A picture-perfect house

#524 in a series of true experiences in real estate
November 2006, Hills Newspapers

This big old shingled house we’re working on looks to me like it should be on a Christmas card.

Snow on the lawn and bushes. Butter yellow light coming from the windows upstairs and down and way up at the top of the house, light from windows in the attic. Probably children are up there playing and because dinner isn’t ready yet, their friends from next door are there too.

At the end of the brick porch of this house are two doors and hanging there are – in the picture in my mind – wreaths formed from fresh greens. This looks like a wonderful, happy house to grow up in, to live in for many years.

The house is in Oakland but the houses across the street are in Piedmont. Most of the neighborhood was built about the same time; ours dates to 1903. These are big, old beautiful houses and those that remain have been kept up. They look good.

Probably in the seventies, some houses were torn down and replaced with stucco apartment buildings. The lots are wide and deep and that’s what must have tempted the development. There are tall street trees here. At this time of the year they are dropping their leaves onto the street and front yards and fences. The neighborhood looks good.

When our clients’ parents bought their house in 1951, there were lots of children living on the block. After school they played football in the street. Our clients grew up in the house, three kids, the oldest a boy, and two sisters. They left the house when they went to college, the youngest in 1968.

Their father saw this house and fell in love. Especially, he was taken with the attic, which is easy to understand. The attic in this house has a stairwell to it; there are windows on 3 sides; the floor is wooden; it is enormous.

And the house also has many other marvelous features and spaces. Numerous bedrooms: 4 or 5 or 6 depending on how you count. Baths: 2 full and various partial baths. Three fireplaces, although they may be beyond repair, something our fireplace mason will be looking at before long.

Also, front and back wooden stairs inside. Basement. Wood slider windows and stained glass. Dark wood paneling and beams.

All in all, a bunch of delights made like craftsmen used to make them.

The father’s mother agreed to invest her money in the house if a separated area could be made for her to live within the house. There was plenty of space on the first floor to divide off an apartment for Nana with her own outside doors, kitchen and living areas. She also had a door connecting her area to the family dining room.

Years later, after Nana and the children’s mother died, the father stayed, and later a granddaughter moved into Nana’s apartment. Dad never wanted to leave this house. Until late in his life when the kids barred him from climbing anymore on ladders he did the painting and made most repairs himself.

The house looks in spots tattered but a recent physical inspection showed that it is in better basic shape than the family expected. Dad hired some work done while he was still there. Other improvements and repairs are planned before the house is sold, although it will not be in perfect shape.

Right now, before any workmen come, the family is still dealing with contents, going through belongings that were kept in the house.

You should have seen the attic! Fifty years’ worth: Rugs, chairs, beds, dressers. Multiple sets of golf clubs, hundreds of golf balls. Magazines, toys, small appliances. Half a dozen trunks containing photos and family records, scrapbooks. Blankets, sheets, tools. (They had to get a locksmith to open two of the trunks; no one had keys.)

Just carrying all of that out of the attic was a considerable effort. Half a dozen people have been worked on the house on and off for several months taking truck loads to the dump and recycling centers, and then they called in a professional who will hold a sale.

We were at the house a few times during the clearing process and were told many stories of happy childhood times. My favorites were about drama productions the kids put on in the house and garden. There were circus events on the front lawn, skits in the attic, costumed plays in the living room.

But the most elaborate plays were put on in an old wooden shed that used to be behind the house. It’s said that when the house was new, the horses were kept there. The shed made a perfect theater.

One production had one sister singing from the window in the shed. The song was probably something like “Singing in the Rain” because both sisters remember that they’d rigged up a lawn sprinkler over the window and turned on the “rain” during this scene.

Another story they told was about their grandmother’s apartment. When the apartment was built within the house for Nana, a hiding place was included for small valuables. The kids knew where it was but they weren’t supposed to tell; it was a secret.

But they recall taking friends to Nana’s part of the house and showing them around, then ending the tour by pointing to the vault’s camouflaged cover. “Can you see anything there?” they would ask, and of course, no one could. Delighted, they’d whip off the cover.

I wonder who will be the next owners of this house. How many children? Will there be grandparents too?

In the basement is a cupboard referred to as the girl scout closet, used by the mother in this family when she was a scout leader. What will the new owners use it for?

Will there be theater in the attic and friends sleeping over? Will someone make popcorn and take it up to them?

This entry was posted in Seller Stories. Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

  • Sign up to receive our newspaper columns: