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Speaking Out

Desire for Home Comes Out in the Wash

March 15, 1992|JANIS HASHE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Hashe is editor of a trade publication for Sunset Magazine.

Now it can be told: the real estate industry is bankrolling the Laundromat business. The reason they are doing this is that the realtors have determined that if an individual is forced to do laundry in Laundromats for a long enough period of time, he or she will purchase a home, single family dwelling, primary residence or, in sum, place of refuge.

Of course there is an intermediate step. The laundry-doer's first, and most natural thought is: I need a washer and dryer. That's exactly what I thought, sitting amid Amazonian humidity, as small children wailed and no dryers were available to dry my 10 loads of laundry.

So I got them, a darling little Ken-and-Barbie-sized pair that worked great and didn't need hook-ups. For a while, I was content. They fit in my service porch perfectly. No more Laundromat. No more wondering where this washer has been. I could do laundry at 2 a.m. if I wanted to and sometimes did.

But--and here is where the Machiavellian thinking of the realtors really kicks in--I began to have these Thoughts. "Yes," whispered a small (albeit clean) voice, "the washer and dryer are yours. But the room they are in isn't. You need a house."

My mom warned me. "It's just like those friends of yours who got the maternal urge," she cautioned. "It just gets worse."

Of course, as always, she was right. I began by casually glancing at the Real Estate section in the Sunday paper. Then I added looking in the Classifieds, "just to see what was available." Then I began clipping sections out of the Real Estate section, which quickly grew into a file. I was hooked. I had to admit it. I called an old friend, fellow alumnus of the theatre department, now selling real estate.

"Steve," I said, "am I crazy or is it remotely possible I could buy property?"

"Janis," he replied, "you're going to have to tell me everything about your finances before I can tell you."

Now, Steve knew that money is a far more sensitive subject with me than that of sex. (This comes from a great many years of making so little money that it was laughable.) However, I quickly discovered that such scruples are the first things to go in a home purchase.

So, painfully, we arrived at the conclusion that it was remotely possible, if only just. "You're about as entry level as they get," Steve told me, "but it's a buyer's market."

That was all the encouragement I needed. I got books. I got brochures. I went through a pre-qualification at my own bank. (Talk about laughable.) I went to the Home Buyers' Fair and got information about FHA, CHAFA and Any-Other-A loans. I went out and walked neighborhoods on week-ends.

And I saved--lord, how I saved, although this was very hard. "It isn't easy for a born grasshopper to turn into an ant overnight," I pointed out to my mom. In some fugue state I had signed up for a 401K plan at my job and could borrow half of that toward the down payment. Mom would "give" me a little money, but as a retired schoolteacher, she was no Donald Trump. Luckily, as a small theatre producer for years, I am very good at finagling. I wrote a couple of free-lance stories. I squeezed every paycheck until it squeaked.

My friends got used to having every conversation revert to real estate. One day I caught myself explaining the difference between fixed-rate Loans and ARMs and said, "OK, this is it. You're driving everyone you know crazy. Time to shut up and dance."

I called Steve again, "I know you won't believe this," I said, "but I'm ready to start looking." Steve's office is in Brentwood and he didn't know anything about the areas I wanted to look in: Silver Lake, Echo Park, and Mount Washington. Further, this transaction was not exactly on the scale to which he had become accustomed. But I was a pal, and he turned into Surrogate Dad.

"I know you think you're a tough person," he said one day, reaching over to pat my knee, "but there are some places I Just Don't Want You To Live." As a block captain in an area where drug-related shootings were common, I found this hilarious, but appreciated the sentiment.

Needless to say, the selection of houses in my price range was not large.

"Why do you want a house, Janis?" questioned one condo-owning chum. "You know you can't fix anything."

Truer words were never spoken, yet, I still wanted a house.

We had been looking only two weeks when I noticed that the cross street of one of the listings was a very pretty street in Mount Washington. We drove up a winding little road and came to a precarious stop across the street from an extremely tiny house, painted robin's egg blue, with a large redwood deck attached to it. An Akita stood guard on the front porch. My eyes widened.

We went inside. Tiny, one-bedroom, one-bath, but light and airy. Hardwood parquet floors. And that deck! It overlooked the canyon and I could already see myself having coffee in the morning on it.

We both knew this was it. "OK," said Steve, "now the only question is, do you want to make an offer today?"

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