My sister is 'downsizing'. She has sold her big house in the country, and is buying a much smaller place, close to services and shops, in a Victorian seaside town. Over the holidays, I went with her to have a look at a few houses for sale.
The ones I loved were 100 year old weatherboard Federation style houses, with lovely high ceilings, and stained glass windows, and carved mantelpieces, and beautiful wooden floors with the rich patina of being trodden by many feet over many years, and gardens with huge old trees and ancient gnarled wisteria climbing everywhere. These houses also had asbestos issues, holes in the gutters, rotten stumps, non-compliant verandas, and needed all their wiring replacing.
'I don't want to buy a whole new set of problems,' said my sister wisely, if a little wistfully.
We went to look at a more modern, brick house, situated close to the town center.
When we got out of the car and saw that the front yard was completely concreted and not a single tree or bush to be seen, my sister said, 'Let's get out of here,' but I urged her on.
'We've got to have something to compare,' I said.
A man in his forties was hovering about, trying to control a very large, aggressive-looking, bull mastiff type of dog, who barked incessantly the whole time we were there. He had been, (still was), a very good looking man, but was clearly going to seed, muscles turning to fat, and some sort of massive resentment or unhappiness written all over his face.
The agent, a typically smart, heavily made up, high-heeled woman of a certain age, greeted us without enthusiasm. She could see immediately that the next 15 minutes of her life was going to be wasted.
The rooms were all pokey, the carpets stained. The built in robes had been abused by teenagers. In the master bedroom, a king size bed filled the room, and had been hastily covered by a leopard print doona, while a huge mirror covered the entire wall opposite. The kitchen was run down, with only a single sink and a badly marked upright stove, and no pantry.
A long, tacked-on living space at the back of the house had a raised platform to accommodate two absolutely enormous recliner chairs. Two others sat on the floor below them, all four facing in the same direction - towards a massive TV screen on the opposite wall. The windows had some complicated mechanism for being blacked out completely.
We went out into the backyard. The man still hovered, holding his dog by its collar. Across the entire width of the backyard was a shed, with a large sign over the door, 'Man Cave.' A sort of half giggle, half snort escaped me. I felt the man watching us go in - oh, how he longed to let go of the dog! We were intruders now.
There was a huge bar, such as might be accommodated in an average sized pub, and complete with all the spirits you could ever want or think of. Parked next to it was a helicopter. It looked to be about the same size as E's helicopter, and I peeked inside - it was a two-seater, so definitely bigger than his. Next to that was about $80,000 worth of power boat on a very large trailer - but I know nothing of power boats, it could well have been worth more. We walked on, a bit dazed. There was a bedroom with another king size bed - it looked as if the man outside had only just got out of it 10 minutes ago. Next to the bedroom, a single shower and a small kitchenette ticked the last boxes on his list.
The agent saw us out.
'It's a bit overpriced,' said my sister, tactfully.
'He wants to get that,' said the agent, dropping her voice to a whisper. 'It's part of a divorce settlement.'
Nothing remained to be said. We got back in the car, and observed a minute's silence. I was no longer in the mood for the hilarious commentary I'd been rehearsing in the house. 'I don't love you any more' is the equivalent of applying RoundUp to the soul.
PostScript. In a currently very hot real estate market in this area, where houses are being snapped up within 24 hours of going on the market, (as my sister's was), this house remains unsold.