There are, on the route I sometimes take driving home from errands or work, fourteen houses for sale. In some cases—quite a few, actually—the realtor signs were planted at the edge of the yards months ago. Three of them were for sale when we were looking to buy seven years ago; they were all priced just out of reach or not chosen for good reason, I can conjure the floor plans, the way the light streamed in a certain window, the one detail that made me think, "Oh, if only..."
That place with the dinky little kitchen has been remodeled and I wonder if there are now granite counters, was the w.c. sacrificed for a better flow, did they simply gut the entire downstairs to create a great room as we would have done had money not been such an object?
Seven years ago houses were, of course, being bought and flipped regularly; the wisdom of the day held that one might as well take the A.R.M. so you could get as much house as possible, then refinance before the balloon expanded. I felt like something of a coward because I couldn't bring myself to do it; if I were going to have a constant home I wanted a constant nut to cover each month, though I wondered at the time when I had become such a wimp. Why not buy the Cape and expand it? Why not consider a tear-down or a house that was too big, too luxe, too much—had I never heard of resale?
But I was looking for a home.
As I drive by—remembering that one had to pass through the bedroom at the top of the stairs to get to the expansive master suite that had been built on the back of that Cape on the dangerous curve, remembering how much I coveted the kitchen that opened on to the family room in the house with the sinking foundation, remembering the stench of mold in that house with the amazing yard (the one that has new windows, new siding, has expanded exponentially to cover the patch of irises a purple so dark it seemed almost black)—I think, "But what about the people? What's happened that they are trying to sell now?"
Divorce—perhaps brought on by the stress of remodeling, bad timing, an affair?
Relocation (I hope with corporate support)?
Are they simply cutting their losses? Or is there something more hopeful going on—someone got promoted, the business took off, that large inheritance softening the blow of loss?
But there's this: seven years is a long time, relatively. A lot of living has happened in those houses. They were homes. And even when it's time to leave, even when there are countless good reasons to go, "home" is hard to let go of.