Selling The House and Cooking: Not a Love Story

by Tracy Tynan
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for-sale-sign.jpgIt came to me in a flash: sell the house. After my husband lost his second job in eight months and after my agent stopped returning my calls. It was the solution to all our problems. We hired a realtor – a young energetic woman called Jen – and made a plan. We would sell our three bedroom home and move to a loft in downtown Los Angeles. We would be downsizing, but it would be chic.

It was a bitter pill to swallow, selling the home that we had lived in for twenty-one years and raised our children. But really there was no alternative to our diminished earning capacity. Added to the embarrassment of having a ‘For Sale’ sign planted on our front lawn and explaining to all our inquisitive neighbors why and where we were moving. What I had failed to take into account was the effect that this momentous decision would have on our eating habits. What nobody tells you when you are trying to sell a house is that cooking in your home becomes virtually verboten.

In these tough economic times if you want to sell, you have to ‘Stage’. When you live in the film capital of the World, people want to buy houses that look like movie sets. This requires cramming every personal item you own into a closet and making your house look like nobody lives in it. But at the same time it has to look like Martha Stewart was your interior decorator.

for-sale-sign.jpgIt came to me in a flash: sell the house. After my husband lost his second job in eight months and after my agent stopped returning my calls. It was the solution to all our problems. We hired a realtor – a young energetic woman called Jen – and made a plan. We would sell our three bedroom home and move to a loft in downtown Los Angeles. We would be downsizing, but it would be chic.

It was a bitter pill to swallow, selling the home that we had lived in for twenty-one years and raised our children. But really there was no alternative to our diminished earning capacity. Added to the embarrassment of having a ‘For Sale’ sign planted on our front lawn and explaining to all our inquisitive neighbors why and where we were moving. What I had failed to take into account was the effect that this momentous decision would have on our eating habits. What nobody tells you when you are trying to sell a house is that cooking in your home becomes virtually verboten.

minimalist-living-room.jpgIn these tough economic times if you want to sell, you have to ‘Stage’. When you live in the film capital of the World, people want to buy houses that look like movie sets. This requires cramming every personal item you own into a closet and making your house look like nobody lives in it. But at the same time it has to look like Martha Stewart was your interior decorator. Most people hire professionals to do this. Due to our lack of funds, Jen was stuck with me. Together we re-arranged the furniture to create what she referred to as ‘The Wow Effect”. But when I begged my husband to remove his leather embossed director’s chair, circa 1970, from his office. He put his foot down. “You’re trying to erase my past. Absolutely not! ” “Fine!” I said. And the minute he turned his back, I stuffed his collection of nametags, from every film festival he’s ever attended, into a drawer.

This is particularly true of the kitchen where cooking paraphernalia; cooking oils, spices and condiments have to be swept away. But most importantly the actual smells of cooking must never be in evidence.

mr-clean-magic-eraser.jpgOne night, I made the mistake of cooking fish. Despite having opened the windows afterwards, the smell lingered. I spent the next day dousing the house with air freshener, creating a really nauseating eau de lavender and stale fish. The house, and above all, the kitchen, has to be kept immaculate at all times, just in case a potential buyer wants to visit. Unfortunately I am not the world’s tidiest person. I tend to let the mess build up and then do a manic sweep. But the combination of being unemployed and having to keep the house clean brought out my inner fanatic. I found myself on my hands and knees scrubbing baseboards, clutching my new best friend, the Magic Eraser – God know what’s in those little white blocks – but you just add a dab of water and any scuff or black mark vanishes – probably with a layer of paint. But who cares?

After the first "Open House”, word came back that my kitchen was not ‘updated’. This translates to “It doesn't have granite counters and stainless steel appliances.” I felt badly for my kitchen. Twenty-one years ago I had ‘updated’ the kitchen. After years of cooking in cramped apartment kitchens, I wanted to create a kitchen that had lots of storage and plenty of surfaces for preparing food. I thought it was cozy with its retro tile and white appliances. And throughout the years it has proved to be a very functional practical kitchen. But now I discovered that I had made a terrible mistake. Kitchens in houses today aren’t meant to look like anyone cooks in them. In fact, I was beginning to suspect that they are designed for people that rarely cook, and possibly never eat at home.

chinese-takeout-204x300.jpgI realized that constant cleaning and fear of cooking smells do not make for happy cooks: my desire to cook evaporated. My husband and I started to order take-out Thai or Indian – no telltale cooking smells –or better still, eat out – no leftover containers or dirty plates. As anyone will tell you, if you are trying to save money, the first place to cut spending is eating out. So here we are in this absurd situation of trying to save money by selling our house, but spending money on eating out.

Two months later, we still haven’t sold the house but our food bills have tripled. The only comfort I have is that the lofts downtown, filled with stainless steel appliances and granite counters haven’t sold either.

A friend of mine just emailed me and said she and her husband managed to sell their house by baking cookies and burying a statue in the backyard. (Some kind of ancient folk thing.) I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures. Although it annoys me to have to bake chocolate-chip cookies for the benefit of strangers who may be judging my poor old kitchen, I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures. Plus there are a couple of other ugly items that my husband simply refuses to get rid of and a burial in the garden might be the perfect solution.

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