Moving may be stressful to some, but not to Meghan Daum. Her new book explores a life-long fascination with real estate and the irresistible appeal of starting over.
Your memoir, Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House (Knopf, 2010), chronicles your unending quest for the ideal house. How did real estate become such a big part of your life?
DAUM: I've always been obsessed with moving and with houses. My mother was obsessed with houses too. Our main weekend activity when I was a kid was going to open houses. I didn't play sports or do other activities that kids did. We looked at real estate constantly, even in other towns or states that we were never going to live in.
You moved from Texas to New Jersey when you were nine. Was that hard for you?
DAUM: No. I've always been excited by the idea of a do-over. Moving is like pressing a reset button. When I wasn't doing well in math, moving meant I could go to another school and start over. That was incredibly liberating. I admit that the idea of moving is something of a pathology for me. And even when I'm not actually looking for a house, I love to look at pictures of houses. I find it incredibly calming and satisfying.
You say that houses are more than just a place to live.
DAUM: People think if they have the perfect house it will solve all their problems. But the fact is it doesn't. It won't make you thinner or a better dresser or help your kids behave better. But we project so much of ourselves onto our houses. A house is a repository for your whole personality. It's where you put your anxieties and goals and dreams. It's where you show your sense of design or your money or your lack of it.
What can real estate professionals learn from your story?
DAUM: It will help them understand their obsessive clients. The best real estate professionals are part marriage counselors, psychologists, and accountants. The good ones are able to calm me down during the buying process. The better they can understand the heart of their clients, the better they can guide them.
Do you enjoy the search more than the actual acquisition?
DAUM: Yes. I still love open houses. I love the idea of being first. Looking for a house is like looking for a romantic partner, like going on a blind date. The question is always hanging: Will this be the one? By the time I was 33, I'd had more homes than boyfriends.
You bought your first home in 2004 in Los Angeles at what turned out to be the peak of the market. Why did you decide to buy then?
DAUM: It was partly an inexplicable chemical urge. I don't know how else to explain it. I was definitely caught up in the frenzy of the time. I also felt that if I didn't own property, I didn't own myself. If I didn't have a mortgage, I might as well not exist. I didn't want a boyfriend until I had a house. I think that came from a fear of not having my own identity.
Single women are so much more likely to buy homes than single men. I think that's because women are nesters and they care about the aesthetics and textures of their environment much more than men. Now I live here with my husband. But it's time for us to move. The place is a 900-square-foot bungalow and it's like living in a puzzle.