“The road to success is always under construction.” ~ Lily Tomlin
Every milestone – birth, graduation, job, pregnancy, marriage, divorce, illness, bankruptcy, winning the lottery – is just that. A milestone rather than a destination.
As a dedicated Realtor, I’m an up-close witness to many people’s journeys. My clients share their dreams about home with me. And I roll out a map and chart a route to take them there.
Some dreams don’t manifest, and the ones that do take shape don’t exactly match the fantasy version. Regardless of how closely the reality hews to the dream, it is inevitably ephemeral.
There’s this misperception that once you buy a house, you have arrived. You’ve made it. You’re there.
But you haven’t and you aren’t.
I recall how strong my nesting urge was in my early-30s. I’d had my real estate license for about 5 years and nothing would do but to buy a property. It was like a fever in me. I. Had. To. Have. A. House. In. San. Francisco.
What I got was a faded Victorian in Anza Vista. When it was new in 1896, it was a grand residence on a huge lot overlooking San Souci Lake at the intersection of what is today Divisadero and Fulton and what was then the western border of the city.
In the intervening century: The lake was filled in. The lot was subdivided. The building was sandwiched between two new buildings. Its two flats were chopped into multiple locked rooms to house the inflow of workers from WWII. Three liquor stores and one church went into business on the nearest four corners. The city spread westward to the Pacific Ocean. There were two major earthquakes.
When I encountered it in 1989, the place was crawling toward a comeback. Some baby steps toward gentrification were happening (but the rise of NOPA was as distant as the invention of Instagram). The previous owner had done a cosmetic remodel but had ignored updating the systems. We ended up reinforcing the foundation with steel, doing electrical and plumbing upgrades, and rehabilitating and repainting the much-neglected exterior. Eventually we converted the flats to condos.
We paid $500,000 for the building at the peak of the pre-Loma Prieta market. We sold our condo at the bottom of the subsequent trough in 1994 for $264,000. It fetched $1,400,000 most recently in 2014.
What’s missing from this timeline is any mention of the lives that unfolded inside those walls. I know what happened in that 2-unit building during my brief, five-year residency. A wedding dinner, a bridal shower, a job loss, a miscarriage, three drive-by shootings, three burglaries, three births, and a fire next door.
But just imagine all the things that happened in the lives of the people who’d lived there during the previous 90 years!
What I mean to say is: Our homes are just stops along the road. Sometimes we stay for 6 months. Sometimes we stay for 6 – or 60 – years. But even when we’re stationary, everything is evolving and changing.
The happy marriage that started in that old Victorian ended 20 years later. The golden child who learned to walk there and said his first word (“truck”) there is now a grown man. The dear friends who lived upstairs left San Francisco almost two decades ago.
And I’m still here, selling houses, cruising down the road, updating my map…