"Of course I want a home," writes Mary Elizabeth Williams, "I'm American." Gimme Shelter is the first book to reveal how this primal desire, "encoded into our cultural DNA," drove our nation to extremes, from the heights of an unprecedented housing boom to the depths of an unparalleled crash.
As a writer and parent in New York City, Williams is careful to ground her real-estate dreams in the reality of her middle-class bank account. Yet as a person who knows no other way to fall in love than at first sight, her relationship with the nation's most daunting housing market is a passionate one. Williams's house-hunting fantasy quickly morphs into a test of endurance, as her search for a place to live and a mortgage she can afford stretches into a three-year odyssey that takes her to the farthest reaches of the boroughs and the limits of her own patience.
"Welcome to the tracks," she declares at the outset of yet another weekend tour of blindingly bad, wildly overpriced properties. "Let's go to the wrong side of them, shall we?" As her own quest unfolds, Williams simultaneously reports on the housing markets nationwide. Friends and family members grapple with real estate agents and lenders, neighborhood and quality-of-life issues, all the while voicing common concerns, as expressed by this Maryland working parent of three: "The market was so hot, there were no houses. We looked for years at places the owners wouldn't even clean, let alone fix up."
How frustrating is the process? Williams likens it to hearing "the opening bars of a song you think is 'Super Freak.' And then it turns out to be 'U Can't Touch This.'" Told in an engaging blend of factfinding and memoir, Gimme Shelter charts the course of the real estate bubble as it floated ever upward, not with faceless numbers and documents but with the details of countless personal stories about the undeniable urge to put down roots and the lengths to which we'll go to find our way home.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Mary Elizabeth Williams is the cultural critic for Public Radio Internationalõs morning news show, The Takeaway, and a regular contributor to Salon.com. She has written for many publications including The New York Times, The New York Observer, and Parents. She has appeared on Court TV and has lectured on journalism and community at New York University and Columbia University. She lives in New York City.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Mary Elizabeth Williams, her husband and two daughters's search for a home in New York City is recounted in Gimme Shelter- Ugly Houses, Cruddy Neighborhoods, Fast-talking Brokers, and Toxic Mortgages: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream. Timing is everything, and Mary Elizabeth and her husband started their search in 2003,at the height of the home buying insanity. After living in a cramped apartment with one daughter and another on the way, she convinced her husband it was time to look for a home of their own. If there is anything harder than finding an affordable rental unit in NYC, it's finding an affordable condo, co-op or home to buy. Williams places her story in the perspective of the national experience. Many of her friends were buying homes across the country, and she tells their different stories- from San Francisco to post-Katrina New Orleans to St. Louis to Minnesota. Williams and her husband lived in Brooklyn, and they loved it there, so it was there that their search began. She figured they could afford a $350,000 mortgage, but everything in that price range was awful, filthy with missing stairs, sagging porches and a home that had mushrooms growing inside the house. Brooklyn was becoming as expensive as Manhattan, as Manhattanites were spreading over the bridge and making real estate prices skyrocket. Getting a mortgage was a scary proposition as well. While Williams and her husband had excellent FICO scores, they did not have the 20% required for a down payment. No problem; this is where the creative ideas of mortgage brokers come in. They could get a no-doc loan. This type of loan requires no pesky checking by the bank to see if the information provided by the prospective buyers on salary and credit history is accurate. Williams humorously described this type of loan as the banking industry's version of "don't ask, don't tell". While Williams and her husband were good credit risks, other people who received no-doc loans were not; thus created the housing crisis that tanked our economy. For three long years, Williams and her husband looked at condos, co-ops and houses. They finally found a co-op they liked in a neighborhood that, although far from Brooklyn, had a big park, a grocery store, decent schools, and most importantly a nearby subway station. (Anyone who lives in New York understands how crucial that is.) There is as much suspense as in a Stephen King novel as they wait for approval by the co-op board in a timely manner in order to get the low interest rate they need to afford the bank loan. This is a timely book, as Williams shares her personal story of looking for the American dream of home ownership in the context of the beginning of the housing crisis. It is immensely readable, reading almost like a novel, and if you have ever bought a house, you will relate to her story.
Mary Elizabeth Williams tells a compelling tale of her multi-year search for the American dream -- a home for her family in or near New York City, during the height of the real estate bubble. Her harrowing stories of obnoxious real estate sales people, crazy sellers, horrifying mortgages, and ridiculously expensive homes will terrify you at the same time her sparkling wit will make you laugh. An exceptional first book.
I tore through this book in a weekend and I agree-- I am sad the book is over! Mary Elizabeth Williams does the impossible-- she explains the sub-prime crisis in easy to understand terms, she effortlessly weaves together tales of very different people pursuing the dream of home ownership, and she makes us care deeply about the outcome of her own family's home search. At turns funny, frustrating, suspenseful, and poignant, "Gimme Shelter" is a must-read for anyone who has toured one too many stinky run-down open houses in pursuit of a place to call home.