3.09.2008

Crash Landing

When we first fell in love with the neighborhood, with its gracefully arching trees and smiling children, we wondered if the planes might cause some problems. Its close proximity to the airport would be wonderfully convenient for travel, and the wuggies love seeing planes, but would it be too noisy inside?

But that turned out to be more a perk than a problem, since the airport had recently soundproofed all the houses in the immediate vicinity of their newest runway. The high quality windows and doors leave the townhouses undisturbed by noise of planes, traffic, or neighbors, and energy-efficient too. A block or two further away, and the noise of the planes might have driven us mad, but here it was no problem.

Everything was just perfect. The neighborhood was simultaneously tranquil and full of life, and it was in just the right spot, halfway between Andy's job and the cultural and educational opportunities of downtown Houston.

And the unit itself was spacious, and full of wonderful nooks and crannies. It was just the right size for us right now, and with a large, well-supported attic, it offered the potential to expand with our growing family.

Everything was looking wonderful.

But then the insurance agent called us back with those numbers.

To hear Isaiah explain it, a broken-down plane crashed on top of the townhouse, which is very dangerous, not least because it brings up the possibility that other planes might land on our car as we drive down the freeway.

Actually, it was a flood plane, not an airplane, and the house is on the plane, not the other way around. But I guess you really could say that the flood plane made a crash landing onto that house.

Up until this summer, there was no problem getting flood insurance in the neighborhood. But ever since Katrina demonstrated the inadequacies of our flood risk assessments, FEMA has been slowly making its way through the nation, updating the flood maps.

And according to the new maps, our dream house is now located in a flood plane, and the insurance is astronomically expensive.

Insurance, taxes, HOA fees, and basic maintanance--the carrying costs that you never, ever stop carrying--would come up just $100 shy of typical rent in the area.

We love the place so much... but the numbers just don't add up to good stewardship.

It might still work if we can protect ourselves financially while insuring it for its appraised value only, rather than for the full cost of rebuilding. (Rebuilding a destroyed townhouse is much, much more expensive than walking away and buying a new home.) We're meeting with a real estate attorney tomorrow to discuss the extend our HOA obligations in the event of a catastrophic flood--but mostly because we want to understand the dynamics of townhouse ownership better as we look for other properties, not because we have any real hope that this particular home will turn out to be a sensible investment.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, we looked at a pretty much identical townhouse in a different area for comparison purposes, to see how much the flood zones impacted how far your money would go. Same floor plan, same general price range, good condition, comparable community amenities, and in a quite respectable part of town.

But we both came away with the impression that we would absolutely hate living in that neighborhood. Oh, there was nothing objectionable about it. Everything was clean and well-maintained... and utterly soul-less. It's hard to put your finger on it, but there it is, and it matters. Every time we drove into that wonderful little neighborhood in the flood zone, I couldn't help but smile. It's a happy place.

This other neighborhood isn't. Not in particular, anyway. It's not that it's a sad place, or an angry place, or even an apathetic place, more that it isn't any place at all.

So we'll keep looking.

1 comment:

Emily (Laundry and Lullabies) said...

Oh Elena, how disappointing! I'm so sorry that it isn't working out, and that you found out about the flood plain issue after falling in love with it. :(