Ever since I wrote that article a few months ago about how we’re looking for a new house, people keep asking us how the house hunt is going. The ones who ask us the most are my parents, who already knew we were looking for houses, but thought that the fact that I started writing about it meant that we’d found something.
We’ve spent a lot of time going around and looking at houses, mostly to spend some time out of our own house, which we’re pretty sure is shrinking. We especially do this on Sunday afternoons, when all our kids are home, and our house feels the smallest.
But it turns out that I’m a horrible person to look at houses with. I totally blame my mother, who always taught me that when I’m in someone else’s home, I have to be complimentary. Especially if the person is standing right there. So even if I find something I’m not crazy about, I look for a good spin.
“Oh, look, it’s right on the highway! How convenient, if you want to go west!”
“Wow, we can cook supper without getting off the couch!”
“Hey, I can see the inner city from here!”
Fortunately, a lot of the houses we look at are open houses. Open houses are specifically held when the seller is not around—often without his knowledge, I think—because it’s hard for them to stand there and watch you going through their stuff and opening up all their closets and trying on their clothes.
“Ooh, are you going to leave this jacket?”
I feel bad doing this, but we do need to know about closet space. That’s a huge issue in Passaic, where builders sometimes forget to put in closets at all. And it’s not just the builders who are at fault. I’m pretty sure the house we currently live in used to have a coat closet. But then one of the previous owners decided, probably during the summer, that they didn’t really need one, so they took it out.
But there’s always someone at the open house, to make sure people don’t just walk off with the house. Usually, it’s the real estate agent, who also takes the time to put out the house’s shidduch information, as well as some business cards and snacks, which, like myself, are complimentary.
But I still feel the need to make compliments to avoid awkwardness, because the agent says, “And this is the next room,” and then it’s my turn to talk. And usually, when someone says something like that—“This is my baby,” for example—you have to say something. You can’t just greet it with skeptical silence while furiously scribbling things down in a notebook. Or you can ask a follow-up question, but a lot of those can be misunderstood as offensive. (“Wow. Is it a boy or a girl?”)
So I’m walking around, thinking of at least one compliment to say for each room, and the agent is getting more and more convinced that I’m absolutely in love with this house and he’s going to have to take down the balloons before 3 o’clock. So I try to balance myself out by taking my wife.
My wife is a lot better at not complimenting every single room she walks into. I don’t mean this in a bad way, if I know what’s good for me. She’s an interior designer, so her job is to walk around houses—without me, preferably—and tell people what’s wrong with it, and how it could be fixed. If the seller were around when my wife is looking through it, he’d probably offer to give it to us just to take it off his hands. Or he’d take it off the market and tear it down, so as not to put the burden of his house on anyone else. My wife is, at best, stoic, like she’s at a funeral. Whereas I wander about the house like it’s the first time I’ve seen indoor plumbing. The two of us looking at a house together confuses the heck out of real estate agents.
So to answer everyone’s questions: We are looking for a house, but we haven’t found anything yet. It’s like looking for a job. You don’t know when you’ve looked at the one before the one you’re going to get; you only know when you’ve found one.
To my parents: Nothing has changed. But thanks to you teaching me to be so complimentary all the time; we’ve almost bought, by my last count, 17 houses.
To the people selling all the houses we’ve looked at: You have a lovely home. But we don’t want it.
Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia, The Jewish Press and Aish.com, among others. He also has four books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].
By Mordechai Schmutter