I promised myself and my loved ones that the inner workings of our family would no longer be fodder for this column.

But for today only, I have to go back on my promise. With the spring real estate season upon us, I think I can offer insights into today's economy using personal history.

First: recessions. We seem to go through these every few years, and we come out of them as well. I've yet to experience unemployment in 42 years in the workforce. My father often did when the economy tanked, however; he was out of work on two occasions for a year.

We lost a house because of it. Fortunately, my father had obtained a real estate broker's license to supplement his income, so we were able to sell the house at a very small profit, supplemented by his commission.

Not a first for my family.

In the Great Depression, my father's parents were living in a house the family had bought in the early 1880s, a few years after arriving from England. They lost it because my grandparents were unable to pay the property taxes. My grandfather had been out of work.

My wife and I bought our latest house in a recession - the one in late 2001, post-Sept. 11 attacks. Fixed interest rates had climbed to 6.25 percent, so I chose a 5-1 hybrid adjustable, with strict orders to my broker to let me know the moment fixed rates reached 5.5 percent.

Four months later, he e-mailed, "Is 5.375 percent good enough?" It was.

We seem to buy houses in less-than-ideal markets.

Our first, the little rowhouse in Queen Village, was purchased when fixed interest rates were 18 percent. We were able to assume a Veterans Administration mortgage at 13 percent and thought we'd hit the lottery.

Advice: Look into VA and FHA mortgages.

Six years later, with interest rates down to a more manageable 11 percent, we decided we needed a bigger house. That decision coincided with the start of a housing-market decline that lasted, in this region, almost to the end of the late 1990s.

We bought a new house in July, but were unable to sell the old one until Dec. 31, and didn't close on that sale till the end of the following March.

Tight? Whoa. For a couple of weeks, there was a choice between getting a new oil burner and buying Christmas presents. I spent several months hoping nothing would go wrong with either house. We were lucky, I guess.

Once we sold the first house, we poured thousands of dollars and 14 years of endless work into the new one, which was quite old. It was seven years before the interest rates dropped enough to make refinancing worth it, and still the best I could do, with great credit, was 7.5 percent.

At several times during the 1990s, the median price of houses in that neighborhood dropped to almost $30,000 less than we'd paid for ours. About nine years after they bought it, the owners of the other half of our twin put the house on the market for $4,000 less than they paid and got no offers. Few people even looked.

Some observations: Real estate is local, as local as a block. Forget the Web nuts and NBC Nightly News. There is no national housing market.

Thinking about selling but worried that the market is glutted? Forget it. Houses linger because they aren't priced right for the market or because they scare off buyers. If you properly price a house and are willing to negotiate (pre-inspections are a must these days), it will sell. There are even bidding wars for the really nice homes in desirable neighborhoods.

Worried about getting a mortgage so you can buy? There are still plenty of programs through the FHA. They're better for first-time buyers who don't have a house to sell, but even if you're moving up, there's something for you.

Worried about foreclosure? Don't stick your head in the sand. Call your lender, and if that doesn't work, look at www.HUD.gov for an approved counseling agency that can help you.

Whoever told you this was a perfect world lied. Stop waiting for it.

"On the House" appears Sundays in The Inquirer. Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com.