Little Boxes

Little Boxes (Queen Anne from the Space Needle)

Let me start by saying that I understand why houses are staged for sale. A staged house shows better and almost invariably leads to a higher selling price than an unstaged house. I get it. Prospective buyers can imagine themselves living in a staged house more easily because it offers the illusion of life without the actual residue of life, without the intrusion of the lives that have been led in the place they will eventually call home. A staged home is like a non-compete clause in a transaction of family memories. And it works.

When you work in real estate, you visit houses on a daily basis. Maybe you are showing homes to a client or keeping abreast of the inventory in your area, or maybe you’re just interested in the view; but, whatever the reason, real estate agents see a lot of houses, and a lot of staged houses in particular. After a while they all start to look the same. You notice the same faux warmth of children’s rooms, the same mid-century modern lines of the furniture, the same propped-open cookbooks and fake bottles of wine in the kitchen, the sameness of homes stripped of their stories.

A few years ago my parents sold the house where I grew up in Augusta, Georgia and moved to Atlanta. I don’t know if they staged the house or not, but I hope not. I can’t imagine going into my childhood bedroom and seeing my 1980’s waterbed replaced by a bunk bed and a desk perfectly positioned to show off the proportions of the space. I find it hard to imagine the corner of the living room where my father kept his record collection and turn table housing a neatly arranged coffee table replete with a book about spring in Tuscany. Somehow the memories I have of that house just don’t jibe with the idea of creating a blank canvas for another life there.

Every time I enter a staged house I wonder what memories have been swept away to create the illusion necessary to sell the home. While the professional in me takes note of the particulars of each property—how many bedrooms, kitchen counter surface, bathroom fixtures, etc.—the child that grew up in a room now occupied by someone else wonders about the lives that were led there, the families that called this place home, the dreams this place made possible.

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