Selling Our Family Home

Sometime in January I finally had the votes to sell the family home.  It was a hollow victory with no joy attached.  The feeling is akin to being named the “best dressed” Hell’s Angel, or the world’s tallest dwarf.  Granted I lacked a ringing mandate, but with the tacit approval of the children, and JoAnne once more speaking to me in complete sentences, it was time to proceed.

The Japanese describe the ideal cup as small on the outside and large on the inside.  This is our house.  It is not a sprawling three-story Kenwood mansion.  To the tax assessor and passing strangers, we live in a modest two-story bungalow with nobackyard.  From the inside it is a high ceilinged, sunlit and airy five bedroom home with a studio apartment in the basement.  Large and small: both images are true.Our house has always been closely tied to our identity as a family.  By rights of income we had no business living there.  We long ago rationalized that where we gathered was more important than eating in nice restaurants, joining a country club, having a new car, boat or cabin.  The house was a Rorschach or litmus test for prospective friends.  It said so much about us that visitors felt they knew us in a short time.  Miraculously, our kids bought into our skewed world view and were happy with garage sale clothes and a public school education.  Since becoming adults, neither of them are mouth breathing cretins, nor members of the NRA,  and so I feel that we have done all right.

JoAnne and I loved our house, but kept it together on a tight budget with liberal applications of Crazy Glue and duct tape.  Our discretionary funds went into maintaining it, and our philosophy was rooted in the Hippocratic oath, first do no harm.  It could be a fine house, we always said, but the octopus furnace still worked too well to replace it,  installing new windows was prohibitive, central air was hopelessly beyond our budget, and we did not want to refinish the floors with Stella running around.

Our pride and joy was clearly not for everyone.  Maybe you “get” the architecture,  the seven-foot tall Tim McCoy movie poster, the multiple bookcases housing the works of Noam Chomsky and Jack Paar, the 1950s pamphlets on the pros and cons of building a bomb shelter, and JoAnne’s 16 harness floor loom and room full of fleece.  If this makes sense to you, perhaps we are kindred spirits.

Furnishings aside, the house is unique and quirky.  Finding someone who would not only appreciate it, but was willing to pay a fair price, looked to be a challenge, particularly with us in California.  Meg Forney of Coldwell Banker has always been a friend and a helping professional.  She volunteered to give us a no obligation appraisal.  Better than her word, she included our place as a stop one week on the realtor’s open house junket.  She was able to get us twenty professional opinions.  Not surprisingly, the estimates of what price our house could bring were widely discrepant.  The range alone was over $200,000.  Like I said, you either love the house or hate it.

All of this is backdrop to the Hill and Lake Press connection.  In 1994 I received a complimentary letter from Barb Pratt, a self-described fan who enjoyed my writing.  As unaccustomed as I am to such positive feedback to my column, I did not respond right away fearing I would be somehow ensnared in a pyramid scheme.  Fortunately this inordinately perceptive neighbor later hosted a garage sale at which introductions and a working blender were exchanged.

Since then Barb and her husband Alan have become good friends.  They were frequent guests in our home, and we knew they “got it”.  When we were ready to sell, I did not think of them as potential buyers because their huge three-story home in Lowry Hill with eclectic gardens, porches, and beautiful backyard is much grander than ours.

Then came a mysterious e-mail from Alan.  We were to expect an offer from them within 24 hours.  They loved our house, warts and all.  They would embrace or improve every quirk, and were eager to move down the hill. They would keep our children’s growth charts penciled into the playroom door jamb.  They were respectful of our mixed feelings and overwhelmingly supportive.  A fair price was agreed upon, and within a month we were done!

Of course there was the not insignificant matter of Tim McCoy and thirty years of garage sale stuff.  Suffice it to say I am in deep in debt to JoAnne and will need to write a column about her.  In the meantime, think of her as Mr. Wolfe (Harvey Keitel), in “Pulp Fiction”.

Barb and Alan plan to maintain the house’s integrity while enlarging the upstairs bathroom, redoing the floors, and opening up the kitchen.  Changes we never could have brought about are happening.  Rather than be jealous of the makeover, we cannot wait to see how it turns out.  Barb, a political activist, plans to hold a number of fundraiser concerts in their new home.  I am fine with the concerts, it is the rest of the last sentence that is hard.

Our home for eighteen wonderful years is ours no longer.  It is the right thing, like giving your crazed dog to a kindly farm family that will give him room to run.  Still you miss the rascal…


Tom H. Cook is less local, but is still middle class, middle aged, and cranky.  His column will continue. 

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