As a Realtor, I go into a lot of houses, and I see a lot of things. There’s not a lot that I haven’t seen. Every now and then, however, I get surprised by something. Often it’s a good surprise.
Wait…there are hardwood floors under the carpet, and the two layers of linoleum, and they’re in good condition? There used to be a second stairway, and we can easily bring that back to greatly improve the flow and functionality of a property? I love surprises like that! Sometimes I even pick up good staging or presentation ideas that we can use to help our other clients make their homes stand out.
But sometimes they’re not good surprises. The fireplace has been sealed up. A search through the bowels of the municipal land records reveals an inconsistent property description and an unsolvable permit chain rendering what the seller thought was a two bedroom home, into a one bedroom home. If you think that sounds too precise to be made up, then you’re right.
And sometimes the surprises are less physical or bureaucratic. Sometimes they just stay with you…
Years ago I was previewing an older vacant home in a Montpelier neighborhood. It was a gray day in the fall, deep into stick season. I was alone.
I preview houses all the time. Get permission from the owner or the seller’s Realtor, and go. At this house, I went through the whole house, walked through every room, looked into closets, made mental notes about improvements a buyer might want to make.
Having gone through the first and second floors, I ventured to the attic. I’ve seen enough movies and have an active enough imagination to know that attics of old houses are a hotbed of spooky things. Up I went nonetheless, flashlight in hand. At the top, as the flashlight beam moved across the dusty floor and cobwebbed rafters, I saw…nothing. Thankfully. No sewing dress form, no trunk, no festive 1970s clown paintings (for kids’ rooms?! Who ever thought that was a good idea?). The electric looked good up there, and I didn’t see signs of rodents. I was there, after all, in the business of real estate.
Which left only the basement. Basements are generally fine. Especially if you can get your mind past the image of being underground, in what is essentially a vault, with things that spend 99% of their lives in near complete darkness. Which, I can.
The oiler looked good in that room. The electric panel looked updated in the other basement room. Foundation walls looked nice and straight. All in all, this appeared to be a good basement, especially for a house built around 1900. The basement was completely empty.
Until I got to the back room of the basement. Reaching my hand into the darkness, feeling to find the light switch, and turning it on, I saw exactly one thing. I saw one old, wooden chair, placed in the exact center of the dirt floor. Hanging over it was a single bare light bulb, low on a long wire, from the ceiling. That’s it in the whole basement. One chair and one lightbulb.
Which makes one wonder. What, exactly, was going on here? Even an obvious answer, that someone had moved the chair in the process of moving out is strange. Moved a chair, right under the light bulb, and then left it there while removing everything else?
So, what was happening in that stone walled, dirt floored basement room, with one lonely, quiet chair, and one lonely whispering light bulb? How long had it been set up that way? Who, or what moved it that way, and kept it that way?
I don’t know. I walked out of the basement, locked up, and left the house. I left with some questions, some observations that didn’t line up with what I normally see, with how houses normally look and how people generally live. And perhaps most importantly, I also left with another great idea for staging my house, when the time comes.