(This is a reprint of an article I originally posted on www.PikeWaynePABlog.com)
I was prepared for a lot of things when I became a real estate agent. My years of working in a retail environment taught me that people can suck the life out of you…so hard-to-please clients was not a surprise. Having been turned down for a mortgage once, I wasn’t surprised when a buyer or two got a response of ”Financing Denied.” This is also a fickle business; it’s no surprise when people come into my life for a glimmer of an instant just to disappear.
What has surprised me about real estate is the emotions that tear me apart sometimes. I find myself irresistibly drawn to the stories these houses hold (whether real or imagined based on the clues left behind).
Some homes are very prim, cold, and impersonal, and I wonder: what are the people like who live here? Do they have any fun at all? Their home seems so sterile. It makes me somewhat sad. (Note: chances are they were watching HGTV and took the advice of the experts who say “Take out all your personal items so that buyers can feel themselves there and not you…” My opinion: people are buying a home; they want to feel warm and welcome. There should be a happy medium…buyers should walk into a home and be able to say “This is a positive place…happiness has been here.”)
Yesterday, I was near tears by the end of my showings. The rainy day certainly didn’t help. The first house was so overwhelmingly sad. The home itself was probably structurally sound but it had obviously been in a state of neglect for several years. Entering in by the basement garage, I first saw a huge old Lincoln Continental, sitting lonely in a dark corner. Not a speck of rust was visible…I could tell this was someone’s “baby.”
On the wall was a series of expired boat license stickers, starting in the early 1970s and ending in 1993. I smiled, as my dad did the same thing…saved and hung them up like little trophies. There were some musty golf bags, and a hand-crocheted little golf hat with a dusty pompom on top, hanging on a hook…I didn’t touch it for fear it would disintegrate beneath my fingers.
We headed upstairs. The entire main level was in a state of disarray – a life interrupted – half-hearted packing that stopped some time ago….a brand new fridge accompanied an ancient avocado green wall oven. Cabinets that once shone under the warm glow of Murphy’s Oil Soap were now covered with scuff marks– the dried out, peeling finish marred what once was a smooth shiny surface.
Funky carpets from the 1960s were all throughout and in remarkably good shape. I suspected shoes were left in the basement and not allowed upstairs. A broken toy, a Playskool something or other from my generation, lay in the middle of the dining room. Another bunch of toys from the 1980s were laying around as well. Stacks of old books piled here and there…a baby picture of a little girl dated 1953 hung on the wall with a military picture of a proud soldier (probably her daddy) who did a tour of duty during the Korean War…I think I saw his comfortable old slippers peeking out from under his bed.
Wild floral patterned bedspreads with vivid colors adorned the 1950s/60s era beds (white vinyl headboards)…the bathroom counters looked like they’d been kept in mint condition all these years. I saw a stack of papers carefully set aside, with a note “For Billy” on top.
Though sad now, I felt that this home held much laughter and good times. The basement had a fancy wet bar complete with a mirror and a rounded 1950′s or 60′s Westinghouse refrigerator… and once upon a time had a pool table (the table was gone but the cues still hung in their rack.) I fancied ladies upstairs drinking highballs on the patio and the men in the basement bar shooting pool & having a cold one after a tough day of fishing on the lake….I imagined the grandkids in the back yard playing badminton or pretending to be The Bionic Woman or The Incredible Hulk…
For some reason, thinking about this home made me feel misty, like the day…grey and sad. I felt bad for the life that was interrupted by whatever reason – illness, death…I don’t know. (Note: sometimes too much of the story is left behind by sellers. Gotta find that happy medium and be “warm” but not “overwhelming” and definitely not “depressing.”)
Later, my client and I saw a home occupied by an elderly widow. She was so happy to see us and began sharing countless details about her life. I soon learned that she was all alone, no children, no siblings left…she shared with us her stories about her beloved antiques and how her father was a big fan of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
I didn’t want to go, and my client was so politely interested in her stories – I wanted to sit down and have a cup of coffee and listen to all of her stories… of growing up during the Great Depression and coming of age during WW2 and … it was just too much for me. I hated to leave her, standing on the steps holding her cane… watching us exit into the winter air…wondering if maybe this time, her house would sell and she could move south, someplace warm with no stairs to climb and no lawn to mow.
Wherever she goes, I hope there are people around to listen to her stories.