Realtors did their own ‘Trading Spaces’ two decades ago #650

#650 in a series of true experiences in real estate, Hills Newspapers

More than 20 years ago Anet and I traded houses. She bought mine. I bought hers.

Anet owned a good-sized house in Montclair, one that needed much repair. She didn’t have the wherewithal to fix her house and it was more space than she needed, so she decided to sell.

I helped her clean out her closets, wash the windows, and hold a garage sale. When the house was as ready as it was going to be, it occurred to me that maybe her house would work for my family.

My husband, young children and I were living in North Oakland in a small Victorian that needed nothing more. We had remodeled, restored and added on.

We liked where we lived but when our second child was born, the little house was tight. We expanded into the attic which provided a sleeping and storage space but all of us continued to eat, play and live in one crowded living room.

Anet’s house was an unappealing ’50s rancher, nothing like our Victorian. It was painted milk chocolate brown on the outside and the paint was peeling. There was nothing worth restoring.

We found every light fixture, aluminum sliding window, piece of door hardware and baseboard ugly. The house would give us the room we needed, and we would be in a good neighborhood close to the grammar school, but we were skeptical. Could we fix that house, do something to it that would make us like it?

We’d have to give up our beloved garden. The house in Montclair opens through sets of French doors to a patio. At the end of the patio was a thick wall of trees and ivy. I remember standing outside the house, looking at the solid line of acacias and bays, and saying to Anet, “I wonder if I can live without a garden.”

She showed me that we could stoop under the trees, pick our way up a slope perhaps 80 feet and imagine it being cleared. That’s probably what decided it for me. I called the tree man. Even before the sales went through, I had him cut down many sun-starved, misshapen trees, and quite suddenly, there was a marvelous garden space in full sun.

I don’t know when Anet said, “Why don’t you buy my house and I’ll buy yours?” but she must have because we spent all that summer arranging loans, packing, then finally, moving.

It was a full summer. We learned just how hard moving is. We tell people this. Buying and moving are consuming. Finding a house is only a tiny bit of the whole.

There is the loan. And the packing and the sorting and cleaning. Physically moving every rake, trench coat, plastic jack-o-lantern, registering the kids for school. People do not move blithely from one house to another, especially when they’ve been collecting in one spot for a long time. It can’t be done on Saturdays only. It takes weekday and weekend time and concentration of a kind that makes you goofy.

There were advantages to buying each other’s houses. Neither of us had to move everything we owned on one day. And my husband and I were able to stay at Anet’s house for hours while we planned the remodeling, then started it weeks before the sales became final.

What Anet liked about her new house was that she could simply move in. No more worry and guilt about peeling paint and leaking showers. After she put away the things she had not sold or given away, she still had the whole attic room empty. She said paring down and having that leftover space made her feel lighter, good.

Later, when we started our business together, we made our office in her garden room. We could talk on the phone, move outside, smell the jasmine, pull little weeds between the bricks.

Because we traded houses, we didn’t have to get new phone numbers. Anet took our number, and we took hers. Once in a while one of us would get a call from an old friend we hadn’t talked to in years. Instead of getting a disconnected number, the friend got one of us.

We didn’t change our address with the Post Office, either. I took Anet her mail every day and she gave me mine. That was handy. Eventually things started coming to the right house. But we still get mail twice a day.

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