Real Estate in the time of COVID
Since COVID, I have this recurring dream. I discover an entire section of our house that I wasn’t unaware of. It’s a breathless labyrinth: thirty-foot ceilings, multilevel, endless, Escher-like staircases, floor to sky windows. I wonder, in the dream, why I thought we needed more space. This is more than enough.
My family was ready to move, right when COVID hit. We’d procured a storage unit to make our place look emptier and more spacious. We’d finally started fixing things that no one should have to live with, even though we had, for a decade. We’d narrowed down our search to an eight-block radius. We were at the starting line.
Then bang! COVID. Boom! Shelter-in-place.
“The housing market changed overnight,” our realtor said. Like pizza delivery, it became contact-free. Strategically, these contact-free showings posed an obstacle. People had begun using their homes like bomb-shelters and panic rooms, clinging to the indoors until the threat subsided.
In the old days, people used to ask realtors, “What were the previous owners like?”
Now, interested buyers can ask the previous owners, face to face. We’re the trolls hiding behind the acrylic safety-guard panels. Realtors used to ask people to put away their family pictures. Now, they’re telling people to put away their families.
“What does contact-free look like?” I asked our realtor, fearing he’d make us break the shelter-in-place order. Could we hang hazmat suits in the mudroom? Or would the hazmat suits make our place feel smaller, as people awkwardly crashed around the tight corners? Had the exercise industry connected with the germ industry yet and invented a form-fitting, hazmat suit that would enable people to svelte-ly maneuver through our home, making it feel spacious? Or would the suits be too expensive and not worth the hassle? And, who would wipe out the hazmat suits after they exited them? So many questions.
“Is the furniture for sale?” Someone might ask our realtor, as I’m told people often do. He could send them to our acrylic, walk-up, COVID panel and they could make an offer.
“Is there anything wrong with the house?” They might ask him. But would they ask that in front of us, staring them down as they too closely inspected the warps, the electrical plates, and the uneven floorboards? This could work to our advantage.
The trick we needed to master was how to make our house appear COVID free. On the onset of shelter-in-place, we’d all claimed our places. My husband turned the basement into an office space. My son took over the first floor for gaming and stomping around yelling strategies through his headset. Our bedroom began moonlighting as my bohemian, hippie, retreat. The house was filled with evidence of people living and breathing. Even in non-COVID days, our realtor said, people wanted to look at empty houses. Now, they felt like their lives depended on it.
“Were they happy here?” I’ve heard people often ask realtors.
“Of course,” our realtor would say, pointing at us. We’d smile and wave, safely tucked behind our acrylic takeout window.
“Did anyone in the house have COVID?” They would ask this question, with deference, not making eye contact with us.
“I can’t legally answer that,” our realtor would say.
The child of the family would tug on her mother’s jacket. The mother would bend down to hear.
“My daughter would like to know if the house is haunted? Or if those are real people?”
At this question, I would realize that we’d made a misstep by staying, even with our masks, acrylic panels, and hospital-grade latex gloves.
“You wouldn’t have to go far when I show your place,” our realtor would say after the prospective buyers left, spooked.
At that, we would decide, that it wasn’t the best time to sell. I would wonder if this decision would suffocate me once winter came or if it would feel more frontier cozy.
In the meantime, I would look forward to falling asleep and dreaming of that doorway that led me into the not yet discovered space.