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Real Estate Downturn Doesn't Diminish 'House Lust'

Feb 8, 2008 (Morning Edition)

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If you spend hours watching HGTV, dreaming of remodeling your kitchen, or checking the value of your neighbors' houses online, you may be suffering from "house lust."

Rachael Brownell, a homeowner in Bellingham, Wash., says she looks at a real estate Web site every day. She calls it a "relaxing little ritual" for someone who is "fantastically fascinated by the ups and the downs of the housing market."

Brownell is profiled in a new book called House Lust. It looks at the psychological side of the housing boom, which has now come to a crashing halt. But author Dan McGinn says the obsession with homes hasn't faded.

"Americans have always been somewhat fascinated with homes," he tells Renee Montagne. "But something really different really did happen over the last 10 years or so. We had many, many people buying not just the house they want to live in but [as] an investment property."

Giant homes are a prime example of "how people went a little bit crazy for houses," the author says. McGinn says a woman that he met, who lived in a 9,000-square-foot "McMansion," couldn't remember offhand how many bathrooms she had.

"If you think your house is going to go up by 10 percent a year, which some people started to think, it only makes sense you buy as much house as you can," McGinn says.

And "house lust" doesn't stop with home purchases.

"Renovations really became over the top the last few years," McGinn says. "You saw people spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and months, even up to a year, adding really lavish kitchens, family rooms, master suites."

McGinn even encountered "renovation therapists," hired to help people deal with the stresses of such projects.

Although the real estate market has tanked, "there are a lot of homeowners who are still ahead of where they were, not two years ago but 10 years ago [and] still have a lot of equity in their homes."

"People seem to always be thinking about their next house and doing things to try to maximize the value of the house they live in now, whether prices are going up or going down," McGinn says.

"Having lived through a time when we thought our houses were going to make us rich has changed the way we think about them," he says.

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Read an Excerpt

They have kitchens many Americans would cherish, with granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances and hardwood floors. But Rachael Brownell and her friends want something more. Read about their "house lust."

Do You Have House Lust?

You might have "house lust" if you answer yes to more than a few of these questions:
  • Have you ever attended an open house of a home you have no intention of buying, just to be nosy?
  • Do you read the Sunday real estate listings at least once a month?
  • Are Zillow, Trulia, Propertyshark, Curbed or Realtor.com among your Web browser "favorites"?
  • While on vacation, do you stare in storefront windows at real estate listings?
  • Do you know what the house on either side of yours last sold for?
  • Can you draw, in five minutes or less, the ideal floor plan for your dream house?
  • Have you ever thought that it would be fun and lucrative to be a real estate agent?
  • Would you rather shop for bathroom tile than shoes?
  • Read full story transcript

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