No One to Hold the Ladder? That's OK

TIMES STAFF WRITER

I understand why most people buy houses as couples: Home ownership not only feels proportionally more expensive when you're single, there's no one to share in the work.

When my pen touched down on that inch-thick stack of mortgage papers last November, I didn't know that I was really signing a decades-long self-service agreement with my house--and that it would be very demanding. I had no idea that I'd be spending so many of my waking hours painting trim, washing plate glass, sweeping the stoop and watering bougainvillea--and that, despite these efforts, it would still look like I'd done absolutely nothing.

If I'd known these things, I might still be forking over money to a landlord. For years I was a renter--sometimes with roommates, but mostly on my own. While that was fine in my 20s, as I stepped into my 30s, I felt I was sacrificing my future by giving away my hard-earned cash for a space that wasn't really my own.

When I'd finally stashed enough away for a down payment, I was relieved to finally be investing in my future, not stealing from it. I was happy to have become good enough friends with L.A. that I wanted to stay for a while, maybe forever. And I was proud I hadn't succumbed to societal pressure that I should wait for a suitable partner before I allowed myself this slice of the American dream.

For the most part, I enjoy living by myself. If I want to crayon the walls or install Astroturf for carpet, I can. My house is just that. It is all mine. There's no one else to be the voice of reason. No one with whom to negotiate.

Of course, there's also no one to help when there are problems. When I was a renter, the landlord was always just a phone call away if the sewer started to back up into the sink. Not so as a homeowner.

If there's one thing I've learned over the last seven months, it's that there's an enormous gulf between being a single renter and a single homeowner. As a solo renter, my only concerns were with the interior--specifically, the decoration. I could handle hanging the framed Currier print on my own. If something broke down, I made a single phone call and the busted water heater, leaky faucet or overflowing toilet was repaired and at no expense to me. It was magic.

Now that I'm a homeowner, I realize what a luxury it is to have someone else flip the bill on infrastructural breakdown and worry about making the arrangements. I got a glimpse into that potential financial ruin recently when I dropped $75 on a plumbing problem that took a 50-cent part and three minutes to fix.

At times like these, I can't help imagining how nice it would be to have a second person's salary to throw into the plumbing fund.

For now, I'm stuck spending a fortune on specialists. And, at that, I suspect I'm being taken advantage of because no one's around to play foreman. I can't stay home. I've got to go to work to make enough money to pay these guys. I have to go on faith that the workers I hire are not showing up at 10 a.m., taking a three-hour lunch break in Lancaster, splitting at 4 and charging me for eight hours, though sometimes I wonder.

Being a homeowner, the responsibility doesn't end at the walls--the upkeep extends outdoors.

To stand on the sidewalk in front of my house is to stand on the block's only stretch of cement littered with leaves. Try as I may, I'm not always successful at catching vegetation the moment it withers from the tree.

In the spirit of keeping up with the Joneses--and in revenge for my neighbors' 7 a.m. weekend wake-up calls via leaf blower--I should probably step up the action, but making dinner after working all day is hard enough. The last thing I want to do after washing the dishes is trek into the front 40 and clear wild grass.

I don't have a gardener to keep the hedges in check. There's no maid to wipe down my windows. There's no significant other to split the chores--or the cost of having them done. It's all me.

In the absence of a better half, I've become a master furniture dragger, with two tattered blankets and a dolly to aid in my grunt fests. Still, there are some things I just can't budge by myself. I'd ask my male friends to help, but their biceps are, on average, smaller than mine. While my neighbor is usually game to help, there are only so many times you can ask a person to push the O'Keefe and Merrit before feeling obligated to deed over a portion of the property.

Yeah, I've got the Makita drill and Husky tool set, but I'm not skilled enough with them to build a deck or install a window. I really wish I could do these things on my own. Maybe one day I'll be able to, but with all the other upkeep around the house, I don't know when I'll have the time to learn--or who might come along to hold the ladder.

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