Little Pink Houses For You and Me
I snapped a dozen pics of the rather dumpy house in one of San Francisco’s most far-flung neighborhoods when I told our realtor Matt, “It kind of smells like old people.”
It was a Saturday afternoon, and the pics were for the Manly Fireplug, who was working at the shop, and the house was the first stop on our first tour. We moved to the window of the back bedroom, and Matt pointed out at something in the overgrown yard.
“It comes with its own boat,” he said. A decrepit rowboat had been propped against the sagging fence, half-hidden by weeds.
“Architectural salvage,” I said, “People pay extra for that.” Then I wandered into the pink-tiled bathroom (a vast number of the city’s bathrooms, according to real estate photos, are entirely tiled in pink) and snapped a pic of the cracked toilet basin. Then I followed Matt back down the stairs, and he pointed at a sign hanging on the back of the front door.
“Both hearing aids,” he said. I snapped the last pic of the house, feeling a little guilty about my earlier “old-people” crack. Ms. Martha had lived here, maybe most of her life. Maybe she’d died here, too.
Back in the car Matt kept asking me what I wanted in a home. Location? A garden? A stripper pole in the living room? I told him that after my husband and dogs, nothing was more important to me than my home, but then I found myself stuttering nervously that I…well…I kind of like a place that’s a retreat from the world, if that makes sense?
Truth was, I was scared shitless. Our first application for a preapproved mortgage had been turned down, due to the fact that I’d taken time off for grad school and to work on my book, and though our second application was supposedly “looking good,” nothing yet was certain, and I felt hesitant about this open house tour, and of real estate in general. I’m a writer with one 98%-finished book living in San Francisco, hardly the Danielle Steele of every banker’s dreams.
We spent the rest of the tour driving around the Outer Sunset, one of the few neighborhoods in the city we might possibly afford. I snapped pics of fake-wood paneling, tandem garages, and asbestos tiles. I snapped pics of illegal basement in-law units, and grimy bathrooms straight out of Folsom Prison. I snapped pics of a 12-room house carpeted entirely in, yes, pink.
But I also snapped pics of polished hardwood floors, Wedgewood stoves, and a back yard with cypress trees and a view of the Marin Headlands. We wandered through empty houses, and houses where the owners scrambled to make the beds in the next room. We wandered past a 12-year-old girl, oblivious to us, video-chatting with friends on a laptop at the kitchen table. We wandered through houses where it seemed nobody had ever lived, tastefully staged within an inch of their lives.
I felt the nervous, competitive energy of a house crammed full of prospective buyers – young couples and Chinese families, and more than a few start-up types – all of us pretending not to see each other as we tried to picture the living room in a different color.
After five or six houses I felt giddy and exhausted, a headache gnawing at the edges of my vision. “You have an interesting job,” I told Matt. “You see everyone at their absolute most stressed, teetering at the edge of sanity.”
The next day we got word that our loan application had been preapproved, and the thing I thought couldn’t happen was now possible. Or near-possible. I felt superstitious and unrelieved.
“I’m getting an ulcer,” I told the Fireplug, who had been through real estate insanity in New York and San Francisco, and who, let’s face it, was the more stable, profitable, loan-worthy of the two of us.
“This is nothing,” he said. “Remember what I said. Roller-coaster.”
And I’ve flown off the tracks, full-out OCDing on real estate sites, my already-fractured attention span splintering atomically, unable to focus on anything else. I am writing this partly to distract myself from the fact that Matt is right this moment touring the house that has reached the top of our list, a house we’ve only seen in professionally-staged online photo galleries, in another far-flung neighborhood, a house I want to believe is solid, a house we can both picture living in together, getting older and more crotchety, needing at first one, then two hearing aids, hanging notes on doors to remind ourselves of all the things we’d otherwise forget.