The Project, Pt. 3: The Letting Go

This is part three of a series that ran in the Dec. 20 and Feb. 28 issues of The Reader. Read Part One and Part Two.

So we got the house.

And it wasn’t easy. It took weeks and weeks of negotiation, and even after our counter offer was accepted, there was a question as to whether the sellers would actually part with the place. Clearly they didn’t want to sell. But as frustrating as it was to get a closing date, in the back of my mind I knew what was going on.

The couple had moved out of the Brady Bunch house to a larger, newer home somewhere in West Omaha more than a year earlier. The wife had no problem “moving on” emotionally, but not the husband. No, they hadn’t been the original owners, but they bought the house shortly after its 1955 build date and quickly made it their own.

It was the house they brought their children home to from the hospital. The place where they watched as each took their first steps, learned to talk, to laugh and to fight over nonsensical things that families fight over. It was their home through the grade-school years, through the awkward teen years, through the first dates and the graduations, and eventually to the days when their children went off to college and left the nest for good.

This was their family home, and in the husband’s mind it was perfect, just the way it was. I couldn’t blame him for wanting it to stay that way.

In what can only be considered an unorthodox move by the sellers, the elderly couple was on hand during the home inspection. He was a gruff man, short and stocky, with a wreath of white hair surrounding his bald head, unsmiling. While we inspected his home, no doubt he was inspecting us. With a furrowed brow he followed the inspector from room to room like a curious dog, explaining every one of the house’s odd nuances, every decision made over the course of his 50 years of ownership.

“He’s been doing this all afternoon,” the inspector told me in a private moment. “Don’t worry, I’ve been ignoring him.”

In the end, the inspection came out OK. The fireplace liner needed to be replaced, and there was a problem with one of the appliances. The only thing I cared about was the house’s foundation, the roof and basic structure. Everything else -- the paneling, the outdated carpeting, the appliances and plumbing -- all of it was headed to a dumpster anyway. But I wasn’t telling the owner that.

After the inspector drove off with the real estate agents, the owner pulled me aside and asked me to walk with him into the back yard. We strolled up to the west end of the property line along a grassy hill where he’d planted a small, well-kept garden. He pointed to a plump, dark-purple eggplant that hung precariously from a vine. Behind it hidden under massive leaves was a small group of young zucchini squash, still too small to pick.

“You’re not going to change anything, are you? In the house?” he asked quietly. “That paneling, you can’t buy paneling like that anymore. And that’s new carpet in the living room. It’s only a few years old. And we just finished remodeling the kitchen.”

I wasn’t sure what to say. Our real estate agent had warned us that we hadn’t closed yet, nothing was set in stone. She’d told us horror stories of owners having last-minute changes of heart, taking their homes off the market without reason, eagerly forfeiting the deposit money. Oh sure, you could go to court, but it would take months and months, and if the owner didn’t want to give up they didn’t have to, even if they had accepted a written offer. The most irritating part: The For Sale sign was still in the front yard, sending an obvious message.

I thought about all this, but still, I couldn’t lie to this sad, proud man. “Yeah, we’re going to change some things,” I said. “We haven’t quite planned it out yet, though.”

He quietly took it in. What was going through his mind, I do not know. Maybe in that moment, as he looked down at the grass, he was replaying an entire life spent in that house, finally realizing that as he had done with his children, it was time to let go.

“You know what I would do?” he finally said. “I would take out that wall in the kitchen and open up the living room. That’s what I would do.”

I nodded. “That’s not a bad idea,” I said, knowing full well it would be the least of the changes. “Maybe even pull up the carpeting and bring the two rooms together.”

“Sure, why not?” he said as we began walking back to the house. “And those bedrooms could use new carpet.”

We shook hands and said our goodbyes, and he and his wife wished us luck. But it still wasn’t over. They kept moving back the closing date, and once they finally agreed, they still wanted a few weeks beyond closing to get the last of their possessions -- a rustic bedroom set, a plaid couch and an orange crushed-velvet easy chair. The whole time, the For Sale sign remained in the yard.

But even after closing and the removal of the furniture -- for reasons that were never clear to us -- they continued to ask for extensions on our possession date. It was getting weird. Despite the fact that our contractor wouldn’t be able to begin working on the house for another couple months, we had to put our foot down.

Finally, months after our initial offer had been accepted, the For Sale was replaced with a SOLD sign, and we knew the house was ours. Now the real work would begin.

Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

posted at 07:22 am
on Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

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