Saturday, March 20, 2021

What It’s Worth


This is the house of my earliest memories. I played under the trees. I chalked on the driveway. I roller-skated on the sidewalks.  I still miss it.

Located in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, it had both front yard, back yard and a separate play yard, a detached garage, basement and three floors. (I loved the rooms in the attic!) Sun room, screened-in side porch, enormous claw foot bathtubs...In 1966 when we moved my mother sold it for $32,500, which was the most any house had sold for on our street. Ever.

Yesterday I came across a Columbia real estate advert for a house of this design (not this particular house) on Facebook. 

  Photo credit: STEVEN LEWIS, Keller Williams Bob Lucido Team

The house that I saw in the advert was listed for $500,000. Something in my brain objected. 

I do not wish to insult this particular house, nor all the houses of this design, nor all the owners of houses that look like this, but something inside me said, “This is not a $500,000 house.” Of course, that response is purely subjective. It’s clearly a $500,000 house if someone is willing to pay that price for it.

Now I know that it does no good to compare the house of my childhood memories to one in the present day. There are far too many variables: the passage of time, location, demand, updates, quality of interior finishes, and so on. Despite all this, I can’t help but feel that housing in Columbia/HoCo has become so wildly expensive as to defy all reason.

From what I read, it seems that our area has a shortage of housing. And, during the pandemic, the real estate market has been pretty hot. That’s going to drive prices up. So here we are. Prices were already pretty steep and now many border on ridiculous. Depending on what neighborhood you want to live in, I guess. 

But let’s say you were in the market for the house above but priced in the $350,000 range. Now it’s out of your league and you’ll be forced to look at the houses that are now in that lower range:

                                                   Photo credit: STEVEN LEWIS, Keller Williams Bob Lucido Team

Then where do the folks go for whom this level of housing would have been affordable? Everyone gets bumped down the line and some will be squeezed out of the market.

In 1966, when my mother put our old house on the market in Cleveland Heights, plans for Columbia were already well underway. Were the price ranges available to original buyers appealing? Affordable? What were real estate prices like in the rest of the county at the time? 

How on earth did we get into the mess we are in now?

You may not feel it’s a mess, of course. You may be gratified that your house has solid and even increasing value. You may also think that it’s perfectly reasonable to expect that people wanting to buy in Columbia/HoCo can afford to live here. I’m well aware that not everyone feels the same way about this. But, to me, something about this feels skewed and unreasonable.  If things continue as they are, will we reach a point where we become the model of a wildly exclusionary community based on real estate prices alone?

Is that what we want? Are we already there?


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