Worst open house ever.
You could tell that 182 Church Street held something special by the lack of parking out front. A small white Colonial on a quiet street in a neighborhood of Boston, its Open House this past weekend had drawn at least 40 cars and maybe 100 people. That’s what you get when you put your house on the market for $75,000 under the value of most houses in the neighborhood.
I parked 6 blocks away and walked back. It was 1:05, the thing had started at 1:00, and people were already coming out, looking dazed. “I haven’t been inside,” said Marilyn, our realtor, “but I hear it’s rough.” She had already told us that it was underpriced but needed some cleaning. I imagined peeling paint, cracked Formica, various things in need of stripping, regrouting, and reckless check-writing. What I didn’t imagine, though, was the stench of cat urine.
That’s what hit us first when we walked in the front door to see a nice fireplace which was being used to store piles of old newspaper. To the left there was a torn pleather couch and some cheap bookshelves which had inexplicably been bolted into the plaster ceiling. That same ceiling had the scars of a few exploded radiators. Houses that heat with steam and don’t have automatic boiler re-fillers (a gadget common on newer boilers but prone to breaking while you’re on vacation, so the heat stops working or, like in this case, the boiler fills with water and shoots it out of the radiators) need someone to keep going down the basement and checking out the fill level of the boilers, and if you can’t get your goddamn cat to pee in a box, then you won’t be maintaining the boiler, either.
Next to the couch was an urn full of cigarette butts, the kind of ashtray popular in old barbershops. The smell was strong, but not strong enough to take on the cat urine. We headed for the kitchen. In the kitchen, we saw bits of newish maple cabinets and a granite counter. I say bits because most of the space was taken up with piles and piles of dishes from meals long since abandoned. Some of them were soup, and the pile of pots in the sink reminded me of what Bill Friedman used to call “Mount Dish” at our house at 57 Keene Street. Bacon grease was congealing on the stove. The floor was covered in leaves and dirt.
Upstairs, we saw that food storage was not limited to the kitchen counter, as each bedroom had evidence of something that had been accompanied by ketchup. The detritus on each floor gave lie to the ages of the people living there. One room had a few carcasses of computers and old Russian movies. Another had Green Day posters and beer bottles, and a third had soda cans and video game cartridges. My mother (the other half of “us” here; Leah was smart enough to be getting a massage while we subjected ourselves to this) insisted that we were witnessing the scene of child abuse. Each room came complete with an unmade bed that bore the impression of someone’s recently being woken up and scared off, piles of reeking laundry, and pieces of trash.
The attic held another bedroom (“cozy bedroom suite on 3rd floor!”) that, by now, was unremarkable. It held another delightful mélange of cigarettes, Russian DVDs, computer parts, and dirty plates. And cat litter.
We ducked outside and stood by the curb, enjoying the fresh air and cleansing sunlight. “You could lowball,” said Marilyn. I thought about what the look on Leah’s face would be when I got to the phrase, “…like cat urine.”
“Maybe,” I said. We stood for a few more minutes and watch people go in and then quickly run out, including a pregnant woman who lasted no longer than 45 seconds. We drove home. The house had never looked so good.