I think that for many people, another part of the American Dream is owning a home. For Grandma and Grandpa, they were married not quite five years before they built that house adjacent to my grandparents. Dad and I were both impatient and lucky in our hunt for our first home.
Sometime during our first year of marriage, we began our search. We didn’t have much in savings, so there were few homes in our price range. We found property in Boonton Township, but it couldn’t pass a perc test, which was a test required to determine if the land had the proper drainage for a septic tank. We looked at a house which was near a home that blew up in a propane gas explosion, which was probably when I started getting nervous about gas cooking. It was fortuitous that we found nothing, because Dad got a new job out of the area.
He did the commute for a while with a few coworkers, but that soon became tiring. We then embarked on more intense house hunting, first in Bergen County (house prices to expensive), then Rockland County, New York (taxes too high), and then finally moved our search across the Hudson River to Westchester and Putnam County, New York where we found the deal of a mortgage at the low, low rate of 10 ½ % ! At that time, interest rates were typically around 18%, but we found a new housing developing offering this extraordinarily low rate. Our parents were quite adamant that we take no more than a $65,000 mortgage, fearful that we would be unable to make the mortgage and property tax payments. So that dictated which home, of the three models offered, we could afford to buy.
That was such an exciting time for us. We put all our savings down as a deposit, and then spent the next eight months while the house was being built trying to save up what we had promised to pay on completion of the house. What were we thinking? We ate lots of macaroni and cheese and hotdogs, and did not go out at all. We took credits on everything from paint, to shutters, to the floor coverings. We even instructed the builder not to finish the family room, reasoning that we could do it cheaper ourselves, and we did, purchasing unfinished paneling that we stained ourselves in the basement. Our only entertainment each weekend was the trip to check out the progress of the house followed by a visit to Friendly’s. It was the only time we ever maxed out all of our credit cards.
Grandpa spent a week helping us paint before the carpeting and tile were installed. We used paint cans as our chairs that week, and slept on mattresses that we brought with us. That was my first real camping experience.
When we moved into the house, we were so excited. We couldn’t believe that a home so big and so beautiful was ours! Dad and I saw the same thrill of homeownership with Kelly and Mark, and look forward to someday watching the rest of you living that American Dream. It may seem impossible, but I know that eventually, you all will be exchanging stories of your first homes. Then you will have it all, a home, and the most important part of The American Dream I spoke of previously: “a good life, with plenty of laughs and good memories.”