Talk of the Town - Bridge over the river debt November 27 2003

Gimme a double

Help, I'm trapped in an infomercial.

Not the one for BodyFlex. Your intrepid correspondent's six-pack abs are caused by exposure to beer. No, my TV-spot hell is the one that shows you how to buy property even though you don't have a nickel. Starring Carleton Sheets.

I love that name. Carleton Sheets. It has a Dickensian ring. If you were going to invent a fella who shows people how to get something for nothing, his name would have to be Carleton Sheets.

His infomercial depicts a succession of ex-nudniks who've found fortune using Carleton's no-money-down system of property acquisition. Some guy who six months ago languished behind the super nachos counter at 7-11 now owns seven houses, three warehouses, a block of burgeoning downtown storefront and a gooseberry patch developers want to transform into a strip mall.

And it's fascinating — even if such hyperkinetic financial activity is atypical. Who cares about typical? This is the American Dream. It's why people vote Republican and play the lottery. Because we still think, no matter how bland, boring and miserable life is, that someday our ship will come in.

Indications are that my vessel will arrive in December. That's when I close on a second house and become a bona fide member of the Sheets School of Multiple Homeownership. Completely against my will. Because owning two homes is going to take me straight to the bottom of Lake Debticaca.

Great, my ship finally comes in and it's the Lusitania. I never thought this could happen. Like chicken pox, Cirque d'Soleil and dying, owning a home is something I only wanted to experience once. But here I am, waiting to possess a pair of them. I tell you now, I don't have the chops to own two properties. Two utility bills. Two tax bills. And the light bulbs!

How did this happen? Whose fault is it? First, I blame testosterone. The same aggression-producing substance that makes me overbid on eBay and has hair falling out of my head to root in each ear, is now wreaking destruction on a new front.

Second, I blame BMW. More on that in a moment.

The abbreviated background: For about a year now, we've thought of moving. Looking here and there, never quite finding the schloss to ignite our domestic fantasies. Then, finally, we see the place. It's perfect. Brand new, a bit pricey, but we can hold it with what's called a contingency. You put a few thousand dollars down, and it puts off the awful day when the builder wants the full purchase price. Nice thing, a contingency.

One minor quibble. It's technically possible for some deep-pocketed plutocrat to come along with enough cold cash to buy your house right out from under you.

"That probably won't happen," said the builder cheerfully.

Two weeks later, we got the call. The unlikely plutocrat had come along to unhorse us. That's why it's called a contingency, see? Because it's contingent on not having a meddling sumbich upend your dreams. Yeah, well, contingencies suck.

Anyway, just to show he wasn't hard-hearted, the builder let us have 24 entire hours to make up our minds. We could let the house go or scramble to buy it, even though the house we still live in hasn't sold.

I don't know about you, but without the sale price of home No. 1 in my checking account, the odds of me acquiring home No. 2 are right up there with the Falcons' chances of making the Super Bowl.

This depressing fact was top-of-mind as we sat, possibly for the last time, in the new Home That Might Have Been. We'd just about resigned ourselves to running up the white contingency flag when some well-dressed chappie in a late-model luxury car pulled up. He entered and with a proprietary glance asked, "Mind if I look around?"

We nodded, dumbly. He disappeared upstairs. I looked out the window at a large, long pearl-gray BMW. And it all clicked.

"That's the guy," I said.

"What guy?" replied my wife.

"The guy trying to buy this house — our house."

This was too much. I hate BMW drivers. They have more money than me, take better vacations and use their eight cylinders to cut off my four on the highway.

And so every competitive, aggressive cell in my body (there are seven; I've named them like dwarves) united in an unshakeable vow: No one with a BMW is going to get my dream house — not even if I have to sink into an everlasting abyss of debt to prove the point.

Fortunately, a number of responsible lending institutions are willing to abet me in this moronic decision. They offer what's called a "bridge loan," something that will tide you over to buy a second home while you're waiting to sell the first place.

As bridges go, it's kind of rickety. And if it topples me into a fathomless river of homelessness and red ink, I hope someone notes my final words:

Oh Sheets.


Glen Slattery says there's so place like homes.

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