We no longer live in our house. Oh, we sleep there; sometimes eat there; but we are ghosts, the phantom traces of a family. Selling a house is to exist in a nether world, neither here nor there, your thoughts already gone but your body left behind. Each day is an exercise in sweeping away your footprints and wiping clean the evidence of being. Our real estate agent has said how much she loves us as clients: “You can have your whole house staged to show with ten minutes notice!” But it isn’t so simple as that, or elegant.
Each day begins with the cleaning, the tidying. Pillows and throws fluffed or ruffled artfully
as the vignette demands; each bed made ‘tucked and tight,’ like a military barracks as envisioned by Design Within Reach. The outdoor spaces get pillows, blankets, and dummy coffee cups, an Eddie Bauer catalog and perhaps a book. The entire home looks as though the ‘Glee’ Fan Club is prepping for a f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s brunch to honor Ranger Rick and Smokey the Bear. There is a Thomas Keller cookbook open on the gleaming kitchen counter. Cut flowers in Autumn colors in each room. Let’s put a telephone on this copy of Bon Appetit. Look! YOU could be this casual, this refined. YOU could live like this.
Except no one does, and certainly not us. There is an irony at work here: this machine I built for looking awesome…suddenly looks awesome. All the time. The vague distress I used to feel from life’s evidence ‘messing with the texture’ of my ‘perfect thing’ is gone. But I look around, and know: I don’t want this. I want my texture messy.
And we are on a clock. We are short days away from owning two homes, each of them a light stretch but together a financial monkey holding an albatross tied to a millstone. We have had showings, and interest, but no offers. My wife and I, with long experience in sales, know that unless someone wants to buy there is no overcoming sales resistance; and the sales resistance, well… “We need a house with three bonus rooms,” “We want to build a pole barn, a detached garage, and a guest cottage.” Having dutifully disclosed the property restrictions, explained how the requirements to us do not transfer to subsequent
owners (really!), and explained how only the Critical Development Area note on title ‘runs with the land,’ this generated my favorite: “the house is so landscarped for pretty dont want goverment to come and tak it!” One can only hope this came from a child or non-native English speaker.
Over my working life I have purchased dozens of cars, vans, heavy trucks, have bought and sold commercial real estate, bought out private shareholders, settled twenty or so collective bargaining agreements. I like to think I can negotiate a bit. But without a buyer for our house, the negotiation is only with ourselves: how are we priced? are we marketed properly? who is our target buyer? We priced initially at our cost to build and have made two very substantial price drops in the last five weeks. We have been told our home is not priced comparably to other similarly sized homes in the area, which is true; it isn’t comparable to them. I knew that the 40% premium buyers pay in Seattle for custom architecture would not hold in our suburb, but if the comparison is a ten-year old spec-built home on a tight lot in an HOA-controlled subdivision, we are comparing apples to horse apples. I am willing to lose money to give my family what we want and need, but I am not a fool, and I won’t push my family to ruin. Our asking price won’t be going any lower.
My wife and I looked for the right home for our family for over five years, looked at over three hundred homes and never found one we wanted to live in. We settled on building this one, and now the home we looked for all those years appeared in August, just a couple blocks away. We have had a time, my wife and I, a life of love and joy together and with our daughter, also definitely with our share of those things that come with, that make one wonder when OUR time will arrive. After a decade or so of living life ruled by “what could possibly happen next?” we know from very hard experience this is a question never to be asked and an answer we do not want.
This is not the only process I have ongoing, and of course I have work also. A moderate
gastrointestinal distress is my constant daylight companion, and I don’t sleep much, or well. We want to move to that house, over there, be done with this experiment. I am a man, a husband and Daddy. My job is to keep fish in the boat and the rain off our heads. My job also is to make there be fun, be joy, be light and laughter. The spectral occupants of my home, my family and I, tread silent and lightly, grim looks on our faces and a fading hope in our hearts.