House Lust by Newsweek reporter Daniel McGinn is an eye-opening account of the obsession that many Americans have for their homes, which first led to one of the biggest boom in housing prices and later turned into a bust with far-reaching consequences. A Washington Post columnist quoted in the book probably defined the term best – “a house or an apartment becomes not just a place of shelter or an emblem of status or even a considered investment, but an obsession that haunts us no less intensely than Vladimir Nabokov’s nymphet Lolita tortured the imagination of poor, sick Humbert”.
As the author himself admits, this book is not a comprehensive analysis of the rise and fall of the housing market. Instead, it simply tells stories of (mostly well to-do) people who became fixated on their homes – constantly talking about it, checking out the prices of their friends and co-workers’ homes on Zillow or just endlessly renovating their properties. Consider the following vignettes:
- Some homes now have master bedrooms so large that they may need an “extreme ultra king” bed that measures 12 feet wide and 10 feet long.
- To deal with the emotional, financial and marital stress of renovating their homes, couples are engaging the services of a new breed of therapists who offer counselling at $90 per session, with a regular treatment lasting four to six sessions.
- Investors purchasing run down rental properties (for the “cash-flow”) in far-off places like Pocatello, Idaho, sight unseen. One economist estimated that in 2005, about one in three homes was purchased as an “investment property”.
If you even have a passing interest in real estate (who doesn’t?), you might want to check out this book. Mr. McGinn’s intrepid reporting from the front lines of the real estate bubble covers people buying McMansions, lusting for newly constructed homes, undergoing renovation hell, watching or reading “real estate porn” on shows like House Hunters, looking for cash flow in odd locations, rushing to become realtors, buying one (or more) vacation properties makes for an entertaining read. The book’s website features an excerpt, articles and a quiz.
Rating: 7 out of 10.