Monday, June 4, 2012

Curb Appeal

When shopping for homes we favored those with extreme curb appeal, and that was our first mistake. We fell in love with a house. In addition to putting us at a competitive disadvantage in the negotiating process, we couldn’t afford the place, but we were buying in the years leading up to the housing bubble and it was just money, so what the heck.

And then there was the matter of our unsold property. The one we were trying to leave behind. The one with the in-ground swimming pool. In November. A contingency? No, we’ll just go ahead with the purchase because the seller accepted a ridiculous lowball first offer. We could theoretically double up on mortgages for a couple of months.

How were we to know that the seller was wealthy, a cunning business person, who was also willing to write us a check, bridging us a loan to get his house sold? All at the paltry interest rate of nine percent.

I drove to the seller’s new house to pick up a personal check for $60,000. The drive to Lake Forest was short and scenic. I didn’t realize at first that the street I navigated was a driveway. The doors to the massive home reminded me of the huge entryway that frequently served as a backdrop for Jed Clampett and Granny. But that was a painful association, reminding me of our own home with the “see-ment pond” sitting unsold as our closing date approached.

I produced a thundering metallic knock on the portal, fully expecting a green-clad sentry to deny me entry to see the Wizard. When the door swung open, our seller appeared in a foyer framed by two arching staircases that culminated in a railed balcony overlooking a crystal chandelier below.

“It would be great for a wedding photo, don’t you think?” commented seller.

Seller’s wife appeared. They were retired, living in 7,000 square feet of custom designed opulence. I had never before been in a house with a five-car garage, a library, music room and an open hearth imported from Europe. The money I had come to collect became a secondary issue. I was mesmerized by the view ahead of me, far ahead of me, seemingly half a football field ahead of me, of a fireplace that appeared large enough for several people to stand inside. And the whole scene was vaguely familiar.

“It was modeled on the house you’re buying. Scaled…up” said the seller. “Would you like a tour?”

I nodded, stunned into silence.

It was a mansion so large I would have gotten lost had I not been accompanied. Many of the features were typical house stuff on a grand scale. Quality throughout, and oversized beyond reason. Twelve foot ceilings? Perhaps. But the kitchen! Most restaurants lack this splendor, losing in elegance what they gain in stainless steel. The wall to my left was entirely paneled in dark wood, floor to distant ceiling, curving almost out of sight ahead and to the right. The subtle curvature of the space masked some of the more utilitarian elements of the room. Appliances were built into seamless cabinetry.

Stepping over to one such highlight, Mrs. Seller smiled and proudly demonstrated a particular favorite. Opening what could only be called an oven door at shoulder height, see proudly commented, “This can bake forty potatoes.”

I spoke before thinking. The notion of baking forty potatoes was funny to me, and I chuckled mildly to this retired couple and responded, “Can it bake two potatoes?”

“Well, you have to keep the next owner in mind. Many like to entertain in this area.”

That ended my tour. Check in hand, I was shown the door, the portcullis, escorted over the moat and drawbridge and sent on my way. I looked behind me as the gate closed with a resounding thunk, imagining a windlass taking up lengths of clanking chains, and a large wooden bolt swinging into place across the span to secure the castle against battering rams and marauding hoards. Stupid savages. Curb appeal does that to people.

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