Looking Inside Midtown

By on 31 May, 2012 in Fun, Kate and Stephen, Shopping with 1 Comment

Abandoned hoops. Some household amenities depreciate over time.

Midtown Montgomery, you should know that I spent the weekend poking around inside your homes. And it wasn’t just me – I was accompanied by a whole team – two, sometimes three, men of taste and distinction.

We were looking at houses for sale, as one of them (a relative) is considering moving to town from a faraway outpost. What a way to spend a holiday weekend! While our peers were at the beach or lingering over cold blender drinks (or both), we were questioning the provenance of wallpaper and light fixtures, cooling units and roofs. We looked at more than a dozen properties, all told, some of them several times. Herewith I share with you a few of the lessons I learned from a weekend of house shopping around Midtown:

1. Some of your bathrooms are really strange. Why someone opted to convert a bedroom into a bathroom is beyond me. Most people do not expect to walk ten to twenty feet from sink to shower, especially when that walk will take them past a large window looking out onto the back deck. Perhaps these designers could have compromised with the folks whose closets were evidently re-purposed into bathrooms, with vertically stacking facilities and weird quasi-mechanical shower stall closures.

Most of you have had the good sense to keep the water controls inside the shower, but those who chose to place them outside must have had a good reason. Perhaps that reason had something to do with the dueling shower heads in their oversized stall? Or maybe there’s a connection between those external controls and the medicine cabinet that was honestly large enough to stock groceries in. Grandpa only buys hair tonic in gallon jugs, and he’s not keeping it in the garage!

Part of old house charm is quirk, but when quirk becomes head-scratching, it’s time to rethink your design. Also, closing the shower curtain will not stop prospective buyers from looking into the shower to see its general dirtiness.

2. Many of your houses are unbelievably lovely. Some of you live in places where every baseboard, every scrap of molding, every inch of floor has been lovingly maintained and matched with period furniture beautifully illuminated by the original windows. Others of you are clearly taking the time to restore your older homes to their original condition and we want you to know how much your hard work shows. Even in places where the floors had seen better days, or the yard was inexplicably dotted with patches of gravel, we could tell that the home was exceptionally well loved. And everyone wants to buy a house that’s been cared for.

3. You don’t need to have granite to have a nice kitchen. I know, I know, if HGTV is to be believed everyone simply must have granite countertops in their kitchens. But HGTV is full of all kinds of terrible ideas. And the fact is that in old houses granite has a tendency to look tacky and out of place, like wearing stiletto heels to a casual lunch with friends or a Kentucky Derby hat to the grocery store. And they’re radioactive. And they just don’t fit the period of many houses. Although tastes will, of course, vary, the houses that we loved the most had kitchens that didn’t overreach, were open and accessible, with appliances in basically predictable places (i.e., not in the middle of the room or in another room altogether). It should probably be noted that we love cooking and see kitchens as a place where we’d spend a lot of time, performing functional and productive activities.

4. Light makes the house. There’s so much gorgeous summer light pouring into houses all over our neighborhoods this time of year, and in the best houses we saw, it shone through old glass making us think of lemonade and corn on the cob and the soft whushing of ceiling fans. But in some houses the owners had left their heavy drapes closed, or shutters all buckled up, and while we know this keeps the heat out, it’s hard to see how beautiful a home is when there isn’t any light. As a somewhat-related side note, we understand that you want to save energy costs by not air conditioning a house if nobody is living there. But when it is sweltering and the air feels stagnant, you’re less inclined to want to spend time in the prospective house, noticing its charms.

5. Looking at houses is a tiring business. Even if you’ve got a pretty decent memory and some shopping acumen, after a half dozen homes or so, they can start to blur together. Sellers looking to make their house stand out from the crowd would do well to emphasize a feature that makes their house memorable – we started coming up with nicknames for the homes we say, such as “the column house,” or (less favorably) “the house with the murder room.” Although we took photos and recorded notes in our little notebook, at the end of multiple long days of looking, we found that the little details we remembered were what made us want to go and see a property with more of an eye to buy. Only remarkable houses made it to our list of finalists.

At the end of all this, our relative did make an offer. He surprised all of us by choosing the house in need of the most love. We’ll see what happens, but we don’t regret for a minute our days spent peeking in our neighbors’ homes. We left loving our own home, but also feeling lucky to live in such a beautiful part of town, with such unusual and well-kept homes. Here’s hoping they all find loving owners.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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  1. Carole king says:

    And it is always helpful if you have a fun realtor!

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