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Squaring the domestic circle

People are unpredictable, I find.

As Followers of this, my bogl, know, I have been hoping for a year now to sell my house and retire to France.

I have had the house ‘on the market’ with two agents, both of whom set the same high price which it appears the house simply will not make. I told them it wouldn’t sell for that much, but does anyone ever listen to the daft old man?

I prefer to set my own price, but they say no, we must leave wriggle room. I’m not looking to make a profit, but neither can I afford to lose money that belongs to my family. I want only to get back what I paid. So I tell them I will sell when someone offers the right price, and they laugh nervously.

The second agent persuaded me in August to fire the first agent, arguing that they would do a better job. They were sure the house would easily sell because there were so many buyers in the right price bracket. They showed me mistakes the first agent had made in the contract, and pointed to the uninspiring copy in the written particulars about the Council-adopted highway, and so ffordd (that’s a Welsh pun). After two months, I am still waiting for the second agent to produce any written particulars at all, but never mind, 94% of houses are sold on the internet nowadays… (Oh yeah? Tell it to me. Ed.)

Since I changed agents interest has slowed to a trickle of disinterested buyers, fewer than one a week, not the rush I was led to expect. Several of them seem to have ended up buying instead on the town’s expanding problem estate across the river; where, despite the housing bubble that threatens to burst over the nation’s face, prices are lower; and where, while you may have an illegal immigrant resident in the lounge and the toilet is leaking, at least you get three former Local Authority-owned bedrooms and a garden shed for the price.

Many of these visitors have made up obscure grumbles for not buying my house. It’s too near the road… actually, there’s a substantial front garden, unlike the house next door that is right on the pavement, as are most houses in a town. But we can move it. There’s an extra room in the back and we can’t think what to do with it, so can we pay less?… It’s only got two bedrooms (so why view it? Go view a three-bedroomed house!)… The sitting-room walls don’t meet at right-angles…

More obviously, although it is a cosy, warm little house that’s cheap to run and easy to clean (you can vacuum all four rooms and the stairs without having to unplug the vacuum cleaner), and near to useful amenities, it doesn’t have private parking and I can see how that can be a problem for people who like to stare possessively at their nice shiny cars parked outside their house.

The agent insists on showing the people round himself. He won’t let me in the house during viewings in case something slips out, which is not unlikely when a viewer comments that my wallpaper will have to go. I am told to  to take the dog for a walk while people are here, sniffing at my stuff. I don’t have much stuff anyway, and some people have been concerned about that too. Where is all the stuff, then? What kind of house is this? I just keep the house clean and tidy, in case someone wants to view at short notice. I stay on top of the washing-up. It’s lucky I don’t have much other work to do.

Here are some of the things I do, to present my house in the best possible light.

I brew fresh coffee, polish the window of the microwave (plain water removes smears), and leave lights burning in dark corners (normally I live in the dark). I wipe the coffee plunger splashes off the kitchen work surfaces before I drink the coffee and the splashes dry. I leave the washing-up bowl upside-down in the sink, to show how emphatically I am done with the washing-up. I carefully construct Inoffensive Strategic Messes (ISMs), to make the house look homey: a jumper, casually draped over a chairback; the dressing-gown laid so on the carefully made bed; a neat pile of folded black T-shirts on the dressing table, just waiting to go in the capacious wardrobe; an open book I’m not really reading; a cool-looking CD cover on top of the CD player. (I’m hoping someone will dig my jazz collection and realise how cool it would be to buy a house from someone like me.)

I empty the kitchen waste bin even if it’s not full and leave a bedroom window open to flush any doggy smells left by the vacuum cleaner; and so the agent can close it to demonstrate dramatically how closing the window cuts down traffic noise and draughts, like in the 1960s Everest double-glazing ads with celebrity farmer, Ted Moult. I put the central heating on, although I don’t have it on normally for myself even in winter when I follow Dave Cameron’s advice and wind myself in my old public-school scarf, to show them how cosy the house is and how quietly the boiler hums.

It’s amazing how often you go to view someone’s house that’s for sale, and they haven’t done any of those things. Their houses are a tip, filthy with unfinished washing-up and instant coffee stains, but people still buy them. One house I viewed had been set on fire, even so somebody outbid me for it. Maybe my house is too suspiciously clean and tidy for a place where an eccentric old man lives alone with his dog. I should burn more rubbish in the sitting-room. I should store back copies of the Daily Sport.

But I stayed inside for one viewing and observed that the agent, a brash young man with enormous, scary, mirror-polished winklepicker shoes, like shining vanilla pods, has a few things to learn about creating confidence. I mean, you don’t march into a house you are selling and straightaway start telling the terrified prospect which walls you would knock down to make the rooms bigger if you owned it, and how much more space you would have if you threw out the piano, do you?

I also advertise the house privately on one of those sales websites with lots of different categories of things to sell, where you get a page to put up your copy and three photos you can rotate and they stick a competing ad on the bottom, that you get no money for but it pays for the site. I did it principally so I could keep some kind of check on the numbers of prospective internet buyers who might be viewing my house on the agent’s website, because I don’t get that information from the agent either.

My private house ad has been directly viewed by over 650 people! So what are they all doing, viewing my ad? Viewing house ads online is a great way of taking a holiday, I find. This year, I have been all over Europe viewing houses. It’s been great. Cheap, too – and no flying Ryanair. But I haven’t bought a house anywhere. I am waiting to sell mine. Maybe they are burglars, casing the joint? Maybe they are rival estate agents.

There’s no reason I can see, why anyone else in the world wouldn’t look at my house the way I did when I bought it. I have bought quite a few houses by now, I generally know what I am buying. I saw immediately that it was a perfectly good little house, easily habitable (strange, though, how whenever you put anything up for sale, bits start falling off, like the handles of taps; the shower-head; the glass cover of the overhead bathroom light. It’s like the house is saying, no, stay a little longer, don’t go yet, I barely got to know you).

Why wouldn’t anyone else see how easy it would be to live in my house? Buying the house solved my immediate problem, of being close to my son’s school so he could finish his studies. Does nobody else in the world need to live near my son’s school? It has a good Ofsted report. Then the little house solved the problem of where would I live after I left the stately home? Does no-one need a cosy, affordable place to live, after seven years in a deserted country mansion?

And now I see from giant billboards that my agent is hoping to sell twenty new houses and apartments right across the road from mine. No, I’d like to move on now, please. Because I’m damned if I’m going to rebuild my front room, take down the walls, just to make it square.

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