By Meta Pasternak
Suddenly the rambling rancher you bought twenty-five years ago to accommodate children, dogs, a rabbit, and assorted tree frogs, seems too big for just one person. The children have their own abodes, the animals are gone, and the suburban area, chosen for its school test scores, offers little stimulation for a retiree.
You could live for the few times a year when the grown children, their spouses, and grandchildren fill the house with their laughter and warmth. But that means living the rest of the year worrying about the leaks in the roof, the enormous electric bill, and the constant needs of the expansive yard.
Or, you could downsize.
Perhaps a one-bedroom apartment that allows you to close the door and travel. No garden to keep watered, no garbage cans to haul up to the road, and if you’re lucky, a doorman to hold your mail. Time for concerts, lectures, museums.
First you have to sell the rambling rancher and convince your children it’s the right move!
The grandchildren are devastated. Where will their bunk beds go if you only have a one-bedroom apartment? Your daughter loves the house and suggests she move in with you. Not a good idea. Your son is fine with it, as long as you ask top dollar.
You begin the preparations to put it on the market. You discover that long before you sell your house, you start to lose it.
First, there’s the agent who tells you that you must remove Grandma’s bookcase because that will make the room seem larger. Then comes the “stager” who tells you to take every beloved picture of your family (including Grandma’s) off the shelves. Conventional beige replaces your grandchildren’s Hello Kitty and Thomas the Tank Engine bedspreads. The few books you’ve been allowed to keep must be rearranged in color groupings.
Granted, the house has never been so clean, and the kitchen does look bigger without the coffee maker, toaster, fruit bowl, and paper towel dispenser, but where in the world did you hide the sponge?
The first week on the market, the house looks fantastic and you stay away. One day, when you finally come home at 4:30 after spending hours shopping (this could be expensive), you take off your shoes, turn on the TV… and the phone rings.
It’s the agent. She apologizes, but she has someone who wants to see the house, so could you please vacate the premises immediately.
This continues for the next four days – in the house, out of the house, always remembering to lower the lids on the toilets, empty every garbage can and turn on every light before you leave. This is not an easy adjustment. You’ve spent your life turning off lights as you leave a room; you dread this month’s electric bill.
Another day you are told to leave between 4:00 and 5:00, but when you return at 5:30, your agent’s car is in the driveway. At first you’re annoyed (Where to go? You’ve had enough Starbuck’s coffee to last you a week); then you’re elated. Perhaps the potential buyers stayed long enough to make an offer.
But, alas, not that day, and you go through the entire week without an offer…though not without possibilities: “Stay home this afternoon; I think we’re going to get an offer.” “Stay home this evening; it’s looking good.” In the end, the offers dissolve into a couple who has found a “better house,” a young woman who is “waiting for her inheritance,” and a man who is “checking on how much it would cost to carpet the hardwood floors.”
A few weeks later, two houses in the neighborhood come on the market. Both are comparable in price, but one has been completely renovated, and the other has more square footage and is more “conventional” than yours. They sell in two days.
Suddenly, the house seems dowdy; you see every chip of paint, the marked floor, the old roof. You want to call the agent and lower the price immediately, but you know that isn’t wise at this early date. Though it feels like a year, it’s only been a month.
Will anyone want your house? A month ago, you felt like a sophisticated, mature woman living in a sophisticated, attractive house. Today, you’re the elderly lady, unseen, and as dowdy as the house.
But people continue to come. They leave telltale signs. If the soccer ball on the lawn is in a different place, and the grandson’s truck under the tree is moved, they have children. If the wooden slats in the fence have been removed, they’re looking at the easement. If the heat pump in the upstairs room has been turned on, and the door to the shower opened, they’re interested in a mother-in-law unit or a place for an au pair. It goes on for months like that.
You begin to question your motives for selling. Is it a house full of memories you shouldn’t leave, or is it full of ghosts and you should move on? Has the real estate agent set the price too high, or is your son right when he says you should hang in there for a buyer who appreciates it?
Or should you change your mind and stay since your daughter and your grandchildren are so attached to it?
After three months, you can’t bear it any longer. You gather your grown children and their spouses in the living room and tell them you want to move. And soon. You’ll be lowering the price on the house, and you know they will respect your decision. They all nod as if chastised.
In a week you have a buyer who loves the house and has ideas for “renovations.” You find you don’t care what they do to the house after you leave. You have control over your own life; you’re on your way to that apartment in the city.
Meta Pasternak is a retired high school English teacher now living happily in her downsized lifestyle in a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco and is working on a young adult novel for her granddaughter.