The highs and lows of parenting and real estate.

There's 'Staging' and Then There's 'Not Resembling a Haunted House'

Houses Shown: 9

Scorp Count: 2

Creepy Yet Fascinating Houses: 1

I’ve mentioned my voyeuristic tendencies before, right? I’m not a perv or anything (I’m totally going to get skeevy Google searches off this one); I’m just incredibly, unapologetically nosy. I love to hear about other people’s lives and watch their personal drama unfold. The minutia of human existence fascinates me. You’ll probably not be surprised to hear I also love trashy novels and reality TV. (If you’d like to have a debate about whether Teen Mom is the bane of American society or an accurate and successful warning to teens about the consequences of unprotected sex: BRING IT.) I’ve often thought that maybe when I tire of real estate I’ll go back to school and become a shrink (that’s the technical name for the degree, right? I have a Doctorate of Shrinkology).

The point is, not only does real estate allow me to indulge my Socratic leanings because I get to have hours in the car with my clients to grill them about the details of their lives (So when you were 9 your mother told you you’d probably always have funny hair? And how did that make you feel?) but I also regularly show occupied homes, which means I get to literally step into people’s living space and take a look around. Let me tell you, this is often even more interesting than meeting the people themselves.

This weekend I was back out with a couple I’ve been working with for a month or so now. We saw nine houses, three of which were occupied. In a normal market, without the glut of ‘distressed properties’ (more like ‘distressed pocketbooks’ if you ask me) we are currently experiencing, most houses for sale have owners who are trying to put the best face on the house possible. Rooms have been declutttered and cleaned, holes in the walls patched, pools kept extra leaf-free, etc. With the huge amount of shortsales right now, however, the owner has lots less motivation to keep the house clean and well-maintained for showing. In fact, many of the people in that situation are going through a major life transition of some sort (job loss, divorce, transfer out of state) in addition to losing (or jettisoning) their home. I’ve gotten used to hearing the words, ‘We’re in the process of moving, so please excuse the mess,’ when I call to set up showings. Though the words are almost always the same, the corresponding houses can be in radically different states. I’ve seen houses with owners who’ve said this where there were just a few boxes left here and there and a pile of dust from underneath the dryer that had been swept but not yet taken out. And then I’ve seen houses that make me feel like I should be wearing a hazmat suit to show.

The third to last house we saw on Saturday was the last occupied house on our list. When we pulled up out front of the house two teenagers dropped out of the tree in the front yard and went running inside. That was my first clue this was going to be an odd one. The kids were the ones who opened the door when we rang the bell. They apologized for the mess and trailed along behind us as we toured the house (which totally sets everyone at ease and isn’t at all uncomfortable. On opposite day). This house wasn’t one of those that belonged on that show Hoarders (I was in one years ago that still gives me nightmares) or that we wanted to call the Public Health Division to report (I just totally made that government organization up), but it had its own weird touches that really set it apart.

The living room that opened up on to the kitchen (where you usually find couches and a TV) had been set up as an office. Desks lined the walls that looked out onto the backyard pool. Above the fireplace was one of those gigantic fish that’s blue and has the pointy fins and nose.

Yep, just like this.

There was a leg shaving razor on the kitchen counter.

The kids’ rooms had only mattresses on the floor, no actual beds. (Although I’m no one to judge on this one. My youngest sleeps with a couch cushion for a pillow. 50% because he just likes it and 50% because we’re too lazy to go buy him a real pillow.)

There was a room that was some kind of shrine to African animals as depicted by a 7 year old girl. It had a 3 foot tall statue of an elephant, various framed pictures of man-eating animals in cuddly, anthropomorphic poses and a mural on one wall of a cheetah sleeping with a smile on his face in the crook of a large tree and the sun setting in the background. This décor might have been normalish for a budding zoo-keeper in second grade, but based on the furniture, it was the office of a grown man.

In the third bay of the three car garage we found a jewelry-making studio. There were shelves filled with little vials of colored beads and beading wire and tools strewn about a workman’s table. This, in itself isn’t that strange. My mother has a similar one in what used to be my brother’s room. The weird part was the cigarette butts littered in and around the jewelry. One even had a carefully constructed silver ring coiled around it.

We investigated the dimly lit master bedroom last. The teenage girl (with tiny white shorts and thick black eyeliner) ran ahead of us and jumped onto the bed as we walked through the door. She grabbed hold of a tiny growling dog in the middle of the bed and said, “I’m sorry, she’s just recovering from dental surgery.” To which we sort of nodded and said, ‘Aw, it’s ok, we understand,’ (and as a non-dog owner I made mental note of reason #327 why I don’t want a dog: they have to go to the dentist?! I don’t even go to the dentist!) and then took a couple more steps into the room. At that moment, something larger on the bed shifted and we realized the girl wasn’t referring to the dog’s dental surgery, but her human mother, in the bed, under the covers, drugged up and with a mouth full of cotton.

I didn’t even see the master bath. I was out the door and double clicking the GOV’s auto-start button within 8 seconds, no exaggeration. I climbed into the car feeling the distinct combination of guilt at intruding on a family and desire to take a shower you only get from showing shortsales. After snapping his seatbelt in place, the husband half of my client couple shook his head and said, “I totally thought she meant the dog just got out of dental surgery!”

6 Responses to There's 'Staging' and Then There's 'Not Resembling a Haunted House'

  1. very interesting article thanks for sharing,.

  2. and when you get someone who responds to this post with “we’re interested in buying that house”, you should do a feature on them.

  3. Number of commenters who have taken their dog for dental surgery: 1
    sad but true.

  4. Have you read “Glass Castle?” It’s a memoir of a woman who grew up with a family and in homes like you’ve described. So incredibly creepy, sad and interesting. But you know what? You’ve written it better here. I wanted to turn the page! Gimme more gimme more gimme more.

  5. I don’t need to buy a new house, but I think I need to be your intern. I seriously want to hang out with you in all this craziness. Glances into peoples homes are such a hoot. Keep the blogs coming…

  6. I’ve never commented on a blog…rarely even read them. This was just posted on a friend’s fb page & I was curious. Have to say, though…I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. You’re a great writer. Keep it up! :)

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