Rites of real estate spring: Where one buyer’s dump is another’s shower-with-a-view
There’s a faint whiff of aftershave in the cool midday breeze as the real estate agent asked pleasantly: “So, what do you think?”
The woman leaving the single-fronted Victorian terrace house let rip. The floorboards are no good. The rooms so small! Not much of a yard. The kitchen … The bathroom! It needs a lot of work. A LOT. There’s no way it’s worth anything like $890,000. No way.
She trailed off down the street, her fury swirling around her like an icy mist.
“Well”, the agent observed crisply as he took my name and number, “at least now you know what’s wrong with it”.
Five minutes earlier, I had been just another ambivalent sticky-beak inspecting a house I was never going to buy just to avoid unpacking the washing machine. But after that acid appraisal, I was defensive. Because this faulty house had been my first house, 20 years ago.
I ’fessed up to the agent, we shared what we knew of the little house’s history, before and since me, and he graciously ushered me inside. The angry woman had been right about the floorboards. The salmon-coloured hallway carpet had been replaced with some wonky faux boards and they really were crap.
But the rest? What was she thinking? On the left, the main bedroom. Huge. The world’s largest built-in wardrobe, bigger than my first flat. A lovely sash window that I threw open one warm evening just in time to see a shadow sprint by … the shadow which police later told me had probably shot the young bloke living across the road.
The second bedroom. Revelatory! I had never seen it not stuffed with piles of books and boxes of soft toys and craft materials and kitchen utensils that I didn’t need then and still don’t need but keep anyway, two decades on.
Next, the house broadened out a little to create a delightful, cosy living room, just big enough for an Ikea couch, a TV and an adorable tabby cat named Clancy. This was the very spot on which he and I shared Friday night fish-and-chip picnics, and watched blockbuster mini-series on the VHS player.
Above, a beautiful ceiling rose and pendant light: I remembered a tall bloke I liked – now my husband and the father of our four kids – being awkwardly helpful and sweet as he changed the globe for the first time.
The bathroom, though, was the treasure because in 1986 or so it had actually been featured in a glossy home-maker magazine. A slim, sharply-designed isthmus of personal grooming possibilities, it had a wonderful secret: with the door open, you could actually watch television from the shower! I still recall howling at the unfolding agony of Princess Diana’s death on breakfast television last century, scalding water and lilac soap doing nothing to soothe the sorrow.
The kitchen: unchanged since I made disappointing vegetarian bolognese and thought I was Margaret Fulton herself. Nondescript and dreary, I loved it to bits.
I noted that the garden was healthier than when I owned it, but that the dear old behemoth of a brick barbie was no more. One lovely sunny afternoon with good friends and average wine, I’d accidentally incinerated an espaliered bougainvillea with my overzealous barbecuing.
Even dragging around a heart full of memories, the inspection was over in two minutes and I was back on the tiled verandah. Here, after my mother died, I laid out all the flowers I was sent – the boxes of gerberas, the wreaths and bouquets and tight bunches of carnations. Clancy stretched out among them while I photographed every single one, petals vivid in the morning light, before sinking into the op shop cane chair, an island of calm in an ocean of grief.
It occurred to me, heading to the car, that I had entirely failed to put my stamp on this small, sweet piece of real estate. I’d filled a few cracks and planted some doomed begonias, but this indomitable little fortress was built in 1888: stamps have come, stamps have gone. For me, the house did all the stamping.
I thought about the woman who didn’t like my house with more generous feelings. She’s probably been looking since last December and only has $761,500 to spend. No wonder she’s cranky.
And this: I bet she didn’t even realise you could watch the telly from the shower! I should have told her. It might have made all the difference.