Although we are completely happy with our home, my lovely wife Cassandra and I are moving to a new house a half-mile away in Los Angeles that’s even older and more expensive and falling apart faster. We’re doing this so we can fight over trivial things instead of actual marital problems. You can’t hurt someone much when you tell her she selects tiles just like her mother.
As a bonus, we’ve gotten to fight over selling our old house. We both naively assumed that the process involved showing our house to potential buyers. This, our real estate agent informed us, is indeed how Neanderthals sold their caves. But no one in today’s market would look at our house and decide to live there. That’s because, by the standards of professionals, we are disgusting people who live disgusting lives.
Our first problem was that our walls were painted in what is called “personal colors.” A personal color is a color that isn’t white. So we had to pay a painter several thousand dollars to impersonalize our colors. And buy white towels and white linens. In people’s dream lives, they live in hospitals.
We also had to hire a stager. Our real estate agent hooked us up with Arthur King at LA Salvage, whom we paid $7,000 to take away all our gross personal stuff and replace it with way less of his stuff for three months. Cassandra found this process incredibly stressful and abandoned our house for three days as people rearranged our lives. As Biggie Smalls would have said, Mo’ money, mo’ women and gay men in your house all the time.
Despite the fact that the activity people enjoy most at home is watching television, we had to get rid of our TV. Apparently buyers like to imagine a new life in a new home where they talk about politics, read Aristotle and look at cheap giant metal paintings. All of our useful stuff had to go, since people don’t want to think about brushing their teeth, printing documents, blowing their nose, tossing garbage, making coffee, blending anything, talking on the phone or heavily drinking hard alcohol to forget their idiotic real estate transactions. They also don’t have home offices, so I am writing this column on a desk in our garage, which has a huge empty wooden box marked returned letters. This is very useful, since I’m always yelling, “Honey, you know all those letters I always send without stamps or correct addresses? Where do we stack those up?”
Our son Laszlo’s playroom is no longer a dark room with a tiny window that no one would like but a screening room, with one row of theater seats, a glass jar of stale popcorn and red curtains drawn back to reveal a painting of a magical medieval village. When I saw it, I got incredibly bummed over the fact that I had lived in the house for eight years without knowing I had a screening room.
Over the past week, I’ve found a sailboat in a bottle, a model sailboat, two paintings of sailboats and a mason jar filled with a coiled nautical rope. We are trying to sell our property to someone who does not even want to be on land.
Staging, which a few years ago was just for superrich people, has trickled down to mid-priced houses; there are 1,000 members of the Real Estate Staging Association, and Meredith Baer Home is a nationwide staging firm. So the superrich are now also producing short movies about their houses. For an average of $12,500, filmmaker Curt Hahn will show a house through a story, of, say, a dad’s surprise birthday party in which his uniformed son who is stationed overseas Skypes in before appearing from behind the screen to hug his dad. After watching it, I wanted to own that house and invade a foreign country.
So I got some friends who make great YouTube videos to shoot my movie for free. Hahn suggested that they aim for the kind of buyer we were when we bought the house: childless, new to L.A. and with values I could live with. Because buyers could be from overseas, he said, we should eliminate as much dialogue as possible and include multiracial families. This made even more sense when I watched Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner on mute and appreciated all the exposed brick and natural light.
My friends, however, are comedy writers, so they made a movie about two detectives who admire the house while questioning a woman named Cassandra about her husband’s untimely death, life-insurance policy and cost of their new screening room. It contains lines such as:
Detective No. 1: Four bedrooms, three bathrooms. This place is big enough for practically any family.
Detective No. 2: Or … the scene of a murder.
If we find a buyer shortly after this column comes out, I’m thinking of starting a new business where I write a column about the house you’re selling. It’s the only way we’re going to be able to pay for any of these renovations.
This appears in the December 01, 2014 issue of TIME.