The Money Pit

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How many of you have seen the movie The Money Pit, starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long?  (Spielberg was a co-producer.)  The actual house used for the movie is located in Long Island and was put up for sale this past summer, to the tune of $12.5 million with annual property taxes of just under $66,000.

The scenes shot inside of the house were actually done on a movie set, and didn’t reflect the condition of the real house, which was only used to shoot the outside scenes.  I don’t know if the real house has since sold or not, but I do remember reading where the owners said they had remodeled it so much that they felt like they were living the movie’s sequel.  (BTW… at the time of listing, the house was in tip-top shape.)

If you’ve seen the film, you know the story.  It’s about a couple that gets an incredible bargain and buys a gorgeous looking mansion needing (supposedly) just minor repairs, only to discover they’ve been duped into buying the mother of all fixer-uppers.

The movie is hilarious.  Reality is something else altogether.

The main reason the movie is so funny – besides the great comedic acting – is because anyone who’s ever owned a house can relate to the feeling of impending doom when they realize their home is nothing more than a sink hole in disguise.

Okay – show of hands – anyone ever been there?  Still there?

Our home is the first house Hubby and I have ever owned.  (That entire sentence being an oxymoron, of course.  We don’t “own” anything except “upkeep” and the tax levied on the property.)

When we first bought our home, I remember telling a friend of mine about the lovely patio we had out back, and how I envisioned myself relaxing out there on a lounger, a cool drink in my hand.

My friend burst out laughing.

“You aren’t going to be lying around anywhere,” she said.  “You’ll be busy working your *** off just to keep it up.”

Naive as I was, I discounted my friend’s statement as mean and negative.  That night, I lay in bed and counted the ceiling tiles, running the numbers through my head.  Based on our down payment, our mortgage loan and interest, and how many ceiling tiles there were in the room, I calculated what percentage of our bedroom – and yes, the entire house – we actually owned, and how much was owned by the bank.

Guess how much of the house we own so far?”  I told Hubby.  Then, every so often I would recalculate (just for fun?) and update Hubby on our “progress”.  We would get into bed at night and point at the tiles on the ceiling that were “ours”.  In the evenings, you might find us standing out in our driveway, looking up at stars (this was when there was less light pollution and you could actually still see quite a few stars).

Hubby would wrap his arms around me and point to the sky.  “Those right there are our stars,” he would say.  “Because they are over our house.”

This is totally romantic of Hubby, (see Mr. Romantic), and the whole tile counting thing was crazy obsessive on my part, I know, but I come from a family of bean counters so we’re all a little nuts that way.  Plus, it served its purpose… we had a physical, visual representation of the monies we put into our house as the years passed.  And just like the stars that have disappeared from view, so have the monies.

Ah.  The dreams of the totally ignorant.

In the beginning, we did own some of those ceiling tiles.  Lien free.  If the bank came and took our property away I probably would’ve considered removing them before we left.  My money – my tiles!  (If only I could sell them for what they cost.)

But over the years, I’ve added up the costs of a new heating/cooling system, remodeled rooms, appliance repairs, and landscaping.  Then there’s the lawn man, snow removal, roof guy, chimney guy, dead trees removed and branches churned into oblivion by a horde of guys clambering up and down our property like monkeys.  Where do all these guys come from anyway??

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I realized the grand truth that we were never taught as kids – owning a home is not a good investment – it just means you’re the tenant responsible for all legal interests.

I’ve never included real estate taxes and utilities in my ceiling tile computations, because – let’s face it – those are the only real expenses first time homeowners actually think about before they sign that devil’s bargain they call a mortgage contract.  Most of us have no real concept of how much it costs to “own” a home until we’re already buried up to our eyeballs in debt.

Remember when the housing market blew up?  We all lost a lot of equity.  Some of us lost all our equity.

Reviewing the past year, we’ve had our septic backup into the house, water damage and re-construction.  Floors ripped up and walls knocked out and humongous industrial fans roaring 24-7 to dry everything out.  We’ve dealt with contractors, and layers upon layers of sub-contractors.  We’ve had to buy new appliances and learned about telescoping pipes (little cameras they shoot through to see the condition of underground plumbing), the cost of relying on Laundromats, how to wash your dishes in very little water… and my new, pretty little backyard garden (see My Family Intervention) is now dug to shreds, full of mud clumps and root killer.

All told, Hubby and I are now in tile-deficit.  We would need to build an extra ceiling to house the tiles we figure we owe to the house.  Or rather, the house owes us.  Maybe two ceilings.  I’m not sure, because after a certain year, I stopped figuring it all out.  It just raised my blood pressure.  Best to preserve my sanity.

In The Money Pit there is one scene where Tom Hanks “loses it”.  He goes down to the kitchen where he has been heating water on the stove, because the water heater’s broke.  He carries his heavy water bucket up the derelict stairs to the bathroom, where he pours the bucket of water into the bathtub.  The water added to the tub is too much weight for the rotting floorboards and the tub crashes through and smashes to pieces on the floor below.  Both Tom and Shelley stand there, their faces covered in dust and grime, staring through the huge hole in the floor, and Tom goes into a hysterical, maniacal laughing fit.  Shelley just stares at him as he continues to explode from pent-up stress.  It’s my favorite scene.

When I think about this, my own house problems seem funny too.  I just wish Tom Hanks was here to laugh beside me.

Oh… and for you movie trivia fans out there…

Alexander Godunov played the character of Shelley Long’s ex-husband, a drop-dead gorgeous, narcissistic symphony conductor.  He was also the rejected love interest to Kelly McGillis in Witness (sorry Harrison Ford, but if I was Rachel I would’ve chosen Daniel over you), and the angry, brooding terrorist Karl in Die Hard.

His real life was far more interesting than the characters in his movies.  Godunov was a Russian dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet who defected to the U.S. and caused an international incident involving President Carter.  He was pals with Mikhail Baryshnikov (who later fired him from the American Ballet Theatre), and eventually he became an actor.  Sadly, he died at the age of 45.