House Hunting Disorder

House Hunting Disorder might be my suggestion to add to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders, whenever the American Psychiatric Association gets around to updating.

Shopping is not one of my favorite things to do. Shopping for houses (especially a retirement home) is something I would suggest running away from if you have any choice—which you won’t, trust me. We’re not yet ready for the Vintage Cooperative, a condo-like setting for seniors. I’m almost ready to settle for an apartment.

I’m remembering our first “apartment” when we moved to Hawkeye Drive in Iowa City over 30 years ago. It was University of Iowa housing and my wife wept openly when she saw it. The moving van sat in the office parking lot for at least a couple of hours while the truth sunk in. The only other choice was Hawkeye Court, but that was not the one to which we were sentenced—I mean, which we, like a lot of other students, signed up for, sight unseen, when we moved here so I could start medical school. They were painted cinder block buildings described as resembling “minimum security prisons,” and had been around since the 1960s. They were all torn down to make way for new student housing around 5 or 6 years ago.

We were on the 3rd floor so we had to lug our furniture up to the top. I had problems with my knees then, which, miraculously, I don’t have now that I’m decades older. Over time, the place developed a constant buzzing noise from a vibration which I think began in the shared 1st floor laundry room where all the poltergeists lived. It drove me nuts—from which I obviously never fully recovered. I couldn’t convince the maintenance man that the noise even existed. He looked at me sort of wide-eyed and edged away from me as I placed his hand on the sofa to demonstrate how you could actually feel the vibration all over the apartment.

The neighborhood was a little scary occasionally. On one Halloween night, we got a visit from some very tall kids who were not wearing costumes, smelled of beer, and held out what looked like giant lawn and leaf bags. They said “Trick or Treat” in pretty deep voices for children. I probably shouldn’t have asked, “Aren’t you a little old for this?” as I dropped a few candies into the bags, which I could have stepped into and been completely concealed. When I closed the door, we could hear the candies shatter against it.

The next apartment we rented had a small blister in the ceiling which grew quickly over a day or so into a beach ball-sized bulge. It happened over a weekend and the manager claimed he couldn’t get anybody to fix it until Monday. We spent some tense moments just watching and waiting for the bleb to explode all over the living room.

OK, so maybe apartments are out. We’ve lived in a several houses here since then, which are really markers for my career in medicine as well as domiciles. Things have changed in the real estate market. Homeowners Associations (HOAs) are just one of the changes.

HOAs are something I would rather avoid but may not be able to escape. I could weep openly about them, but it won’t help. The explanation for them, which comes from developers most of the time, is that the Post Office doesn’t want to deliver mail to each and every house nowadays. This has led to the proliferation of mailbox clusters, which have to be maintained at HOA expense. Sometimes it amounts to scooping snow off the concrete pad on which the mailbox cluster sits.

HOA fees are a nuisance. They can run from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars a year, which I admit is better than association fees for condos, which can run into the thousands. What the fees cover is sometimes difficult to discern. A lot of developers and builders nowadays erect subdivisions in locations which I suspect would have been avoided in decades past. Some of these areas tend to be called “wetlands,” which are ponds surrounded by tall grasses and which foster the evolution of various life forms that sometimes crawl up on land to feed on small mammals.

Seen any small mammals?

You can sometimes escape the HOA madness by buying older homes in what are called “established neighborhoods” where the residents raise chickens, hunt for mastodons, and park RVs in their driveways that are bigger than their houses. There are unwritten rules which include but are not limited to animal sacrifice. But at least they don’t have covenants that require you to have an 8-foot-tall lamp post which must remain on 24/7; a stamped and gaily-painted driveway (multi-cultural themes only), stone columns quarried in Portugal, and a bat-infested entry and those bats better be neutered or spayed, vegan, rabies-free, defanged and declawed, and be multi-lingual.

HOAs require at least 4 officers (President, Treasurer, Secretary, Executioner), elected as soon as the last nail goes into the last house on the last empty lot in the subdivision. The President should carry personal liability insurance against the possibility the neighbors will file a lawsuit about the conservation areas being infested with non-native vegetation, such as lichen or cobwebs.

HOAs can’t protect you against builders, which are another hazard which you can’t avoid unless you are capable of building your own house, which you are not because, as you well know, there are only two kinds of people in the world—builders and victims of builders. You know who you are.


Speaking of building, what’s up with mud rooms being placed in the layout not where they make the most sense, which is immediately in from the garage door entry, but in what I think is called the Jack and Jill arrangement? This puts the mud room next to the laundry room next to the walk-in master closet which is off the master bathroom, which leads from the master bedroom, all in a straight line and all separated by the mandatory pocket doors which must be filthy and get stuck halfway out according to the building codes. Needless to say, the mud room need not be in close proximity to the garage entry and is often close enough to the front door that you have to track mud from there to the mud room—or across the front room to the kitchen, which makes about as much sense. The obvious conclusion here is that Jack and Jill were sadistic fiends called up using the Ouija board. At least that’s who the builders will tell you to blame.

I could go on but I’ve got other stuff to do today, like shop for houses. I know it’s a sickness and I should get some help—but there’s no treatment.

Author: James Amos

I'm a retired consult-liaison psychiatrist. I navigated the path in a phased retirement program through the hospital where I was employed. I was fully retired as of June 30, 2020. This blog chronicles my journey.

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