Hit? I’d like to speak to the pandemic manager, please. They promised me cheap properties, damn it. They told me that Covid had killed cities and no one wanted to live in them anymore. They told me that urban property prices would plummet. Well, it sure looks like someone forgot to report house prices. The last time I checked, and I do it several times a day, the main cities are still largely inaccessible.
To be fair, prices have fallen in New York’s ultra-luxury market. But do I care if an apartment that once cost $ 20 million now costs $ 17 million? No, this information is irrelevant to my lifestyle. Rents have also fallen from extremely exorbitant to simply exorbitant. But every time I Google “house prices” I get headlines like “house prices hit record highs”. The price of an average house in London, for example, is almost 10% higher than this time last year and has just surpassed £ 500,000 for the first time.
My partner, E, and I live in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. Sometimes when E is on a Zoom call, I have to lie on my stomach and slide or roll on the floor so I can go from the living room to the kitchen without his colleagues seeing me. I mean, yeah, you could technically turn off your camera momentarily but sliding is more fun. Anyway, I love our apartment: while the place is not huge, it is perfect for our needs. Or at least it was until we decided to bring a child to this hellish world. At the beginning of E’s pregnancy, she was pretty nonchalant about how much space a baby would need. We’d just put a crib in the closet, I thought. Turns out, no, babies need ventilation. Also, babies grow. So we spend the weekends wandering around Brooklyn looking for a bigger place, which is why I have a sudden obsession with real estate.
Here’s a fun thing I’ve learned from looking at a million apartments: Kitchens are dying out. They don’t seem to exist in some of the newer places we’ve seen. There is only one giant fridge in the living room and enough counter space to prepare your food to go. Another thing I’ve learned: many Americans are unfamiliar with the British expression, “There is not enough room to swing a cat.” Saying this out loud during an open house will get you some alarmed looks.
In New York, Brooklyn used to be the place you moved to when you needed space, but now it’s completely unaffordable, so I started looking further afield. Like those towns in Italy where you can buy a house for € 1. OR Northwest Arkansas, which has been offering people $ 10,000 (and a free bike) to move there. Y Tulsa, Oklahoma, which also pays $ 10,000 (but not a free bike) to anyone willing to move there. Unfortunately, I don’t think moving to the Bible belt is the best idea when you’re a Jewish-Palestinian lesbian couple. The money we would save on housing would end up being spent on therapy for our children.
Anyway, we’re taking a break from home hunting. I was watching the movie Cloverfield the other day and realized that I had reached a level of obsession that was decidedly unhealthy: the monster was taking over Manhattan and was eating everyone in sight, and all I could think of was, “Hmmm I wonder if I would be able to get a bargain in Brooklyn after the monster attack? I didn’t actually finish the movie so I don’t know how it ends. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the monster had babies and was forced to move to the Northwest from Arkansas.
• Arwa Mahdawi is a columnist for The Guardian
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism