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Our houses, our homes

Posted: October 7, 2008 8:04 p.m.
Updated: December 9, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Let me tell you about our house.

Carrie and I bought our 2,955-square-foot Summit house from Newhall Land and Farming Co. some 22 years ago.

The Summit development had been long awaited with great anticipation in the Valencia/Santa Clarita community. Like West Ranch of three years ago, The Summit was the Next Big Thing.

We'd lived in a small 1,400-square-foot home just to the west of the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital for five years.

We watched the grading operations for The Summit from our front yard for months. When Newhall Land finally made opening day, we thought we'd head over to the sales office for a look.

We never got close. Though it seems astonishing today - lines wrapped from the sales office all the way along Summit Drive and around Rockwell Canyon Road to McBean Parkway.

You couldn't get within a half-mile of the place. Overnight, The Summit sold out and our dreams of moving from our old home to new were dashed.

About a year later I happened to place a call to Summit saleswoman Alice Figalin.

"Fiddle-de-dee," she sang, and informed us that two buyers had dropped out on what would soon become our new street. I dropped what I was doing and ran over to see Alice.

Just months later we were in our new home at $329,000, with a 9 percent mortgage and $4,000-a-month payments. It was a stretch, to say the least.

Since then, we've seen two real estate market run-ups. Within five years of buying the house, prices got all the way up to $1 million. By 1995, prices had fallen back to nearly $400.000 - and some of those families got washed out in the financial storm.

"For Sale" signs were everywhere during the 1992-1995 recession. There were so many, they looked like picket fences. Really.

Ironically, the Northridge Earthquake hit, and with it came construction dollars, and all of a sudden the market seemed to firm up.

By 2000, values were again rising, and during 2004-2005, they rocketed. Our 2,995-square-foot house (now smallish by bullish standards) was appraised at $1.3 million - and the neighbors who had stayed from the start were feeling smart.

This past Sunday I bumped into a former neighbor who's now a Realtor. I asked her what she thought the value of the houses might be.

"Maybe $750,000 if you need to sell it fast." God help the folks that bought two years ago!

That's the life of a house in California. Up and down. Down and up. And by the time you add in all the repairs, the taxes, the HOA dues and everything else - well, it might just be that, on average, a "house" is no great shakes as an financial investment if you're thinking of anything other than long term.

Some hope to get rich with a flip, but most never catch that wave and die trying.

Now, let me tell you about our home.

Back when we were buying our home from Newhall Land, we would take our three kids to visit Alice over at the sales office. The youngsters would climb up to look at the tract model and they'd study the thing and work out just where our home fit into the community.

Then we'd drive to the construction zone and walk the lot, and walk through the home as it underwent its transformation from concrete slab to wooden framing, to the final completed Horton home. This was a big, giant deal for our young family.

We were in the first group of seven families to move into our street. We soon got to know most of the folks - and it seemed almost all had kids the ages of ours.

Life-long friendships were forged - our kids still keep in touch with a variety of friends from the street some 22 years later!

Our kids attended Valencia Valley Elementary. All had the privilege of crossing paths with Mrs. Squires - a master teacher who lit up and launched their academic careers.

She was a real esteem-builder and made tremendous contributions to our childrens' academic success.
The kids would often walk to school. They'd use the paseos or the sidewalks.

Sometimes Jon would stop at the Hughes' to pick up Skittles on the way or the way back. We'd frequently take them to local parks after school to practice sports or just have fun on the play equipment.

Valencia was loaded with parks and, as young family, we made good use of them.

Our kids joined the various community sports programs and we became more and more tied in with the community.

We made strong spiritual and personal connections at the church down the street and that, too, helped anchor our family - not just to the community, but to each other, as well.

Carrie loves working with kids, so of course she volunteered in the schools, working as a teacher's aid and getting involved in various school productions and fundraisers.

I ended up working on various community projects from the Hospital Foundation to the SCV Youth Project. Our town became our neighborhood, and the roots got pushed pretty deeply.

Time goes on and the kids grow up and now all three have moved away, completed college, and are well on their own life paths.

Carrie and I are still here and are happier with our home than ever.

Over 22 years we've patched it, repaired it, and rebuilt it after an earthquake.

We refinanced it once during the 1994 recession, but only took out the minimum we needed. We kept paying down that loan afterward and today, 22 years after its purchase, our home is nearly paid off.

As we were walking back from Starbucks the other morning, we stopped to take a good look at our home from the corner. So many memories!

The home is chock full of all the artifacts of 22 of love and family. It's comfortable, it's worn in, and like a cozy sofa, it's just the way we like it.

That's the difference between a house and a home. Homes are what you make them ... and when you decide to put down roots and love and respect your home it becomes ... well ... like family.

There's so much talk now about upside-down and walking away and short sales and cut-and-runs.

That's the kind of talk you'd use for a house.

Just wood and stucco and finances. But your home ... that's worth sticking it out for.

One-year or five-year upside downs will happen. They always have. But building community roots and growing your family - that's a home.

During stressful times like these, perhaps it's much more sane and reassuring to think of our houses much more as homes and much less as financial investments.

Gary Horton lives in Valencia. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal. "Full Speed to Port" appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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