Being your own landlord

In preparation for writing this article, I bundle up in wool socks, fleece pants, a thermal-underwear top, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a wool sweater.

I would put on gloves, but then I couldn’t type.

The temperature in the house my sister and I rent, a sweet little 1923 bungalow in north Asheville, hovers just above 50 degrees. Two nights before, our home’s vintage furnace gave up its tired ghost.

Upon seeing his patient, the furnace repairman exclaims: “You want me to fix this piece of junk? This thing should have been replaced 10 years ago.”

My sister and I fire up space heaters, but using more than three in the house overloads the ancient electrical circuits.

My landlord is unsympathetic. My sister and I, he suggests, are to blame for the furnace’s demise. He threatens to “get to the bottom of this — find out who’s responsible.”

Bluster aside, our lease clearly states that he is responsible for the bungalow’s heating system. And that’s precisely why I feel more than a little trepidation about our upcoming move into the house that my sister has just purchased.

Because at that point, the furnace — plus the plumbing, the wiring, the foundation and everything else that could possibly leak, crack or burst — will become our responsibility. No longer will we be free to bitch about a landlord who takes his sweet time taking care of his properties (don’t even get me started on last summer’s ever-running toilet…). The property will be ours — termites, leaky faucets and all — and we will be the landlords.

The prospect is terrifying. Yet it looms because my sister has just attained the very definition of the American Dream: home ownership.

And having witnessed her successful navigation of the shoals of modern real-estate transactions, one thing is clear to me: If you want to own the roof over your head — not to mention the ground beneath your feet — you’d better be committed to the process.

Our house … is a very, very, very small house

A site on the Web called the Homeowner’s Information Center (www.ourfamilyplace.com/homebuyer) offers a checklist for prospective house hunters. The first of its 29 checks (most of which have sub-checks) advises: “Be an informed buyer.” It goes on to cheerfully note, “There are well over 100 pages of information here as well as links to much more information.”

The sheer volume of data is intimidating.

Asheville real-estate agent David Seidenberg is less intimidating — and in about an hour, he covers the same ground as the Web site. The first thing a potential homebuyer needs to do, he says, is “talk to a lender to get pre-approved for a loan. Before you even start looking, you have to figure out what you can afford.”

Bill Nesbitt, vice president of mortgages and loans at the Bank of Asheville, explains that, for most folks, this means a mortgage rate that will not exceed 28 percent of a person’s monthly income, and 36 percent when the rest of a person’s monthly debt is factored in.

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