Monday, May 04, 2009

The Weasel Word du Jour: Updating

I watch the shelter shows. It's out of a sense of duty. It's my business, and I need to understand the zeitgeist.

I yell at the television. I literally yell at the television. That is a warning sign, like purchasing leather pants. I need to tilt at this windmill, or shut up.

It's a huge mistake for advice about housing to devolve to the unholy troika of realtors, hamhanded interior decorators, and building material shills.

The realtors really get me. If you get your advice about the liveability of your house from a realtor, you're plain nuts. They are clerks of a very particular kind. It's like asking your accountant for dating tips. They're unlikely to give you any advice other than save your receipts. After what's happened in the last two years to the bank accounts of homeowners following the cult of the realtor, I'm amazed they're not shunned liked lepers at this point. But no, they're experts about housing, and I'm yelling at the television.

How did interior decoration get thrust front and center in house design? Not interior design, interior decoration. Interior decoration is a proud profession, but it's the tail that wags the sticks and bricks dog now. Shelter shows are fascinated with soft goods. The soft goods move with the homeowner. A motley assortment of people come and place pillows around your house and then you sell it. Who is taken in by staging of real estate at this point? People that listen to realtors, I guess. It's the housing version of used car dealers putting sawdust in transmissions near death to quiet the grinding while the sucker takes the car for a test drive. I was so busy looking at the throw pillows I didn't notice the fish store dumpster under the bedroom window, dear.

You don't have time to read the 140,000 words I could dump on you like mulch right now about this topic, so let me save us all some time, and just point out the weasel words you should be on the lookout for. There's a hearty handful of them, and if you spot any one of them being used in any context on a shelter show, I hereby grant you dispensation to ignore every other word emitted from the mouth of the offender, about everything, forevermore. Here's one that' s fresh in my mind:


They rattle this one off about everything. After a while, the poor prospective homebuyers start saying it if the realtor says it a few times, like a jerk at work that whistles The Candy Man to see how many people he can infect with it.

What everyone is referring to is having a Home Depot flyer explode inside the house. If you tear out the crap these same brigands told the previous owners to install three years ago, and replace it with stuff they'll be telling you to rip out two years hence, you're "updating." Put in bamboo floors, stainless steel appliances, granite coutertops, and glass subway tile, and your house will be state of the art! At least until next season.

Updating used to means something. People would take out their 50 amp service and put in a 200 amp that a modern family needed to run air conditioning and two 50 watt light bulbs at the same time. Hot water heaters that had enough capacity to actually fill the tub would be installed. The kitchen would have enough convenience outlets for all the appliances. Services to the house like fiber optic lines would be installed, or existing lines buried. People would add a bathroom, not fart around endlessly with the appearance of the existing one. Stuff like that.

Tile, wood flooring, a lot of woodwork, and many other items used to be considered more or less permanent installations. A house has a useful life measured in hundreds of years. If it's not useful, it's still going to be around for a very long time, a blot on the landscape and a waste of the owner's money.

Run from the updaters. Try this instead: put something in or on your house that another person -- a stranger -- would hesitate before they would tear it out or cover it up.

Now up the ante. The aforementioned stranger is living there after you're dead, and you didn't die young.


Andy said...

Sometimes I think you are a bit of a cantankerous old crow about these things, but if I can agree with you on anything, it's bamboo floors. A room in our house has bamboo, and it is useless. Weak, flimsy, and I can't get rid of it soon enough.

dick said...

I wouldn't want to blanket all realtors with these statements. Some of them really do tell you the truth. I know a couple of them like that.

Definitely agree with you about the updating. I remember when updating was installing shag carpet and avocado appliances. Lately it has been installing stainless appliances that you can't keep unsmudged and white cabinets that are made of plywood with some laminate that peels off and the cabinets not deep enough to give you any room around the toaster and mixer and blender and coffee pot. They put a microwave above a stove so that you are stuck with no way to get enough ventilation for the stove. Hot tubs that you might use once or twice a year and the rest of the time occupy space right where you want to do something else. 2-1/2 story ceilings that you can't get up to to clean out the cobwebs - until you ready to dump the house. Then you borrow a ladder and clean the webs out of there.

I want a house where I can sit at the kitchen table, get up and take a couple of steps and pick up the coffee pot. I want rooms that are reasonable size. I want a house that can breathe. I want some nooks and crannies to put things out of the way. I want something that will last and look good and wil show some wear as it ages just as I do. I don't want plastic perfection. I want something tactile and real. I hate this damned laminated furniture - lamination over cheap pressed wood just does not work with me.

westsoundmodern said...

Speaking personally as a realtor and former builder, I find that the average construction laborer has a much more fertile and imaginative mind than all but a few real estate sales schlepers. I specialize in a niche market of mid-century architecture and would have gone insane years ago having to speak in glowing terms on all the crap out there on the market. I can't tell you how many times I have walked into a beautiful architecturally designed mid-century only to enter the kitchen and see the original cabinetry, flooring, countertops, all beautiful old material, replaced with crap at he suggestion of a realtor who told them it was "dated". Or the great stone fireplaces that were the anchor of these homes painted over or covered with sheetrock and replaced with something a little "easier on the eyes". How are you going to hang your flat screen above the fireplace with all of that lumpy rock? You should see their faces when I tell them we could have gotten more if they had left it alone and then show them some of my sales to prove it. The same applies for any architectural style. If it still functions as it was intended, older is better. Nothing worse than granite, bamboo, and stainless in a 1910 craftsman. Better paint that oak a neutral color as well. Wouldn't want to offend any potential buyers.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

My wife and I just updated our kitchen- Dark stained oak cabinets, laminate counter tops and chrome bail pulls for all the doors and drawers. White beadboard wainscoting with an daark stained cap rail.

Some people think its a little dated already. My response?

So What? You don't live here.

My wife and I looked for a house (on and off) for almost 10 years before we bought this plaace for its location and lot.

I told her when we moved in; the only way I'm leaving is feet first.

westsoundmodern said...

The key to updating if it is needed is to install what you like or do what Sippican basically says, put in some features that a guy can use. Don't ever let a realtor convince you that updating to their personal finish preferences will make your house worth more. I think over the last ten years or so realtors have convinced themselves that they are Suuuuper Genius's because they could recommend updating the floors to polished mud and the countertops to unfinished particle board and the house would sell for a record price regardless. Speaking as a realtor, we're less smart lately.

Mumblix Grumph said...

I don't know what it's like in your area of the country, but out here realtors have taken to putting huge glamor shots of themselves on their signs, ads and billboards.

I honestly don't give a rat's rump what a realtor looks like...just tell me how quickly you can sell my damn house.

dick said...

I still remember an apt I had in Brooklyn back in the mid-1970's. It had a marble fireplace with all kinds of carved putti and grapes and leaves around it. Someone painted the thing in a pale lemon yellow color. The apt above me had a mural painted in the ceiling and someone had painted over that with that white pebbly looking stuff. They should have been shot. This was one of the old brownstones just below Brooklyn Heights and a gorgeous home. Only problem with it was the updating needed was electric. If you plugged in the toaster and a coffemaker on the same side of the apt youhad to go downstairs and flip the breaker back on. You also dould not use an alectric razor and the toaster at the same time. Instead of fixing the electricity, they painted ever open space a solid color. Philistines!!

Anonymous said...

I didn't expect you to be the kind of person that says "hot water heater".

Stuart said...

I'm convinced that stainless steel will be the avacodo and harvest gold of our current "age". When I tear out my kitchen next summer, the appliances will be white as God intended.