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Now it can be told: Diary of a first-time buyer

Oh, how I used to make fun of Those People. The ones who are always talking about grout and shear walling and elastomeric seals. You know the species: homeowners.

For years I rented happily, enjoying the irresponsibility of banging huge nail holes into my apartment walls. Until I bought a house, I fancied myself a creative person with a mission in life that went beyond Roto-Rooter and unreinforced masonry. I was a Sheetrock snob.

In the past year, I've learned quite a bit about the whole business of buying and owning a home. Here's some excerpts from my first-time buyer's diary:

July 1990: Landlord and kids (upstairs) bowling again. Started at 6:45 a.m. sharp this time. Think about calling real estate agent.

August 1990: Come home and all my chairs gone. Call upstairs. Landlord borrowed them for dinner party. Oops, he said, didn't know you'd be home this early.

September 1990: Start looking for house in East Bay. Acquiring new vocabulary. Finding writer Charles F. King's real estate glossary useful. Key terms: "Beamed ceiling" (exposed lumber); "Charming" (decorations by Montgomery Ward and/or Lillian Vernon); "Dollhouse" (dollhouse); "Park-like setting" (has tree).

February 1991: Talk about home search with relatives in Florida and Kentucky. Response to price and size of houses I've looked at is shocked pause, followed by piercing laughter.

They reminisce about their first house: four bedrooms, living room, dining room, pantry, sun porch, billiard room, dog kennel and 11-acre yard (just the front). All for $8,400.

March 1991: Call about Victorian in Oakland, unbelievable price. Drooling by the time agent got through listing its attributes. Before hanging up, he says, "Oh, it just needs one thing _ a foundation."

April 1991: Discover meaning of "bonus room": 2-by-2 closet or small cupboard.

September 1991: Make offer on one-bedroom mouse house "as is." Plus side: two minutes from racetrack. Minus side: disclosure statement mentions prostitutes two blocks south. Real estate agent: "Just don't swing your purse when you walk down that way. That's a sign you want to be picked up."

October 1991: Glance at inch-thick termite report again four days before moving in. BATHROOM FLOOR NEEDS GROUTING AND SEALING. Thought forms slowly, like a puddle. Will floor cave in after a shower? Frantic inquiries to agent, seller and Frenchman named Jacque who grouted neighbor's bathroom floor.

Turned out there is hairline crack between toilet and shower wall. Jacque will fix for $55 an hour.

November 1991: Hard to get used to not swinging purse. Traffic noise also bothersome, so bought cassette tape of crickets singing.

November 1991: Mail arrives every other day for Sam Shepard. Didn't think much about it until I heard that Shepard got his start at S.F.'s Magic Theatre. Decide my house could have been his writer's haven. Visions begin: celebrity bus tour, brass plaque, house spiraling up in value. Daydream about Sam calling for mail he wants forwarded.

December 1991: Tape purse to leg to keep it from swinging. Works pretty well.

December 1991: Can't sleep. Keep dreaming about giant termites eating through foundation. Wonder if cricket tape started it all subliminally.

December 1991: Mail really piling up for Shepard. Called Magic Theatre, feeling silly. They put me in touch with friend of Shepard's in East Bay. She told me he'd never lived in my house. She did point out, however, that there is a convicted murderer by the same name who could have lived there.

January 1991: Catch self watching This Old House on Channel 9.

So that about brings me up to date. While recovering from a bad case of buyer's remorse, I've been reading the mail that keeps arriving for former residents other than Sam.

I'm just about through with "How to Manage Priorities and Meet Deadlines (24 Power Pointers to Boost Your Productivity Now!)." Then I plan to tackle "How to Outperform Every Mutual Fund While Cutting Your Risk" by Steve Newby, "USA's Hottest Stockbroker!" After that I have to call the contractor about shear walling, go to the hardware store to price some Sheetrock and buy a crescent wrench. I know what you're thinking. Don't say it. Please don't say it. Hey _ does anyone know what a stud finder is?