“What Houses share with Cars”

If you managed to forge through my introductory Blogs, and you’ve come back, I’ll assume you’re interested in what I might have to say. Hopefully, you’re curious at a minimum.  I’m always grateful for any reader, or viewer, that may find our discussions helpful however, I am most enthused with the “Involved Homeowner”. Simply put, you can occupy your house, or you can live there. Owning a house is a serious undertaking for any socio-economic strata. More money, usually more house. More house, perhaps more concerns. In any case, large or small, a home is a complex structure filled with fabulous technologies that we often take for granted. This is really the heart of my target effort here. Let me draw an analogy. 

When I was a kid in the 60’s and 70’s, car technology was exciting. Muscle cars had reached consumer status with many manufacturers and gadgets were the newest shiny objects to get our attention. Stuff like power brakes, power windows, factory air-conditioning, cruise-control, etc. All this stuff was extra in terms of cost and provided many new things to break. Who knew!? My first car was a 1970 VW Super Beetle and came without power windows, power brakes or A/C. I was jazzed.  Frequently, it worked for days at a time.  Summer was not good.  I saved for what seemed a lifetime to acquire A/C. Girls liked A/C. I’m not an idiot. This was my first venture into the concept of cost-benefit. It was years before I got this stuff in a new car, 1985 to be exact. I bought a new Pontiac with all the whistles and bells. I was officially an adult….with debt. Hallelujah. Now, In 2019 you’re hard-pressed to find a car without this stuff! Even a bottom of the line base model. Today’s extras are back-up cameras, self-parking systems, navigation and a whole host of Star Wars conveniences. This has happened in just 45 years or so. An unfortunate blink in time for those of you yet to experience the blink part. The interesting thing is that, unlike my youth, there is no longer a car readily identifiable as a piece of crap on the market. Most cars are pretty good relative to the purchase value. Manufacturing has maintained pace with advances in technology and so has regulation. Hang on to the point about regulation.  You see, these things started out as conveniences.  Fast-forward to today’s market and you can acquire a pretty good car virtually anywhere, new or used, with significant appointments (stuff). Unfortunately, the cost of these advancements in concert with inflation are noteworthy. In 1970 a person could buy a loaded muscle car for $2,700.00. Now, not so much. Today, a bottom-line Vespa scooter is $1,200.00 and bump up to $3,400.00! It’s a scooter for Heaven’s sake! What is interesting is that although these improvements started out as marketable desires, they soon were viewed as safety improvements. Justifiably. Many of these things improve passenger safety and allow the driver to make operational adjustments with ease. That means they are more likely to do it. Soon, insurance companies acknowledged the value of many technologies with lower premiums and subsequently regulatory enforcement began to require some of them.  Remember the regulatory part?  Although pricey, Cars sold in America are the safest in the world.

The point is that virtually all technologies, and moreover systems, have followed suit. This includes the greater system of a house. I grew up in a 3-bedroom, 2 bath home in North Florida that my folks acquired for a whopping….wait for it….$12,000.00….New! You can’t buy a decent garage for that today. Keep in mind it had no A/C, only Oil Heat and it was insulated with love. Just love. The windows were single-pane steel casements and jalousies and the floors were terrazzo. It was a touch balmy in the Florida summer and my teeth banged together like castanets in the Winter. It was a sprawling 1,400 s.f.  Years passed before we acquired central air or carpet. Dad even replaced the windows at some point. For the day, it was nice. Our standards today have evolved a smidge.

In like kind to the advancement of automobiles, regulatory oversight has worked diligently to keep pace with evolving needs and supporting technologies. It’s like this; a house is among the largest single investments of your life in terms of stuff. You may be aware of this because, for many of you, your house and car payments are your monthly “Maalox Moments”. Most people wouldn’t dream of acquiring a home without central air, etc. In fact, we hire 3rd party inspectors to verify if the home is in reasonable condition, has been maintained and if there are any structural concerns or degradation due to age or neglect. We want to know that all of the stuff actually works.  Keep in mind though, acquiring the home is half the battle. Actually less. Keeping it is the real adventure. I don’t mean making the payments either. How high are the utility bills? The more efficient the home, less is the cost of operation. These technologies cost money commensurate with their performance. They must be maintained as well. We are also keen on less critical but more convenient technologies. Security systems, smart systems, cleaning systems, irrigation systems, filtration systems, higher-tech appliances, etc. Great stuff. More to break. More to maintain. Like computers, the technology seems to reach “obsolescence” within 2 weeks of installation. In truth, if it made life better when installed, it’s still better for some time…until it breaks. Also, this crap is like crack! Once you have it, you seriously jones without it. I remember when microwaves came out. My grandmother was confident we were all going to glow in the dark and body parts were going to start falling off in the shower. My micro died in late 2018. The door latch ceased latching. Hence, no nuke. Therefore, no Orville Redenbacher! Yes class, life was no longer worth living. At least until I got to the appliance store.  One must have their priorities.

 Bottom-line, a house is a complex system that you own and maintain. At least the bank allows you the illusion of ownership. They’re thrilled to let you maintain it. Today’s house is a product of an evolutionary response to human need, changing lifestyles, comfort and efficiency. This is in total disregard for all the stuff you don’t see behind the walls. A home embodies a myriad of technologies that have become integral to our daily routine. Since most of us are not electrical or mechanical engineers, it can be more than a little overwhelming at times. Can you just be whelmed? Sorry, brain cheese. These technologies rise to a conscious level when they die an untimely death on a holiday weekend with company from out of town. For example, if said failure involves plumbing and the exit of human waste from the home. Ya’ feel me? We’ve all been there. Not good. Suddenly, one finds themselves being addressed by their alternate title to homeowner….Facilities Manager. A thankless job but somebody has to do it. One often finds that the most loving family can become a pack of ungrateful wolves sensing the aroma of blood in the currently broken ventilation system. Your blood. They’re a herd of technology junkies experiencing a group jones and you are their dealer. First, don’t stand on pride….run. Find a small room or closet with an internet connection. This should be a reasonably defensible place to hunker down. Next, anxiously anticipate my next installment to learn more about the challenge of homeownership and your options.