Ask Not for Whom the Market Booms

My neighborhood has suddenly become a hot spot for local real estate agents. "For Sale" signs began popping up several weeks ago, and in each case a "Sale Pending" sticker seemed to appear just a few days later. Realtors I don't even know are now sending me postcards, wondering if I'm ready to cash out.

The housing market is a baffling phenomenon. Twenty months ago, it slapped us in the face and laughed. Back then, my wife and I made a snap decision to sell our house and buy one with a nicer view nearby. During four months on the multiple listing directory, we didn't get a single offer. Nobody even bothered to insult us with a ridiculous "lowball" bid.

Perhaps it would be different now, but we're not getting back into the game. It's more fun to sit and watch the action from the sidelines. Anyone who's done a real estate deal knows what I'm talking about.

To me, there is something terribly unsettling about the idea of inviting complete strangers into your home, allowing them to examine the design and decor of every room, and then having to nod and smile as they comment on the pros and cons of your lifestyle.

"You could make the daylight basement into a whole separate living area," is a polite way of saying, "This place is way too big for me." And, "You have a lovely home," really means, "As soon as we step out that door, you'll never see or hear from us again."

When we finally gave up, the official papers from the title company listed our effort as "Failed Sale." It sounds like an adult version of a bad report card, but I wasn't terribly disappointed. After all, the stress of selling a home is usually followed by the even greater trauma of packing up and moving.

My one vivid memory of leaving California in 1987 is watching my wife and her parents emptying the kitchen drawers, trying to get all those odd-shaped cooking accessories boxed and labeled, as the movers were carrying furniture out of the living room. My wife says that her most compelling recollection is looking out from the kitchen and seeing me busily placing my baseball cards into small plastic envelopes so they wouldn't get creased or folded - hey, we all have our priorities.

Our present home has many attractive features that prospective buyers never seemed to appreciate. The gutters are easily accessible, so they can be quickly unclogged during heavy rain. The backyard drops into a ditch, so it's low maintenance. And each day, we try to follow that old saying about putting your own house in order. We're getting close. Soon, we might even unpack the last few boxes from California.

* Jeffrey Shaffer, a freelance writer in Portland, Ore., is author of "It Came With the House" (Catbird Press 1997), a book of humorous essays in which real estate figures prominently.

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