I See Dead People's Houses
Today is Tuesday, a gorgeous San Francisco day, and I have three (3) client meetings later this week, so although I am still a germ factory, I did not have the luxury of sitting around the house today. Instead, I hit the road and looked at houses: I toured.
And here's what I saw:
The Richmond: this Northwestern San Francisco district is known for its vast diversity. On the one hand, this means that insane ethnic restaurants can be found on every street corner, or at least the ones not already occupied by Cragan auto parts stores. On the other hand, this also means that homes in this area are not always as they appear.
To the casual observer, San Francisco is a city full of beautifully restored Victorians. Each and every dwelling is polished, restored and full of Tiffany lamps.
At least not in the Richmond. Here you will find the legendary "Richmond special," a 2-family dwelling put up in the 1960s without the benefit of permits or laws. Whatever materials happen to be on hand were used -- stone, stucco, wood, play doh, whatever. I was lucky enough to avoid these today.
But I did see a big Edwardian out in 33rd Avenue. "Do Not Disturb Tenants," said the sign outside. Inside were the tenants. At least ten of them. Beds in every room, junk everywhere, and the tenants, looming. Two of them stood on the stairs, hands behind their backs, just looking at all of the realtors as we walked through the obstacle course of their stuff. I went upstairs. The two tenants followed me. I got out of there quick, being careful not to drip over a few mattresses that were strewn about the hallway.
On 6th Avenue was a promising 3 bedroom, 1.25 bath place built in 1916. Beautiful at one time, its owners had died a long time ago. The children were selling the house. They had already sold the kitchen, apparently, and had taken to hitting some of the upstairs bedroom walls with a hammer. This was to be the first dead people house of the day, but far from the last.
This is a common occurance in San Francisco, or anywhere old houses live. People die, their kids sell the family home. Out in West Portal I saw back-to-back dead people houses. The first one was left exactly as the aging Greek couple had left it. Sitting untouched were rooms full of 1960s furniture, Art Deco end tables, a range so old that it had a built-in ashtray. "In case, you know, you want to smoke while you're cooking," said a touring agent, dryly.
At the next house I met the legendary Paul Barbegelata, son of an old-time San Francisco political boss. I'd seen his photo several times, but to actually meet him, well, I've got to say it was a thrill. The house was empty, staged, "The sons are selling it for the family."
It wasn't until I hit my final dead people house, in Westwood Highlands, that I started to feel meloncholy. This one was completely empty, from the tired old kitchen to the odd paneled basement. I was thinking about how this house had held an entire family for a generation, how the dad had used this weird downstairs workshop room they had, and how the teenage sons had brought their girlfriends down to the paneled bonus room, kids riding bikes in the driveway, the whole deal. And now they were gone.
As a realtor, it's obviously not a good idea to dwell on this. Today I also saw a small house in the Richmond owned by an incredibly Christian family. Everywhere I looked were bibles, books, pamphlets and one big Oakland Raiders wall mirror. I saw a home completely overrun by toys and baby clothes. The couple had been married in 2002 and already had two kids. They were moving to Marin, probably because they didn't want to pay for school, even though the husband was a doctor, and a place just across the street, on Teresita, where a man with very small feet had, along with his wife, piled all of their belongings in the garage so the home could be staged, which ALWAYS brings a higher price. Believe it. It's no joke.
The idea is that you bring people into these houses to reinvent them as homes. You take all of the memories of the people who lived there and place new memories on top of them. The great thing about old houses is that sometimes they're already homes before you move into them.
This is never going to make me rich, is it.