Former homeowners leave too many signs of life lurking around
by Mary Ellen Collins
Every time we've sold a home, we made sure every room, wall, closet and drawer is empty because we took that "broom clean condition" clause of the contract seriously, and felt responsible for leaving a blank canvas for the new owners. Funny how when we're on the buying end, the seller never leaves that fresh slate for us.
We just bought a house that was owned by an artist for four years, and by an older lady for decades before that. The artist left behind an ugly plaid sofa, a cheap desk, and icky avocado green bathroom carpet and matching shower curtain.
"Why?" I ask repeatedly. "Why didn't they get rid of the stuff they didn't want? What happened to broom clean?"
No one answers me directly, but I did get the promise that the place would be empty before the closing. Empty of the artist's furniture, yes, but not of numerous small artifacts that provide interesting insight into what different people do to make their house a home.
I find cutesy angel cat and angel mouse plaques on the outside of the house and three cow plaques on the fence. They're all so old, weathered and firmly attached, I assume they belonged to the lady and the artist didn't feel like prying them off. The kitchen cupboards also served as the lady's scrapbook, I think. The inside of one door holds a large picture of that famous gorilla, Koko, curled up with his little kitten, Smoky. A 2004 newspaper article taped next to the picture has "Save" handwritten across the top. It chronicles Koko's amazing ability to communicate that he was in pain, which led to a visit to the dentist and a tooth extraction.
When I open another cupboard door, I'm baffled to find the surface covered with 67 very faded little stickers that come on individual pieces of fruit. Very strange. Not only did the artist keep these signs of the animal-loving, fruit-eating former owner, he put his own stamp on the carport area with a Porsche poster, a beer sign and an autographed Speed Channel stock car poster.
So, my settling in process begins with erasing all signs of other lives. I tear down, scrape and pry off without guilt, knowing full well that I'm in a neighborhood that places a very high premium on historic preservation. I'm confident that fruit stickers, angelic animals, car ads and Koko's story aren't on anyone's list of protected artifacts, no matter how many years they've been part of the house.
Mary Ellen Collins is a freelance writer who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., with her husband, John. When she’s not writing about things that make her crazy, she reads, draws and frets about coming up with ideas for this column.