Brand building through storytelling

Adventures in real estate

Looking for a home is like looking for love. I keep hoping that today I’ll find The One. I wish away grievous flaws. I try to tell myself, “I can change this!” But I can’t get rid of the tumbledown garage that faces my prospective living room, anymore than I can stop a drunk from drinking. So I return to the real world—but only until tomorrow, when my heart swells anew.

Since we sold our home with nowhere else to move, my world has shrunk to breathless real estate ads (“Don’t miss this one!”) and the Mls web site, with its weirdly hypnotic video tours of houses shot from such distorting angles that even the pokiest room looks big enough for a crowd of chic party-goers and uniformed waiters passing vegetarian spring rolls. None of this high-tech gimmickry existed during our last house-hunt 16 years ago. The agent used to call every morning, and together we plotted the day’s hunt. What we couldn’t physically tour, we didn’t consider.

Now the endless online options have me spinning before I hit the street. For the cost of an uninspiring house in Toronto, I could have a swankiest condo in Winnipeg, or a gabled Victorian surrounded by farmland. If I don’t know what’s out there, if I can’t let my imagination roam, I might miss The One! Maybe this is how it feels to be dating again in midlife: you have at least a vestigial memory of talking to men at parties, but what are you to make of all those web sites featuring profiles of possibly irresitible men who could be anyone, anywhere?

Last week, all aflame over a video tour, I visited a charming house (beware of “charming”: it’s code for “so small, elves should move in”). Although I’m so short all my pants need the hems taken up, even  I had to crouch to gnome height while descending the creaky basement stairs. “Steps to subway!” the web site had promised. Yes, indeed. The place had a panoramic view of the tracks.

Next stop: an enchanting old house nestled in its own little grove of mature trees. Leaded glass windows, original wood paneling, character-filled nooks and crannies…so much to love! I knew just where I’d put our antique kilims, my father’s paintings and the shelves for our profusion of books. The place had been featured on a decorating show, hence the fashionably muted palette and the absence of any books except the glossy, oversize kind that decorators like to stack on ottomans. If anything, the house looked too perfect, more every-hair-in-place model than kissable human being. It needed yesterday’s paper tossed on the floor, and a half-empty empty coffee mug perched on top of last month’s Vanity Fair. I have a proven flair for this kind of artless touch, as my husband will gladly confirm.

The house was a flirtation, not a marriage or even a fling. I’m a seasoned woman, after all. “Featured on TV” means “expect bidding war to boost the asking price by $50,000+.” I cast my eyes over the inspection report provided by the vendors. Hmmm: drainage problems, possible moisture in the basement, and tree roots that just might do something nasty to the plumbing. Oh, and we’d have to clean the eavestroughs “at least twice a year” (the real meaning of “surrounded by large trees”). I remembered dizzying repair bills for previous houses, where we grappled mightily with tree roots and drainage conundrums. I did a few quick calculations. No, thank you.

Third stop, just the other day: a loft with soaring ceilings and art deco windows of a size rarely seen outside churches. What a statement we could make with our art work. We could add built-in book shelves so high, we’d get ladders like the ones in old libraries. In our 50s, we’d reclaim our young freewheeling selves, the two dreamers whose worldly goods fitted into the trunk of a used Renault. The place screamed “artist in residence” to the point where the kitchen recalled the stripped-down affairs in photographers’ studios, good only for making expresso and unwrapping takeout panini. Closet space? No more generous than the trunk of the old Renault. But hey, we wouldn’t have to clean any eavestroughs.

Back I went to the dubious comforts of the Mls web site, where what I’m seeking is as close as the next key click and as distant as the Taj Mahal. I want a home, and the one I have—for a little while longer, anyway—no longer feels like mine. Someone else is imagining her art on these walls. She’s wondering what colour to paint the dining room and where to put her antique armoire. Although she and her family won’t move in for a while yet, my home is in a sense more hers than mine. Is this how it feels to be sleeping with your ex, who still knows exactly how you like to be touched but is no longer part of your future?

To be continued…

Posted by Rona

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