House filled with 100 years of treasures

#558 in a series of true experiences in real estate
August 2008, Hills Newspapers

Clearing a large house of possessions acquired over a long occupancy is a huge endeavor. We’ve watched while families engaged in sorting and distributing belongings for months on end, and we’re witnessing it again at a large house in Berkeley where a family has lived for 100 years.

The third and fourth generations of this family are divvying up portions of the packed house – two stories plus attic and basement. Boxes and books and trunks have been pulled out and looked at. In some cases research was needed to know what they had and what should be done with it. At least 2 collections of items were donated to a university and library. Other belongings were valued by an expert so that equal distribution could be made to family.

Items remaining after this long process will be sold at a house sale and anything left after that will go to charity or be discarded.

Family members, one in particular who is the trustee for her parents, have been working on settling the affairs of the house for more than 2 years. We’ve been inside the house a number of times and each time we are surprised to see a new layer of belongings revealed. Books, books, so many books, and framed pictures and furniture – it has seemed endless. And yet, we realized lately, we have not seen some expected items. So far at least, no blankets, dishes or clothes. They’re either still packed away or we just haven’t spied them among the quiet chaos.

The rooms, for all that is going on inside them, are quiet and comforting. The house is old, the ceilings are plaster that is coved or edged with lovely dark wood trim and picture rails; the windows are beautiful: divided panes, unpainted aged fir, most are casement style. Floors on both living levels are fir that is dark in color which, our floor man told us, might well be stained by those who laid it long ago with a homemade concoction containing shoe polish.

Some parts I’ve described were visible for us to see from our first visit but other details remain hidden behind furnishings and other belongings. As we are in charge of advising what repairs, painting, and replacements should best be made, Anet took lots of photos to help us see rooms better. One day we walked through the house concentrating solely on light fixtures making notes on which ones will require repair or replacement. On another day we looked carefully at as much of the wooden baseboards and floor trim as possible.

We’ve gotten bids from workmen and made a budget, which the trustee has approved. We think we’ve allowed for contingencies but we know that work on an old house is a peeling-an-onion affair. For certain, as work is done, other items needing attention will present themselves. Probably we’ll have to forego at least a few of our budgeted items to cover others we don’t know about yet.

We think that we are correct that money spent on paint, floors, lighting, cleaning, landscaping, window washing and staging will be money well spent. The house will, we are quite sure, feel better for the renewal and will, now that the family has become ready to let it go, find its own new owner. That’s truly how it works.

We can hardly wait until the house is empty and we can spend time in it alone before the painters come. Not only are we wanting to look closely at every detail, we’ve found that being inside a house without distractions, without talking, without anything else going on at all, allows us to bond with the house. We grow to love it more deeply, to smell and stroke it and take in its spirit. This is pleasurable and also gives us the right good words to use when we talk about the house to other people.

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