Newspaper article

House Hunting with Writer Matthew Batt

Newspaper article

House Hunting with Writer Matthew Batt

Article excerpt

Love and happiness, financial and community stability -- even, as we've learned, the global economy -- are all influenced by home ownership. Writer Matthew Batt learned that just about everything hinges on real estate when he and his wife decided to buy their first house in Salt Lake City.

In "Sugarhouse: Turning the Neighborhood Crack House into Our Home Sweet Home," the University of St. Thomas professor chronicles his search for the perfect home, and how he settled instead for the little crack house around the corner.

With his wife, he fixed it up, one painful and enlightening step at a time, and anyone who's ever tackled a home-improvement project will find this memoir hilariously, painfully, right on. Batt put his everything into the job -- and then he sold the thing, bought a place in Texas, and then another fixer-upper in St. Paul.

Since the realtors keep saying it's a great time to buy, we asked Batt for some advice on finding the way home.

MinnPost: So, you've owned three houses, and looked at hundreds. You're an expert. What kind of house should a prospective buyer run away from at the highest speed?

Matthew Batt: Though I'm sure there are plenty of folks who would happily wait in line to interrogate my so-called expertise, you got it: We've seen a ton of houses. The kind that inspire the highest- velocity fear are the ones built since I was born. I lived in a newly built apartment in Milwaukee in college and the drywall was so cheaply finished that once we tried to clean off a smudge with a slightly damp cloth, and we ended up taking off half the wall. Didn't see that security deposit again. Which is not to say all old construction is good and all new is bad, but if it's new and cheap, my money says it'll never live to be old.

MP: What kind of house one might overlook is actually worth getting a look inside?

MB: Forget home values and tax brackets. What are the kids in the neighborhood doing with or to one another? What kind of critters are folks walking? What do said critters do when they encounter one another? What happens when the average car encounters a bike or pedestrian? I think how we treat each other in the street speaks volumes.

Beyond that, look at the stuff that's not aesthetic. Forget the surfaces. What's beneath it? You don't always need to pull up carpet or get up on the roof to know. Is the roof saggy or damaged anywhere? How does the electrical panel look? Like you'd know what to reset after a surge or like you fear electrocution just by opening the door? How's the furnace and water heater look? Rusty, listing, or otherwise hungry for failure, forget it. All that stuff will cost thousands upon thousands to fix and you sure shouldn't do it yourself. If, on the other hand, it's just a case of bad taste, well, unlike me in middle school, you actually can do something about that. …

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