame. The realtor doesnít ask me to sign in.

1578 Chicanery Street, three-bedroom, $379,000. Theyíve obviously gone all out on this one. Everything here is immaculate. The furniture looks beautiful. The scented candles in the corner give off a wonderful aroma. "Oh, what a lovely smell you have here. Hereís your asking price, plus $20,000 more. Iíll take it." And the bed looks so comfortable that Iím tempted to crawl in. In fact, after going to so many open houses, I could really use a nap. Do you think theyíd mind?

46 Extortion Street, two-bedroom, $249,000. Can you tell people that the condo theyíre attempting to sell is a dump, or would that be impolite? What if theyíre asking $249,000 for this particular dump? Since the person is nice enough to show me this condo in the middle of the week, I decide not to comment on the ugly floor, the unpainted kitchen, or the second bedroom that might as well be a jail cell. I also try not to grimace whenever Iím told that the unit is being sold "as is."

As I walk into the bathroom ó so small there isnít even a place to put cleaning supplies, let alone reading material ó I suddenly remember a question my friend Jody once asked me about house hunting. "Do you have any strange requirements?" she inquired. "My friend Kelly had one weird thing: the house had to have a tall toilet. There had to be at least eight inches between the bowl water and the toilet seat, or he just wasnít interested." Suffice to say that with one look at this toilet, Kelly wouldíve been out the door.

2 Absurdity Place, two-bedroom, $334,000. Sure, this place costs $334,000, but itís no ordinary condo. According to the realtorís information sheet, this one comes with an "outdoor bike rack." Well, damned if that doesnít sway me right there. "You know, I was going to buy the condo just down the road for $20,000 less, but hey, you won me over with that outdoor bike rack. Itís a good thing you listed it so prominently. Where do I sign?"

Of course, if a parking spot is worth $25,000, an outdoor bike rack is probably worth $5000. Me? I think Iíll just get mine at Home Depot.

Joe Lavin can be reached at

Issue Date: January 17 - 24, 2002
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