Tales from the Home-Buying Trail

One squirrel, 15 cats, and a coupla hot chicks



A few years ago, my wife and I asked our real estate agent to show us a house that seemed, at least on paper, too good to be true. It was in Dilworth. The price was extremely low. There was just one picture with the listing, of the outside of the house.

You may know where this is going.

Inside, the floors were cracked. The sink had an ominous “do not use” sign on it. The musty smell and lack of electricity gave the impression that something terrible may have happened here. Then we walked upstairs, and there it was: a dead squirrel, rotting on the floor. My wife ran from the house screaming.

Dead squirrels, anecdotally, are the biggest threat to the rebounding real estate market. Lindsey Wynne, a photographer in Charlotte, concurs. “I photographed a hunting cabin where a squirrel fell through the ceiling and was killed by an antique fire extinguisher,” she writes. “It looked like it was out of Clue. ‘Who killed the squirrel next to the fireplace?’ I rescheduled shooting the cabin.”

Our homes are reflections of ourselves. That is, until we decide to put them on the market, and then we have to conform to the demands of a fickle, home-buying populace that probably would not like to see a decomposing furry rodent lying on the floor. As part of our Home-Buying Adventure tour, my wife and I also toured a promising, granite-countertopped, big-back-decked  home that had, no joke, 15 cats living in the basement. Oh, those are my ex-wife’s, the owner said, before giving us the obvious warning: There may be a smell.

I’ve always wondered how this could happen. How could someone who realistically wanted to sell a house for a price other than free let that house be so, I don’t know, frightening? During my first home-buying experience, when I was single and 26, my real estate agent consistently claimed that the places he was showing me were perfect for attracting, in his words, “hot chicks.” One day, he brought me to a two-story house with four bedrooms in a neighborhood I hadn’t asked to visit. The previous owners had indiscriminately removed things from the walls with a claw hammer, and they’d painted the white sheetrock and ceiling by pounding it with a sponge dipped in black paint. The concrete staircase out back was crumbling.

“What do you think, huh?” the agent said with an honest grin and a nudge. “Bring a coupla chicks back here?”

I couldn’t understand how someone could do something like that to a house, until it came time to sell my condo after I got married. I’d painted the bathroom dark blue when I moved in five years earlier. I’m a rebel, I thought. A nonconformist. Also, blue is my all-time favoritest color.

That blue has to go, the realtor said. It makes the bathroom look smaller. I grumbled. It’s what makes this place unique, I thought. Well, that and the vintage stove. That has to go too, she said.

It’s not like anything died up here, I thought, standing over a homemade compost bin I’d parked on my back balcony, depositing vegetable scraps. It only smells like something died up here.

That’s when I understood—my home isn’t mine anymore. It has to be yours.

I got rid of the bin, bought a new stove, and painted the bathroom a lighter shade of blue. The condo eventually sold, to a guy who could have passed for me when I was single, 26, and buying my first home. I’m sure his first moves were to repaint the bathroom, buy a compost bin, and check the attic for dead squirrels. How else is he supposed to bring a coupla hot chicks up to that place?

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