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OK UK? - Real Estate Reality...
Really Real Estate...
As a group, sellers of houses are given to hyperbole with a side of glorious grandiloquence; you have read their stuff, right? You never come across an ad for, say, a mediocre house with little character in a questionable location. No sir. Every house is a masterpiece, a little gem, heaven on earth, or simply requires a gentle flick of a magic wand to make it so. (Called beguilingly a fixer-upper, not a total downer…) I have often wondered if any seller has read the description of their home and felt compelled to put an offer in?
In England these fine folks are called Estate Agents, which is highly suspect nomenclature, bringing to mind the dispersal of the assets of the grand country houses, not a three up two down in the murky outskirts of Newcastle.
My experience is limited to the purchase of two homes, both done during the practice marriage many, many, moons ago. House one was row house, over two hundred years old in the mining hamlet of Clara Vale in Northumberland. It was certainly affordable, but hardly desirable. It originally had two rooms downstairs and three small rooms up. In this form it was lived in by several generations of coal-miners, with families of six or seven children. By the time I purchased it, it was no longer a working class necessity, but a “cute cottage nestled in historic countryside.”
It had been 'improved' with the addition of a kitchen and bathroom (with indoor toilet) or as the card in the Estate Agents window boasted, "all mod cons". Fortunately, they did not mean con as in connivance, but as in 'all modern conveniences'. It had central heating, and at the end of a front yard, (which was in the back), a pre-fabricated garage.
The back yard, which faced the street and thus was the front entrance, no longer held the coal shed and outdoor toilet, but had a seriously badly designed brick extension in it. Sticking a brick box on a stone house, complete with a flat and leaky roof, to house a bathroom and kitchen, should have been a crime, but the sellers were proud of their handiwork, and the Estate Agent simply gushed.
This house was connected to thirty or so other houses of similar design. I was informed that the street was ‘paced out’ by the builder, dropping sand every ten paces, delineating where the walls were to be placed. The walls were built of the rocks dug out of the mineshaft, so they varied considerably from the first to last house giving an interesting horizontal snapshot of the local geology. The walls were about three feet thick, had no damp course, and each house had slightly different window placement and sizes. We shared a long slate roof that was interrupted only by stone chimneys.
I had an inspection done one day, after observing the dramatic sag of the roof above my particular house. The amount of daylight I could see was truly worrying me in the land of rain...but, the report read that the slates were original, sound and that the settling observed was not 'out of the ordinary' and would last in all probability another two hundred years.
Fact is, the roof never leaked, score one for the firm of 'Leave-well-alone and Son' surveyors and general contractors…
Selling the very same house a few years later, complete with a new kitchen installed by me, we made nearly one hundred pounds. The new owners worried about the roof, same guy inspected it, charged them his usual fee (one hundred pounds…), and gave them the self-same report he had given me.
The house was a revelation, and not in a good or biblical way, partly because the materials were the cheapest available in the late seventeen hundreds. Removing the carpeting upstairs (which was an artifact from the disco era) I found layers of newspapers. Those uppermost were from the seventies, that’s the nineteen seventies, but burrowing down, I found some really old ones from the turn of the century The floorboards were all individual, not a single piece was the same length or width as another, and no nails had been used, just little triangular metal pieces cut from a sheet. In a moment of lunacy I decided to ignore the example of Mr. Leave-well-alone and tried to lay a modern hardwood floor over them.
Which I then covered in newspapers to even out the more obvious lumps, and put a carpet over…
The downstairs flooring was less of a challenge, bad carpet on top of newspapers on top of cement. I was informed the cement was a recent addition as the original floor had been compacted dirt with flagstones over.
Have I mentioned how damp and cold the house was?
Both downstairs rooms had large fireplaces. The “sitting room” had been converted to gas, which managed to heat an area of about five square feet directly in front of it. The former kitchen (pre the brick built extension) was now a dining room and boasted a large inglenook fireplace…that no longer worked. Once the working hearth of the home, the source of countless meals, it became a place for the dogs to curl up in, until it got too cold for them. Then they would absorb all the available heat from the one functioning radiator…
The “modern” kitchen had no wall cabinets. I decided to fix that. Then I went a step too far and decided to extend the run of cabinets into the dining room. With its three-foot thick stone wall… After many failed attempts to hang anything, I made an arrangement with my neighbor and drilled through my wall into his house, installed some metal rods, and we both hung cabinets on either side.
It was a relief to sell the place…
House two was a very boring semi-detached (is it detached or not?), unremarkable in every way except how it started out as ours and ended up as hers...
Now if only estate agents wrote pre-nups…
Dear Hub Reader
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Homo Domesticus; A Life Interrupted By Housework,
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