Monday, September 22, 2014

Don't Try This at Home: A Heartrending House in Newton

I've been house-hunting for more than four years. Every day, I see just about everything that goes on the market within our price range. (I look at properties that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars above and below our budget, too, just because). Several times a day, I look at the new listings across Boston and Charlestown, west to Brookline and Newton, north to Medford and Arlington, and south to Quincy.

I've seen many thousands of listings — and I don't think I've ever seen one as poignant or as "real" as this little house selling for $679,000 today in Newton Highlands. It's 1,688 square feet, with two bedrooms and one bath. It's listed by Century 21 Commonwealth, and they deserve the credit for these photos:

Is there anything sadder than an empty in-ground pool? This was once a very happy, and probably envied, backyard.

Well, here's something sadder than an empty pool: a living room with a wheelchair and a walker:

The dining room is hung with the kids' pictures and the vinyl tablecloth is still there from who knows how many Christmases ago.This is what many houses end up looking like when they've been lived in for a lifetime. All of my elderly relatives' houses looked something like this before the end. I have no idea why the broker and the seller didn't bother to clear out this place, tear up the carpet, and scrub the place down. There are professional teams who can do it all in a day or two.

Leaving it as it is was a bold decision. To me, it feels like conceptual art. You couldn't make a house look as storied and layered as this if you were a set designer and you really tried. It truly takes a lifetime.

A nice closeup of the wheelchair. This is gutsy:

A girl's room. Do you wonder where she is now, and how she thinks of her childhood home and all that happened there?

The "master suite" as brokers like to call it.  I hope no one is still under that quilt.

The knotty-pine basement with bar and toboggan. This was once a cozy place for this family and their friends and neighbors to hang out. Now Sam Shepard could set a play in here.

What moves me most about this house is its honesty. Instead of "neutralizing" and "depersonalizing" our homes so no traces of the owners remain to distract the starry-eyed buyers, this house is a testament to how houses are really used and how lives are really lived. And here's where the story ends, more or less. As much as I hate to admit it, there are never happy endings. They are always messy and sad. This house tells it like it is. And to me that's incredibly, bravely beautiful, in a way, but also depressing as hell.

Ultimately, though, it's not the house that matters — not how it looks, or what happens to it. All that counts is the people who lived inside. I hope this family wore themselves out with happy times, love, feasting, and laughter. I hope it was a good ride for a long time, if not right up to the end.


  1. It takes a brave realtor to list a property in this condition - but real it is!
    as a former realtor, I am not sure I would have been that brave.

  2. I really enjoy your blog! I have been reading it for years. We also had a long search to find our current home. I noticed a property for sale in Watertown and thought of you. The address is : 626 Belmont Street, Watertown, MA. I am not a real estate broker. I still look at listings from time to time and thought this might be a good location for you and your husband and cats. All the best to you.

    1. Thank you! It's such a comfort to hear that others have had a long search, too. We've seen some lovely houses in Watertown, but they tend to be a long distance from a good grocery store, etc., and I don't drive. We're hoping to find a place that's walkable to both the T and a supermarket. But thank you so much for thinking of us!


Spam goes right into the trash but I appreciate relevant comments from non-spammers (and I can always tell the difference). I do my best to follow up if you have a question. ALL spam, attempts to market other websites, and anything nasty or unintelligible gets deleted instantly. The cats and I thank you for reading — and please feel free to comment on what you read.