Coloured_Figures_of_English_Fungi_or_Mushrooms_-_t._126There have been fewer foreclosed houses on the market lately, so when one popped into the MLS today I popped over to take a peek. Emphasis on pee. Or puke: I popped over to take a puke.

Here’s some frustrating background: It takes an average of 600-plus days to foreclose a house. And a whole lot of sh*t can happen in 600 days. Especially if the occupant goes away mad on Day 242 without draining the pipes.

So, in my experience, most foreclosed homes have been through a winter of frozen pipes, and a springtime of indoor flooding. The furnace is often defunct from flooding, freezing, or both. The baseboard pipes may be split in a number of secret locations to be revealed only when the new owner opens a new account with the Portland Water District. The wood floors are buckled; the stench of mold and heartbreak hangs thick in the air.

(In the best cases, the bank that now owns the house has hired someone to drain the pipes, dump antifreeze in the toilet, and return every few months to pull the pin on a Glade grenade the size of a pineapple. I actually prefer the scent of sewagefungus.)

Anyway, foreclosure often sets water free, and free-range water is almost never helpful to the inside of a house. Mold happens. If sewage is stuck somewhere when frost sets in, that too can spread a fantastic feast for fungi. Today’s house had that scent — sewagemold plus heating oil.

People are increasingly freaky about bunking with mold, our species’ cave-sleeping past notwithstanding. Aint no bank gonna lend normal people money to buy a mold house. The only person equipped to purchase a fungusy foreclosed house is generally a renovator. A flipper. A professional fungus jockey.

And so today’s foreclosure, which I had hoped might fit my artistic and modestly-budgeted clients, was a disappointment. The burgundy shag on the stairs they could handle. The blue bathroom they could manage. But mold won’t fly. A Glade bomb had been detonated, but it came nowhere near drowning the smell of waste and heartache.




Although the real estate market in Southern Maine is hot, it’s the kind of hot that can leave behind the odor of singed dreams. The Portland area is unique in some awesome ways. But our painful housing crunch isn’t one of them.

With approximately one trillion American Baby Boomers making a collective decision to downsize and/or flee the suburbs for a closer-knit community, the whole nation (and other parts of the world, as well) is feeling a peculiar population pinch.

Seared by the “nursing home” twilight of their elders, Boomers are determined to “age in place.” That means they’re looking for low-maintenance, stairs-free, affordable housing close enough to a yoga studio and a coffee shop that they can carry on Booming with less driving.

But this housing does not exist. It just doesn’t. Ranches are pricey to build because the expensive roof and basement are amortized across a small living area. High rises with elevators don’t exist because nobody really wants one next door. Plus, to a Boomer, “high-rise” is synonymous with “ugly-*ss box with no outdoor space and I don’t have time for elevators.”

If I had a million dollars (or ten million) I’d build a high rise condo in Westbrook. That town is affordable, it’s quickly evolving into a cool and manageable community, and a river runs through it. I love Westbrook. And my high rise would be special: Every horizontal surface would be planted or solar-paneled, and there would be a lot of horizontal surfaces. Nine-foot ceilings would banish the “flat” feeling of the old-time flat. My buildings would be carbon-neutral and cheap to own.

Did you see how that turned into plural buildings? I have big plans for Westbrook.

Want to live in my buildings, Boomers? Can you deal with an elevator? Txt me.

Good report on housing demographics here.


From, or wherever they got it from.

From Inhabit, or wherever they got it from.

Every time I close a realty transaction I send 10% of my commission to a friend’s organization in Haiti*, where a home can be built for about $1000. And I remember the Heineken House.

In a shining example of colonialism gone weird, Mr. Heineken himself was sunning on the Dutch-ruled island of Curacao, lamenting the native habit of discarding his product’s packaging in places that spoiled his view, when he conceived a grand idea: He would make his beer bottles brick-shaped, and the natives could use them to build their homes.

He did in fact return to Holland and commission a brick-shaped bottle that would even interlock when stacked to form a wall.

Although the public was apparently unnerved by a squarish beer bottle, depriving natives of the opportunity to dwell in their own backwash, so to speak, you have to admit it was a clever idea.

It wasn’t Mr. Heineken’s. His wasn’t even the first brewery to make a bottle brick. Bottle walls, as they’re called, go back at least to ancient Rome, where the empties were amphorae. It’s the type of clever idea that rises again and again: After the massive and horrible Haitian earthquake of 2010, I recall seeing a snapshot of wall that amounted to a chicken wire sandwich filled with soda bottles. Add stucco, and you’d never know the difference.

"Earthship bathroom," U.S. --wikimedia pd

“Earthship bathroom,” U.S. –wikimedia pd

What bottle walls may lack in stability, they make up for in so many other ways: The air voids are insulating. They lighten the entire structure. They turn a waste product into a cheap or free “brick” in a world where manufactured building materials are increasingly costly to produce and transport. And they can act as windows, as well as walls.

Functional fixedness, that’s that phenomenon whereby we can only see one use for an object–its same-old, traditional use. Functional fixedness is the opposite of creativity. It thrives on comfort and plenty. But functional fixedness can be broken. In a time of need, any one of us could probably come up with a way to build a $1000 house.

*Co-created by a friend of  mine, Matenwa Community Learning Center has evolved  into a powerful engine for sustainable and respectful development.