mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Drivin' around in my automobile....

I spent an hour driving around tonight, intentionally driving in circles.

I'm meeting with a realtor on Thursday and figured I should at least start looking at some of the neighborhoods I've been thinking about. So I drove up to Nottingham and drove by some townhouses that are on the market, to put those pictures and maps that I see in online descriptions into perspective.

I can't say I'm really smarter or more knowledgeable. It's hard to get an opinion on a neighborhood by driving around a neigborhood at 7:30 on a Thursday night. Are kids playing outside a good sign (people feel safe enough to let their kids run around) or a bad sign (kids can be annoying, and lots of kids mean lots of taxes to pay for schools)? Plus it's hard to judge a house by the outside - especially when they are townhouses that all kind of look alike.

I am realizing that I'm probably not going to get my dream house. It's more like I'm trying to find something decent that I can live in for the next couple years while I hope that my financial situation allows me to buy something nicer. I mean, it's going to be decent, but it's probably not going to be the house that I'll want to spend the rest of my life in. Which is too bad, since I hate moving.

I think it kind of reflects how much the housing market has changed - my parents have owned two houses in their whole life, and bought the house they live in now in New Jersey back in 1972. My first house isn't going to be nearly as nice as the house I grew up in - it's probably going to be a townhouse, with a tiny backyard and a couple parking spaces in the front. Not that my parent's 3-bedroom suburban rancher was a mansion, but it was comfortable and roomy. The housing market has changed, and people like me can't afford a house like that as our first house. Of course, it doesn't help that I'm a single guy trying to buy a house, not a married two-income couple like they were.

So we'll see. But I did have one good sign that it might be a neigborhood worth moving into. I stopped for gas at a Crown station not too far away from one of the neigborhoods I was looking at. It was a station with older pumps, without pay-at-the-pump. They actually had a sign telling you to pump first, and then pay at the booth. I can remember two other Crown stations where they didn't have pay-at-the-pump. One was on Hartford Road when I lived in Hamilton - you had to give the guy behind the counter your credit card before you could pump gas. The other is a new station on York Road near where I work. It actually used to have pay at the pump - but they disabled it and now make you go inside and pay or leave a credit card before you can start pumping, presumably to reduce the chance of people driving away without paying. Maybe it's anecdotal evidence, but the fact that this gas station didn't find the need to disable it's pumps to prevent gas theft struck me as a sign that it's probably a pretty safe neighborhood. Economist Thomas Friedman, in The Lexus and the Olive Tree introduced what he called the McDonald's Principle - that two countries that each have a McDonald's will never go to war. It's a sign of the power of capitalism, that people will put aside differences to make money. So I figure this is the Crown principle - that a neigborhood where you can pump and then pay is pretty safe.

Of course, right now I live in an "emerging" neigborhood, so pretty much everything looks good. Maybe my view is being clouded by where I live now - any neigborhood that doesn't have drug dealers on the corner and blinking police cameras seems like an improvement. Of late, Baltimore City Police have chosen part of my Resevoir Hill neighborhood about two blocks from me a "Safe Zone", with barriers and increased police presense for a couple weeks in the hopes of discoraging crime and drugs. Which I guess is a nice idea in theory, but I'm not sure that it does much other than move people who will move back in when they leave. It also makes me feel like I live in a war zone (which I kind of do) when I have to drive past metal barriers and the blinking lights of police cameras to get home. So I'm kind of looking forward to the idea of a 70's townhouse somewhere in the counties, even if it's small and doesn't have much of a yard...


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