Each house tells its own story

#271 in a series of true experiences in real estate
February 1999 , Hills Newspapers

I’m not a poet. I try, but I just don’t seem to have the knack. Poems I write are awkward; they don’t rhyme right or the tempo is wrong.
Often when I’m looking for words to describe a house we’ve listed, I read poetry, usually children’s poetry. I’m hoping to find something someone else wrote that I can use for my new house flyer, words that will express the feelings I have about this particular house. Or, if not that, perhaps I’ll find words that will inspire me to write my own description.

Children’s poetry especially charms me. I like the rhythms. They can click along like snappy little songs, percussive and orderly. I respond to the beat. Or, with those that are soft and soothing, my mood becomes dreamy, peaceful.

Unfortunately, I don’t find many poems that have been written about houses. Poets have waxed enthusiastic about flowers, every type of flower, and about all kinds of animals. They’ve gone on and on about weather, especially the wind and the rain. But words that express the warmth and coziness of home, the security of roof overhead, windows looking to the world outside, food in the larder, fire on the hearth are, it seems to me, surprisingly few.

And so I resort to writing my own. When what I want is to try to tell others, agents and buyers, what is good about a particular house, what kinds of things will make it home for someone new, I frequently use poetry.

Last fall, for instance, we listed a house on Indian Rock Avenue in Berkeley. It’s a lovely old house built in the 1920s and elsewhere on the flyer we gave out to potential buyers, I described the paneling, t he polished floors and, of course, the number of bedrooms and baths. But because this house is adjacent to a small park and this proximity is an advantage and a unique feature of this house, I began the flyer with a short poem about the rock which I titled “Quiet Neighbor.”

“Try climbing a rock – It’s good for you. Try it. You’ll find when you do, there’s more pep in your step. And you won’t feel blue. It’s true.”

It’s not very good poetry, but I had fun writing it, and it does suggest why it would be nice to live next door to a large rock. At least, I hope it does. I have no way of knowing whether reading my words had any effect on the people who ended up buying the house. I do know that while the buyers were looking at the house during the Sunday open house, their two kids who were having a great time climbing around on the rock.

I wrote a different sort of verse for my mother’s house when it was for sale after she died. I thought for a long while about what my mother loved about living in her little house on the hill in El Cerrito, what a new owner would probably clasp to heart, before writing this:

“Fresh and sweet this little house, up on a hill. Quiet here and warm; sun all day. Soft breezes, singing birds, on the hill. Green gardens above the bay. Few cares upon the hill.”
These words were printed in lower case letters with the line length and spacing providing the only punctuation and the background was washed in sky blue.

Did the buyers buy the house because of the flyer? I doubt it. But did they see the house differently than before when they’d read the words? Maybe they did.

My most successful poem was actually a song, a rather silly song that I wrote for an Albany house flyer last year. Under the heading “Singing in Albany,” was a small sketch of the house exterior. It was followed by the song title “The Ramona Rock” and a note: “to the tune of ‘Personality’”. The syllables of the words were spaced out to remind the reader of the tune and the beat.

“OH…she’s got flex-i-bil-I-ty, space…a-dap-ta-bil-i-ty…charm, ver-sa-til-I-ty…light…dance-ability, fun… prac-ti-cal-I-ty…style, walk-a-bil-I-ty…Plus she’s got an extra roo-oo-oom!”

The chorus followed: “Over and over…you’ll see she is for you. Over and o-o-ver…close to the Av-e-nue.”

I don’t know how that one came to me. It just did. I found that I was writing down a bunch of words to describe this house that all ended in “ity”. Then something reminded me of the song ‘Personality” and after awhile, I had my own version.

We really had fun with this one. Quite a few people who came to see the house on Sunday picked up the flyer, realized that it was a song on the front, then hummed the tune. Some stood right where they were and sang all the funny words. We laughed and encouraged them to sing to the end. A couple of times, we sang too.

We have a new listing in El Cerrito that I’ve been writing about. It’s a good house, exceptionally clean, and so well laid out that within its modest proportions, 3 bedrooms and 2 baths are contained and function beautifully. Most of all, this house feels good inside. I like being there, like the atmosphere. Here is my little verse, with an ending that does not rhyme, that describes what I think this house is all about:

“Homeplace. Here’s a place to lay your head, a place to put your bed. Space that is clean and warm, a place to come in from out of the storm. Room for family and guests to sleep. For tables and chairs, to sit and eat. A clean, clean place for everything. And everything in its clean, clean place.”

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