Tuesday 31 May 2016


THEN. You drove up and down the streets in the neighbourhood of your choice and copied down the phone number of the agent when you saw a For Sale sign on a house that was within your budget.
NOW. You go onto the website realtors.com, zoom in on the area you are interested in, and read the specs online. You look at the picture gallery, knowing that the rooms are smaller and dingier than they appear. You learn the language of real estate ads. Quaint means tiny and outdated. Friendly and family-oriented means kids screaming obscenities and leaving trash in the bushes.  No mention of parking? There is no parking!

THEN. If a property looked promising, you viewed it in the morning and came back the next day to see how it looked in the evening. You took a week to mull things over with your husband and the in-laws who helped with the down payment. Then you mulled it over some more. Finally you put in an offer 5% below the asking price because you have concluded that this the ideal house for you and you don’t want to offend the owner by offering 15% less, as you had planned originally. Of course you make the offer conditional for five days, pending financing.
NOW. You take a quick look around the house and scan the inspector’s report, which tells you that things are in order as far as they can see. Of course much of the wiring and the plumbing is concealed, perhaps on purpose. You only have time to exchange a knowing glance with your husband and hasten to put in an offer, hoping the house didn’t sell while you were studying the concealed plumbing. You put in a firm offer 15% above the asking price, but the agent tells you there are five offers on the table, and so you make that 20% above the asking price.

THEN. Your offer is accepted, although they make you pay a few thousand more just to flex their muscle, and they give you only three days to arrange for the financing. You can’t sleep and worry non-stop until the bank approves your mortgage five hours before the deadline.

NOW. Your offer is rejected because someone else offered 25% above the asking price. You can’t sleep and worry non-stop because there is nothing else in your preferred neighbourhood that’s affordable. So next day you go out, looking at houses that you can’t afford.

Wednesday 25 May 2016


Shostakovich is reflecting on three crucial points in his life, or is that Julian Barnes reflecting on Shostakovich’ reflections? In any case, there is a lot of musing about the role of the artist under a dictatorship.

The atmosphere is dense: He was on his fifth cigarette, and his mind was skittering.

Dictatorship is like destiny: a grand term for something you could do nothing about.

Character was another thing you could do nothing about: The strong cannot help confronting; the less strong cannot help evading.

Life in Soviet Russia is harsh. There are idyllic moments, but an idyll, by definition, only becomes an idyll once it has ended.

And Russians, by definition, as pessimists. Scrub, scrub, scrub, let’s wash away all this old Russianness and paint a shiny new Sovietness on top. But it never worked – the paint began to flake off almost as soon as it was applied. To be Russian was to be pessimistic; to be Soviet was to be optimistic.

Irony is the only way to go. The natural progression of human life is from optimism to pessimism; and a sense of irony helps temper pessimism.

Wise words, but I’m not sure a string of salient thoughts makes a novel.

Friday 20 May 2016


A luckless screenwriter comes up with a new plot: The government is turning immigrants into zombies.

The story arc is taking shape. Joshua saw the narrative landscape neatly laid down before him: all the endless possibilities, all the overhead and wide shots, all the character trajectories blazing across the firmament. All he had to do now is write it down.

His fantasy life is great, but his real life is a drag. Maybe it’s his droopy eyes that, in a more flattering light, could appear contemplatively sorrowful or the slight overbite that often made him look unduly perplexed.

His dream life isn’t great either. It’s not that he had nightmares.  Nobody ever bothered to chase him in his dreams; he never plunged from a tall building. What tormented him was that his dreams were inconclusive, they did not so much abruptly end as they whimpered their lame way into his watchful state.

What does Joshua want out of life? It was fair to say that the minimum requirement for a truly enjoyable existence would be unbridled promiscuity.

Thursday 12 May 2016

SELLING YOUR HOUSE THEN AND NOW. PART 2. Photographers and inspectors

THEN. Once you listed with a realtor, he sent out a photographer to take a picture of your house. Or he said he did. I never saw anyone taking a photo, and the grainy black and white picture which appeared in the left-hand corner of the specs could have been any house on the block. If you squinted hard, you could make out a pitched roof against a grey sky. I suspect it was a stock photo of a suburban bungalow.
 NOW. The photographer is an artiste. He puts in hours taking shots of the ex- and interior from breath-taking angles. The resulting photos are laid out in a glossy brochure and can be viewed on-line. When I first saw them, I thought the realtor had used the same old trick: stock photos. Of a palatial home.  As it turned out, the artiste-photographer had me fooled.  It WAS actually my home. After studying the images closely, I did recognize my couch and coffee table.
THEN.  Potential buyers looked around the house and turned on the faucets and the lights. Some even ventured into the dimly lit basement and groped around, skirting piles of old and broken things to peer at the electrical board or kick the boiler, or whatever it was they did down there.
NOW. The realtor sends in an inspector whose principal qualification is a high degree of rhetorical skill. In his report he highlights what works in your house and in the most delicate terms hints at what might need improvement or replacement. He calls this report a “summary”. If you really want to know what’s going on, you need to pay him more. But in this overheated market, no one dares to put in an offer conditional on inspection or conditional on anything.
THEN. The For Sale sign stayed up for weeks and months. You despaired of keeping the house clean for potential viewing and wished you could keep the kids and the dog penned in the backyard.

NOW. Hordes of sales people, curious neighbours, and potential buyers trample through your house for two days, and that’s it. You sell to the highest bidder and wonder if you will have the stamina to go into a bidding war for another place. Maybe you should just rent?

Sunday 1 May 2016


I.              The Stager
The last time we sold our house and moved on was forty years ago. Things have certainly changed since then.  To motivate potential buyers you must stage your house. This is how I did it 

THEN. Before a showing 
  • I ran the vacuum cleaner over visibly dirty spots and my palm over visibly dusty surfaces. 
  • I rinsed the dirty dishes and didn’t just leave them on the rack. I put them back into the cabinet! 
  • I yelled at the kids for tracking mud into the hallway. 
  • I yelled at my husband for napping on the couch with the pages of the newspaper spread over his chest. 
  • I yelled at everyone: “Pick your clothes up from the floor." 
  • I prayed for many showings, not only to get the house sold, but because this was the only time it looked decent.

NOW.  A professional stager walks through your house.
  • She requests you to remove (a) all doilies (b) half of the knickknacks (c) any paintings with nudes or religious figures which might offend people of another persuasion. 
  • She will also ask you to remove area rugs and show as much floor space as possible or at least reposition them so that they will guide the visitor’s eye toward a desirable object. 
  • She will randomly remove at least one piece of furniture from each room, either to improve the layout or to assert her authority.
  • She will counsel you to place an urn with hot pink flowers at the front door (Why do urns remind me of funeral homes?)

WHAT HAVE I LEARNED FROM THIS EXPERIENCE? Never mind the price and location of your house. People will make you an offer because of the way you have arranged your furniture or because they can’t resist hot pink.

Stay tuned for the next instalment as the For Sale sign goes up.