Home hunt tests her foundations

Special to The Times

WHEN I got the news that my charming rental was destined for tear-down only to rise again as a nondescript condo, I headed straight for fantasy land: I would simply buy.

I loaded up on real estate magazines and carved out a gorgeous life for myself with my green highlighter. There was the $2.2-million home, but it didn't have any grass for the dog, so I kept looking. Then the $3.5-mil with the whitewater panoramic views ... nice, but I didn't feel the need for maid's quarters. I settled on the charming Spanish villa with the screening room and guesthouse for just under $4 million. Perfect. Thank you, Fantasy Highlighter.

The opposite page featured Donna, the real estate agent, strolling on the beach with her lovely family. They wore white cotton, the expensive kind that breathes. "Donna. Wife. Mother. Top producer," it read in bold lettering. Sigh. Me: Single. Childless. No down payment.

Buying a home is a daunting task for most, but add the sudden realization that you are about to inhabit a piece of real estate with just your name on the deed? Well, talk about your commitment issues!

I'd never considered that renting versus buying was really a disguise for single versus hitched. It was undeniable: Buying meant a relationship. It meant fighting over paint at Home Depot. It meant reading repair books and installing things together. It meant paying the mortgage with two paychecks instead of one. It meant cozying up to the first fire in the fireplace. Suddenly, I saw myself as a spinster with cats living in a crooked house covered in ivy. Kids in the neighborhood would say my house was haunted and that I was mean, and old.

This catatonic mind-set lasted for two weeks, until I met up with a friend who'd recently purchased her first home. "The trick is," she said, "you have to get yourself a Handy Man. They're all over L.A. You know, actors waiting for their next gig, hot construction guys who really want to be on a soap opera. They need the work, you need the pretend husband."

"That seems so shallow," I said excitedly. "What happens when the mortgage is due? How do I get him to pay?" The answer to that was drowned out by the sound of a margarita blender, but the answer was obvious: You're on your own, kid, unless you want to pull an Anna Nicole and open an account at Bank Sugar Daddy.

The truth was, I wanted to buy on my own. I just didn't know that it would spark so many cliche expectations. Had I been brainwashed at a young age by a Donna Reed cult? What had happened to all my independence that I had paraded around as a renter? I suppose it was hiding under my hoop skirt.

As the ink in my Fantasy Highlighter dried up, I began to look in my price range, which of course led me to the Fixer Upper section. "This dollhouse needs a lot of TLC," the ad read. "Hurry! This diamond in the rough won't last!" Apparently, dollhouses at half a million dollars were a hot commodity, so I hurried.

When I got to the open house, there were a lot of couples meandering through, their combined incomes marching a steady beat. It was a cute little bungalow, about 1,100 square feet. Way too small for a couple, much less a family. They'd be running into each other constantly .... There would be bickering .... Heck, it was so small, they might have to get bunk beds. That couldn't be good.

"This place is really small, huh?" I announced in my best stage voice. "TLC, come on! My goodness. I thought they said dollhouse, not crack house!"

After I made the offer, I stopped into Home Depot to browse. I'd never been window-shopping for a Handy Man before, but I have to say, it's not to be missed.


Katie Love may be reached at weekend@latimes.com.

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