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Monday, April 27, 2009

Gimme Shelter by Mary Elizabeth Williams

Gimme Shelter by Mary Elizabeth Williams is the book I choose to kick of my Read-a-Thon reading last weekend. As someone who bought their house just before the market fell, albeit in a much cheaper part of the country, I find it fascinating to read other people's account of their home search. I admit that I've watched my share of shows on TLC and Discovery about buying a home or selling a home or flipping a house. I am fascinated by what people do to a house- for example, in our basement there is a 3 foot high set of Rolling Stone lips painted on the wall. They were here when we bought the house and since it's in the storage/laundry room, we left them. Reading Williams's book is a little glimpse of that, a little bit of the nuttiness of the New York housing scene, and a well written account of what it was like to live through it.

Williams is completely up front about what they can afford and what they can find in that price range (answer: not much!) They aren't making a lot more money than we do out here in the middle of nowhere South Dakota. It takes three years of hunting, of open houses in places most of us would never even consider, and of changing their whole mindset on where they want to live for Williams and her family to find a home. I know nothing about New York City geography and neighborhoods. While it's true that I wanted to live in a certain part of my town, the truth is that it wouldn't have taken but an extra 10 minutes to get to work if we had bought a home on the other side of town. This is not the case for NYC. I don't remember if she ever tells the square footage of the home they eventually buy, but to me, it seems insanely tiny. (By comparison, the main living level of my home is 1380 sq ft, with an additional 1000 sq feet of "finished" basement. I paid less than a third of what she paid. )

Williams also talks a good deal about the stress of getting a mortgage while the mortgage industry is turning upside down. She writes in easy to understand terms of why it's so important to get a good rate and why so many people have sub-prime mortgages. (For the record, not everyone with a subprime mortgage was trying to get something for nothing and not every mortgage broker who offered one was trying to scam someone.) She breaks down what PMI is, and why you might have to pay it. If you are at all interested in reading about how the housing industry works and how it got to where it is now, this is a good book to pick up.

The book isn't just a dry account of finding a home though, it's also a memoir the three years of their life. While all this is happening, they have a second child. Williams's husband loses his job and finds a new one. Life goes on and it's all here in the book. I really enjoyed Gimme Shelter. This is my favorite type of non-fiction anyway, and this one is definately worth reading.

Gimme Shelter by Mary Elizabeth Williams
Simon & Schuster
320 pages



  1. We bought when the market was high and we are still paying for it in the way of property taxes. When the median home price of a California home soared to $550K (in a crappy area no less) we too had to consider changing what we considered "home" to be.

    In our case, we came up with the extra money to stay in our current neighborhood but it was so hard to find a house! It was pure luck! Right place at the right time and we connected with the seller. It was just meant to be.

    I couldn't even document what we had gone through because I was such a nervous wreck over it.

  2. This sounds like an interesting book! I can't imagine what it would be like to have to buy a house in a market like California or New York.

  3. I really love watching House Hunters on TLC, and I've never exactly figured out why I find it so fascinating to watch people searching for their home. I've never heard of this book before, but I think I would really like it! I am also amazed by NYC real estate, and how some people are forced to buy a 850 sq. ft. apartment for like $400,000. It makes me really glad I live in Texas, where home prices are affordable and stable!


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