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Hunter Rather-er

There's no place like home. If you can find one.

By Dara Colwell

IF, LIKE ME, you're one of the frustrated thousands looking for housing in this insanely cramped market, the word "house-hunting" leaves an acidic aftertaste. I thought I'd done my time back in San Francisco, hitting the steep streets for weeks at a time before finding an apartment. From my first house-hunting venture, which left me with a case of pneumonia and a hooker as a roommate, to last year's 7-week trek that strengthened my resolve to trample meter maids, I felt my housing muscles, toughened by years in the Bay Area trenches, were tight.

Then I had to look for a place in San Jose. Although I was returning to a place of once-fond memories the battle ahead soon became a horrendous daymare worthy of an epic poem. I entered the fray with newsprint-stained fingers and a telephone tucked permanently behind my ear. This was combat.

My search began on Craigslist.org, the electronic meeting place of the house-hunting hungry. I scanned the lists, made mental notes, clicked with anxious abandon and whittled down the possibilities. After dozens of exchanged emails detailing general tastes and aversions, job descriptions, sexual orientation and (a decided lack of) social preferences, I set out on the hunt, with printouts from Mapquest trailing behind me.

I met a dizzying array of potential roommates. There was the chirpy woman who ushered me into her duplex, lined wall-to-wall with limp rag dolls. After pointing to her side of the refrigerator, with its colorful Tupperware neatly stacked in rows, versus her roommate's side, she opened the freezer and confided to me that "sometimes her food falls over onto my side--oh, but I forgive her." Or there was the young waiter, who had separated from his wife just weeks before and was considering reconciliation. As he carefully penned my personal information, the estranged wife waltzed in, eager to display her storebought goodies. "Okay," I thought, as she coyly modeled a cocktail dress with matching pumps, "What if she eventually moves back in?" To exacerbate the situation, my potential roommate asked if Metro could write a review of his restaurant.

Yes, I refused to live with a variety of people, but that rejection was based on a strong sense of home. And as a woman, I discovered, the odds were slightly against me. According to Leslie Parrott, founder of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University, women are much choosier than men when it comes to home. "Research and experience both indicate that women are more aware of their environment," Parrott says. "Men just see the home as functional, and more utilitarian." Add to that a few statistics: according to the U.S. Census Bureau, since 1970 the percentage of people aged 30-34 who had never married more than tripled, from 6 percent to 20 percent for women. Well, I'm a divorcee, but like my single brethren, I still need digs. And the competition is growing.

Next, I dragged myself over to Bay Area Rentals, parted with 98 bucks and hoped for the best. The rental agency gave me a list of 30 or so properties that matched my criteria and, inspired by the hole in my wallet, I began working my way down the list. Ten minutes, and fifteen properties later, I had scored a big zero. Nothing was available; I felt deflated. Just minutes before, the paper in my hands seemed like gold. Now it seemed as worthless as toilet paper.

I tried the classified ads. I left messages in broken Spanish. I turned up for an open house that was ten applicants deep. I was turned away by weary landlords who received 60 applications in one day. I jockeyed for position.

I decided to look at Craigslist again, fearing that perhaps I had been too brash. As I culled through the postings I came across one that had been there several months before. The owner, it seemed, was having as much difficulty finding a roommate as I was finding a place to rest my head. "I am looking for a female roommate who can appreciate my needs for peace," he wrote, adding, "I like to wear little or no clothes in the summer, in a natural non-perverted way. Sense of humor a big plus." Well, my sense of humor was dampened by the chase--and it wasn't equipped to deal with casual nudity. Luckily, fate decided to pay me a visit the next day. I walked into work, checked my voicemail and, sure enough, I finally got an apartment.

So, do I feel lucky? Well, not exactly. But almost overnight I went from feeling like a jaded loser into feeling the calm confidence of a champion. I guess that's what having a sense of place--a real place--will do. But I feel like I earned every square foot of satisfaction.

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From the July 27-August 2, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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