DO I STAY OR DO I SELL?
(Originally published 2017, The Globe and Mail)
Four years ago, my next door neighbour sold his house for just over half of what it’s worth today. My realtor and other experts in the news say that now is a good time to sell. But the question is: Where will I go?
My house is simple, small. A bungalow in Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto. It has no special architectural features. Barely 1100 ft2. The backyard abuts the parking lot of an apartment building whose residents have enjoyed a bird’s eye view of my life for the past 25 years. My daughter has grown up here and soon it may only be me left. It’s time to sell. It’s time to really move on. But the house tells me otherwise.
Stay, it whispers.
Not in a creepy Amityville House sort of way but more like the voice of reason, calm, which I am desperately in need of these days. My decision shifts from moment to moment like a pendulum: In the time that it takes me to finish a sandwich; send an email; mow the lawn. This housing market is like a sea witch who keeps beckoning, trying to lure me into what feels like dangerous open waters with six digit figures that is surely the stuff of myth. My house is worth how much?
I troll through realtor sites, looking, debating. I can’t keep off of them. That one has a great location. Is that the maintenance fee or a mortgage payment? I’ve come close with a few offerings, which all fell through…thank god. What was I thinking? I don’t want to live in a hermetically sealed shoe box with no outdoor space except a rooftop patio where I must learn to socialize with strangers. Call me old fashioned but I don’t want to live in a space so small that my couch sits next to my stove. Also, I have two cats. Where would I put the litter boxes? The possibility of another house seems only to exist outside of the city. I found a small, adorable one on a hill in Haldimand County, a 90-minute drive from the city, that seemed so promising…until that issue with the well. Financially, moving out of the city would be the smartest move. The commute into Union Station would be insane, but well…I like trains.
“Why are you so hormonal about selling the house?” my daughter asked. “Just sell it. I don’t care if we move.”
She can’t possibly understand what she’s saying.
Part of the problem is that I worry about the “house”. Will it ever know a family again or will it become a mere pawn in a ruthless housing market for someone to make a quick buck? It deserves more than that. On the bright side, there are a lot more families with children here now. When we moved in, there was a bachelor and his aging mother on one side. A retired couple on the other. We didn’t have the money to fix up the house the way young new buyers seem to have these days so it was mostly a lot of painting and decorating. The basement was a cheap DIY. But the garden…it was my universe. I learned to wield a shovel like it was my third hand. I fed and watered and dug up and replanted and composted and lay down seeds until it and I breathed as one.
We “entertained”. But mostly, we had family and friends over whenever, for whatever. We didn’t need a reason. It was Saturday and the sun was shining. Let’s put something on the barbeque. Or everything could be blanketed in snow. Come for food. There’s a game on later. Bring wine. At these times, with wood crackling in the fireplace, I could feel the house holding us. This is forever, it said.
But nothing ever is.
After the divorce, the garden died. I couldn’t save it. I was too busy saving myself. I buried it under a massive new deck. I renovated the house too, ripping up floors, gutting pipes, and tearing down walls. The old house blurred before my eyes.
What have you done?
I’m moving on.
The house grew silent.
Now, seven years later, we’ve reached a truce. But that’s not the same thing as forgiveness. I miss the garden…and many things. My house and I have become locked in a joyous love hate relationship. I’m not sure how much longer we can go on like this. The bones of the house that once held me so lovingly now hurts with how tight its grip has become. Have I stayed too long?
Pat from next door has moved on, bought a condo after his mother passed away. Shirley is a widow now. Her husband got wheeled out on a stretcher early one morning a few years back. Died in his sleep. She’s lived in her house for over sixty years, when the apartment building behind us was still an apple orchard. She receives few visitors. Sometimes, the only sign of her for weeks is a small light in her upstairs window. At night, as I close the blinds and lock the doors, I often wonder: What does she do rattling about inside there all by herself? And the answer is clear: Sell.
But by the time I climb into bed, the pendulum has swung.
Where will you go? Just stay.
I read that a pendulum cannot achieve perpetual motion.
Eventually, it must come to rest.