Slump hasn't curbed 'House Lust'

When Newsweek reporter Daniel McGinn told his physician a year ago he was writing a book about Americans' obsession with - - homes during the real estate boom, his skeptical doctor said, "I hope you're writing really fast.'"The boom has in fact fizzled. Though McGinn's resulting book, House Lust, may have lost a touch of timeliness, it intriguingly highlights the human behavior some rational, some not that got us here. McGinn posits that slump be damned, Americans are still obsessed with real estate. The suburban Boston resident, who freely confesses his own struggles with house lust, explores seven facets of the vice in his book. For research, he spent the night in a model home, attended real estate investment seminars and, in one tedious weekend, obtained his own real estate license.Forget foreclosures and subprime lending woes; this is the sexy sort of stuff he uncovers:Mine's bigger than yours. McGinn spends time with Steven and Tammy Goldberg, who have traded up in a series of houses that started at 2,000 square feet and has culminated in their current $3 million 9,000-square-foot Potomac, Md., abode. The investment banker and his family of five have more bathrooms than they can keep track of, a men's hangout room - - and one feature Tammy Goldberg says she can no longer live without: twin dishwashers. Still, Steven Goldberg wishes for a bigger backyard.In an interview with a Maryland decorator, McGinn learns people often have trouble filling so much space. By the time they get to the finished basement, they've resorted to creating gift-wrapping and plant-plotting rooms.That new house smell. Here, McGinn explores Americans' taste for shiny, new things. A cultural reluctance to live in someone else's "ick" helps fuel new home construction, he discovers. And new homes are not just unsullied. They come with modern floor plans, are hardwired with the latest technology and can be customized right down to the toilet-roll holders.Speaking of toilets, McGinn's visit to the International Builders' Show flushes out the latest trends, from decked-out mudrooms to the Pee Wee, a commode designed for children's bathrooms that's 4 inches shorter than normal. Why we like to watch. McGinn writes that it's never been easier to gather intelligence on the homes of our friends and neighbors. Real estate valuation websites such as Zillow and TV shows such as House Hunters on HGTV are still popular despite the housing market slowdown.Humans, he says, have an innate desire to size each other up. With today's mumbo-jumbo job titles his example is "network interface IT enabler" where we live has replaced what we do as the yardstick for status.Searching for cash flow. Plenty of people jumped on the real estate-as-investment bandwagon during the five-year real estate boom, including the author, who became the "proud owner of a couple of run-down" apartments he bought online. After spending time with the get-rich-quick crowd, he writes, he couldn't help but want a piece of the action.McGinn also explores the trend of owning second and third homes, rubs elbows with the "super-gregarious primate known as the North American Realtor" and dwells for a bit on renovation madness. Through it all, McGinn manages to resist skewering easy targets but sometimes instead gently pokes fun at the cottage industries our cottage fixation has wrought such as the need for Debi Warner, a New Hampshire psychologist who trademarked the term "renovation psychology" and trolls home shows for clients who fight over remodeling.McGinn reckons that many of the factors that got us to where we are still alive and kicking despite the bust.Houses, he writes, continue to define who we are and what we've achieved. Sales of vacation homes, he points out, hit a record in 2006. Americans are still counting on the equity in their homes for retirement and remain nosy about other people's property and how much they paid for it.McGinn's House Lust remains relevant in spite of the bust because, by and large, people will never stop jonesing to keep up with the Joneses. href='' - -