This is part two of a series that began in the Dec. 20 issue of The Reader. Read Pt. 1 here.
A quick scan of the internet showed that The Brady Bunch house had been on the market for more than a year. Once we finally got a look inside, we found out why.
The four-foot-wide solid oak door swung open to reveal a virtual lumber yard of blond wood paneling that stretched from the narrow, coffin-like entranceway into the grand open space of the living room. From there, the paneling just seemed to go on forever, spreading across every nook and cranny like overgrown kudzu. And it didn’t end in the living room. It went on and on, down the main hallway and into every bedroom, throwing a depressing wooden pall over the entire house, making every room feel like a mid-Century dentist’s office.
“They did like paneling back then, didn’t they?” said our real estate agent, the same agent who helped us find our first house more than a decade ago.
Apparently they liked deep-pile carpeting, too. The living room was covered in it, a deep-piled, faded powder-blue wall-to-wall nightmare that switched to dingy brown and bright orange shag in the bedrooms. In most older homes, shag carpeting was introduced as part of a fancy ‘60s fashion trend. Families couldn’t wait to cover those dirty, cold old oak floors with bright, warm tassels.
We quickly took part in the ritual that all homebuyers partake in when staring at old carpeting — we gently pulled up a corner to see what was underneath, only to find (*sad trombone sound*) unfinished plywood. The owners of this house had been way ahead of their time, scoffing at oak and installing lush carpeting from day one. The only places where we found oak flooring was, strangely, in the closets.
The depression didn’t end there. A swinging door in the oak wall revealed an enclosed kitchen remodeled some time in the ‘70s. Powder-blue-painted cabinets were mounted above and below counters finished in light brown bathroom tile, all illuminated by overhead fluorescent lighting and a metal candlestick chandelier that had been painted white. We were told we could keep the window coverings, which in the kitchen was a rack of ruffled pink chiffon.
Oh, it wasn’t all bad. There were a number of cute built-ins throughout the house, including a quaint little bar in the fireplace den, floor-to-ceiling bookcases, even a tiny desk built into a bedroom wall where one could imagine a child spending many a long night doing her homework. The bathrooms were like time capsules of the house I grew up in on 79th and Hartman, right down to the bathroom fixtures and brown-tiled walk-in shower that was an exact replica of the one in my parents’ old bathroom.
But despite those touches, there was an overwhelming sense of ennui that hung over the house, a shadowed darkness that came with all that wood paneling and shag carpeting. And there was the smell — a strange, unique odor that can only come from decade upon decade of the same family living their day-to-day-to-day existence, without change.
We knew if we bought it everything had to go. We weren’t the only ones who saw the challenges that would come with the eventual remodel. One warm Sunday afternoon, the listing agent hosted an open house, and we went back to get another look and watch what kind of reaction the place got from other potential buyers. Sure enough, through the massive front door walked one excited family after another, who gave it a quick once-over and immediately high-tailed it out of there, feeling lucky to escape what clearly was a money-pit.
The place did seem hopeless. Still, I couldn’t get the house out of my head. Every time I squeezed into the tiny one-car garage of our current house I thought about its roomy two-car built-in. Whenever I shuffled pans though the cupboards of our miniscule galley kitchen, I wondered if you could take out that wall in the Brady Bunch house and open the kitchen to the living room. And then there was its massive back yard, big enough for a lap pool. And then there was all that storage space in the basement. And what was underneath all that wood paneling?
I began to develop an OCD-like ritual of driving home every night past the Brady Bunch house to see if the For Sale sign was still up in the yard, dreading the day it would be replaced with a SOLD sign and knowing I would kick myself in the ass for the rest of my life for not having made an offer.
Finally, after a half-dozen more walk-throughs with our agent and a once-over with a general contractor, we decided to make an offer — a full $50,000 below the listing price. Within a couple days we heard back that the offer had been rejected, and that the owners were so insulted by our number that they didn’t even bother to counter.
Fine, I thought. Let them sit on it for another year. Let’s see if anyone else is crazy enough to buy that stink hole. We decided to walk away, but after a month of daily drive-bys, we ended up making a second offer, which was again rejected outright. It seemed the owners didn’t care if the house sat vacant for another year.
It would take prodding from both our real estate agent and the listing agent to get them to eventually meet our offer half-way. The house, it seemed, was ours, but we were a long way from closing…
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 email@example.com.