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My House, My Life

Mom and Dad Move Out

A family plan to turn over a fixer takes a detour. When the parents decide to live in it, the daughter buys childhood home.

August 27, 2000|HASKELL BARKIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When your daughter gets married, she moves out. It's a rite of passage. Part of the rhythm of life.

But in our case, the rhythm of life decided that my wife and I should be the ones to pack up and leave. How did this happen?

Moving was never part of our master plan. Carol and I liked our house in Van Nuys. The half-acre lot gave us a feeling of privacy and openness, even though we shared fences with six other houses.

There was a cottage in back where Tracy, our daughter, lived. There were 27 fruit trees. It was great. We intended to stay a long time.

Then the housing boom of the mid-'80s hit town. People were buying rundown (and not so rundown) houses, improving them and reselling fast for huge profits. It was a rising market. You couldn't lose.

Carol and I had discussed getting in on the game, especially because she is a graduate of UCLA's School of Architecture and a general contractor.

Trouble was, we didn't have much money to play with. The fixer-uppers we could afford didn't seem worth the trouble.

Enter Ron. The fiance. The UCLA Business School graduate. And Ron had a plan.

Combining our resources (his share borrowed from his father) would allow us to invest in and remodel a house upscale enough to make the venture profitable. Ron would also contribute sweat equity to the partnership, doing some of the painting and wall-bashing himself.

Not only that, he would give up his apartment to live in the fixer house while we worked on it, paying rent to us and to himself. This would help offset the carrying costs.

We reasoned that when we resold after a couple of months, Ron would wind up with enough cash in hand to make a down payment on a house for him and Tracy. Carol and I would have enough to do the whole thing over again on our own.

It seemed foolproof. A plan devised by an MBA who could also swing a mean paint roller, implemented by an architecturally trained contractor. What could go wrong?

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Carol got things started by contacting a Realtor. After looking at a few houses, she settled on a small, dull '50s house on a dead-end street in the hills of Studio City. You could see Mulholland Drive from the backyard. The house next door was worth more than twice as much.

Adding up the purchase price, remodeling, loan costs and a reasonable profit, the Realtor felt it would work. So we bought the house and Ron moved in.

Carol began drawing plans. For starters, she decided to add a "wow factor" to the living room, your first impression of the house from the entry hall.

The living room was large and had a fireplace. But because of several large trees shading the house (good), it was also dark (not good). And the fireplace was smack in the middle of the back wall, the exact spot that would have offered the best view.

Conventional wisdom says home buyers love fireplaces. But Carol was convinced that a big window there would be even more of a selling point. Out went the fireplace, in went a pop-out with 38-square-feet of view and a window seat with storage below.

Then she added a pair of skylights.

*

The change was amazing. Now you walked into a bright, cheery room that looked out onto the deck and the hills beyond. Definitely a wow. Even I, who had argued with irrational fervor on behalf of the fireplace, was won over.

Skylights also went into the newly enlarged bathroom (over the tub) and the remodeled kitchen. The interior was flooded with light.

This was turning into a really special place, we told each other. We'll have to fight off the buyers with sticks.

But a funny thing happened on our way to becoming real estate moguls. Two funny things, actually.

First, mortgage interest rates did an Alan Greenspan, climbing up, up and away. Up to 16%, to be exact, which also dampened the up-up of home prices.

We asked our Realtor with trepidation how much the house might fetch now. The figure was less than we'd hoped for, but there would still be a modest profit.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch--our Van Nuys house--we awoke one morning to the sound of a bulldozer. There had been three single-story houses beyond the fence at the back of our lot. One was already leveled. The second went down as we watched, as if made of balsa wood. And then the third.

The next day a sign appeared on the vacant lots with a drawing of a three-story apartment building. Actually four stories, if you count the street-level garage. "Accepting deposits now" the sign trumpeted.

Our view of the sky was about to be replaced by neighbors with a view of us.

Now, demolishing a fireplace that blocks a view is easy. But demolishing an apartment building is illegal. So Carol and I would be stuck with it. The home we planned to live in forever would never be the same again.

Strangely enough, Tracy wasn't bothered at all. This had been her home since she was 9 and could crawl through the cat door. She always thought it was a great house, with its big yard and its cottage, and no looming neighbors could change that.

So we sold the home to Ron and Tracy at a price they could live with, and Ron sold us his share of the Studio City renovation. On moving day, the trucks passed each other.

We've added on since then, and I finally have my fireplace. Ron and Tracy have added on too; their names are Jaryn and Nathan. Nowadays we're there all the time. Who says you can't go home again?

*

Haskell Barkin has written TV scripts, articles and short stories.

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