Kyle and Melanie are newlyweds who are tired of slumming it in their 3,465-square-foot apartment in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. With Melanie pregnant with their first child and Kyle starting a new job as a floor-sweeper, the couple is ready to take on the harrowing challenge of buying their first home.
“We really need a house,” says Melanie, 23, a recent college graduate who has $400,000 in student loans … as well as the world’s most grating case of vocal fry. “It’s demeaning being renters. Besides, I’m tired of living in a high-rise hovel like some Third World peasant. I want a house, and I want it now.”
Kyle, 24, has a master’s degree in journalism and $340,000 in student loans. He said his new job as a floor-sweeper will allow him not only to put his education to good use, but also to provide an extravagant lifestyle for his new family.
“All my life, people told me I’d never amount to anything,” Kyle says. “But now that I’ve got a college education, I feel like I’m the poster child for the American Dream.”
The couple has been pre-approved for a $750,000 home loan.
“With such a measly budget, Kyle and Melanie are going to have to make some tough choices,” says Roberta Marks, the couple’s real-estate agent. “This is a brutal market, and they may need to make some critical life-and-death decisions — such as choosing between a four-car garage or an indoor swimming pool.
“It’s hard out there for buyers right now,” she adds, shrugging.
But “concession” doesn’t appear to be a word in Kyle and Melanie’s vocabulary.
“If I want a four-car garage and an indoor swimming pool, then I’m going to get them,” Melanie says, squeezing her husband’s hand affectionately. “We’re just going to have to take out a bigger loan, that’s all.”
“I don’t mind leveraging up more,” Kyle says. “After all, true wealth is created by going deeper into debt. Everyone knows that.”
“Besides,” Melanie adds, “it’s every American’s patriotic duty to buy a house. You can’t consider yourself a true citizen unless you owe money to rich Wall Street bankers.”
The first home the couple is looking at is a 7,849-square-foot McMansion on a 15-acre estate, complete with a barn, cattle pastures and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
“Eh,” Melanie says, stepping into the grand foyer, which boasts two fireplaces and a marble staircase leading up to the second and third floors. “It’s a little small.”
“How big is the lot again?” Kyle asks Roberta.
“It’s 15 acres, but it comes with all the amenities outside, plus your own fishing pond,” Roberta says.
“Well, the lot size is going to be a problem,” Kyle says. “We were really looking for 25 acres.”
“We’re adopting a rescue dog, and he’s going to need space,” Melanie says. “He can’t be penned up on a 15-acre parcel like some caged animal. The minuscule property is a deal-breaker right there.”
“Why don’t we tour the rest of the house before making any snap decisions?” Roberta suggests, clenching her teeth.
Roberta shows Kyle and Melanie the spacious living room, which boasts wood floors and a home-theater system with surround-sound. Next is the formal dining room, which offers a third fireplace and stunning views of the outside pastures.
“I’m not sure this is big enough for entertaining,” Melanie says, grimacing.
“Yeah,” Kyle says, his voice a high-pitched whine. “There’s not enough space.”
“Well, you’ll also have the family room, plus the finished basement,” Roberta says. “There’s even a bar down there, which I’ll show you later on.”
“A finished basement?” Kyle moans. “I specifically said I wanted a fixer-upper.”
“Well, maybe you can break a couple of the living-room windows and then replace them,” Roberta suggests. “Besides, buying new panes would help stimulate the economy.”
Next, the couple looks at the kitchen, which features an island, stainless-steel appliances, granite countertops and a walk-in pantry. (“Too small,” Melanie says, arms crossed. “Not enough space.”)
Then, Roberta shows them the sprawling backyard with Trex decking, mature trees and a luxurious outdoor kitchen — complete with a built-in brick barbecue and accompanying fire pit.
“Definitely too small,” Kyle says, shaking his head. “I don’t know how we could be expected to entertain our friends in this yard. It’s like a sardine can.”
“I don’t think our friends would speak to us ever again if we invited them to this dive,” Melanie says. “Like us, they’re accustomed to the finer things in life.”
Roberta leads the couple back inside to explore the upstairs bedrooms, rolling her eyes dramatically behind their backs.
They view the master suite, which has a bay window; two walk-in closets; and a wall-mounted, 72-inch flatscreen TV.
“Yawn. Way too small,” Melanie says. “Are we about done here?”
Roberta balls her fists. “And here’s the master bath. It offers heated tile floors; his-and-her copper vessel sinks; and a soak-in, jetted tub.”
“I think that tile would have to go,” Kyle says. “I’m not a big fan of beige.”
“Well, you said you wanted a home-improvement project,” Roberta says. “This bathroom would be a great place to start.”
“Yeah, but I changed my mind since then,” Kyle says. “Now I’m looking for something a little more move-in ready.”
Roberta reaches into her purse and dry-swallows a blood-pressure pill.
They explore the rest of the seven bedrooms — as well as the office and exercise room on the third floor — before heading downstairs to look at the finished basement.
“What do you think?” Roberta asks. “It has recessed lighting, a finished bar, two bathrooms, and the pool table stays. It could be the ultimate man-cave, Kyle.”
“Is there a walk-out?” Melanie asks.
“Well … no,” Roberta says. “But you do have the finished bar, as well as a second home-theater system, complete with surround sound and overhead projector.”
“Didn’t you read our list of wants?” Melanie asks, lips trembling. “We were very specific that we wanted a walk-out basement. I have to have a walk-out basement!”
Roberta crosses her arms. “You’re going to have to make some concessions on things, Melanie. Not every property is going to have every feature you want.”
“I can’t have anything I want!” Melanie screams, startling everybody. “Life is so unfair. If I can’t have my dream home, then I just want to die!”
She sticks out her lower lip and pouts.
Roberta turns to Kyle, rubbing her temples. “What about you, Kyle? What do you think?”
Kyle shrugs. “It’s OK. Just a little—”
“Small?” Roberta asks, sighing.
“Yeah,” Kyle says. He narrows his eyes. “How did you know I was going to say that?”
“Lucky guess,” Roberta says, popping a second blood-pressure pill.
Six months later
“Roberta showed us twenty-seven more properties before dying unexpectedly of a stroke,” Melanie says. “But in the end, we decided to go with the first home we viewed: the three-story country estate with the cattle pastures and the finished basement.”
“At $1.7 million, the home was a little over our budget,” Kyle says. “However, after negotiating with the sellers, we were able to purchase it for only $1.8. They agreed to leave all the furniture if we kicked in another hundred grand.”
He shrugs. “It’s no big deal. Home prices always go up. Everyone knows that. In a few years the house will have paid for itself, and then Melanie and I can do a cash-out refi and retire at 30.”
He smiles and pats his wife’s leg affectionately. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll buy that RV we’ve always wanted and travel the country.”
“We’ve been living in the home for five months, and we couldn’t be happier,” Melanie says. “Oh, sure, we’ve had to make a lot of concessions. It’s a lot smaller than what we were looking for—”
“We’re talking, like, broom-closet size,” Kyle says, nodding.
“But we realize that everyone has to make sacrifices when they buy a starter-home,” Melanie says. “It’s not ideal — and space is definitely tight — but excruciating suffering is just an immutable part of the human condition, I guess.”
“It’s not all doom and gloom, though,” Kyle says. “Four months ago we had our daughter, Andrea.”
“And,” Melanie says, putting Kyle’s hand on her tummy, “we’re already expecting another.”
“So not only are we doing our part to keep Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae afloat, but we’re also contributing to the planet’s worsening overpopulation epidemic,” Kyle says proudly.
“But wait: there’s more!” Melanie says. “We also adopted a rescue dog. Her name is Molly, and she has full run of the house. Her claws have already gouged the brand-new wood floors in most of the rooms. We’d let her outside, but the property’s just too small.”
“But all in all, I feel pretty good with our choice of homes,” Kyle says.
“I do, too,” Melanie says. “But we’re definitely planning on trading up in a few years, once the house appreciates in value. Now that we have our first home-buying experience under our belt, we’re hoping the process will be a lot smoother next time.
“Plus,” she adds, “we’ll be able to get our real dream home then — one that offers the space we’re looking for.”
“Yep,” Kyle says, nodding. “Can’t have enough space.”
“Indeed,” Melanie says, nodding. “Space. You got to have the space.”