Talk of the Town - Realty check December 04 2003

Or cash — whatever you prefer

I believe in reincarnation. I've come back as a homely high school girl.

Because here I am, brokenhearted, staring at a phone that never rings. No one has asked me to the prom. More precisely, nobody wants my house.

It's been on the market for seven weeks, with as many lookers. None at all in the last 10 days. Meanwhile, the house two doors over sold so fast you'd think there was a vein of gold running through the basement.

It makes you question yourself. Did I fail the house in some way? In bringing it from new build to the age of 10, did I not spend enough time with it?

Sure, you can paint a house, wash the windows and keep the lawn weed-free (well, sort of). But in paying attention to the surface matters, did I neglect the basics of character that make a domicile roll over the second you put the "for sale" sign out?

"That house has character," people say, as they outbid each other to take possession. My house, on the other hand, is a character. A house, they say, is not a home. Just ask Heidi Fleiss. At a time like this, signage becomes all-important. There's the sign outside your subdivision saying, "Turn Here to See House for Sale." Next is a sign at the end of your street saying, "You're Getting Warmer."

That first sign has been there the entire seven weeks of my real estate purgatory. But the second one, at street's end, kept disappearing. Last weekend, I put the fifth such placard out at noon, only to find it gone an hour later.

I launched an investigation and sauntered down to a neighbor with a good view of the corner crime scene. Through subtle probing, in best P.I. mode, perhaps I could find a clue as to the identity of the sign stealer.

Me: Did you see who stole my sign?

He: Yeah, it was Ed. I saw him put it in his car.

I don't know why episodes of "Law and Order" take a whole hour.

Ed is a zealot/subdivision officer who yanked my house signs as a violation of neighborhood covenants. That's a heavy word, covenants — Old Testament heavy, as in God's covenant with Abraham. I have trouble applying it to such weighty matters as the regulation height of a mailbox post.

I explained to Militant Ed hat if my house doesn't sell, I'm going to be paying two mortgages. This left him unmoved until I added that, if I go broke in the process, I'm going to camp out on his driveway. He still won't let me put the sign up, but at least now he's worried.

It doesn't matter, because by the time you get in front of my house it resembles one of those billboard-pocked stretches of the interstate. You can barely see the place for all the signs planted out front.

There's the standard realty company sign with broker name and phone number. Then the "Take a virtual tour" sign displaying a Web address where you can take a look at my desk from the comfort of yours.

Plus a box containing fliers with the home's vital statistics. People have taken at least 100 of these leaflets. This sounded promising until I realized that there are 115 homes in my neighborhood, each populated by someone nosy enough to want to know our asking price. The way I figure, we've still got another 14 fliers to go.

My home is also depicted in one of those real estate booklets, each page of which contains 28 murky photos the size of a Christmas Seal. In this format, you'd look at Buckingham Palace and say, "Can I see something a little bigger?"

After viewing the picture of my home in said flier, it became clear why people are giving it the same wide berth as a garbage scow in mid-August. I appear to be the owner of two large shrubs with a door in-between. Not trimming the hedges for a decade has given the place a wooded, Dark Shadows kind of look.

With photography and signage having flopped as sales techniques, someone advocated a more direct approach. As an incentive, we were advised to up the broker's commission from the standard 3 percent to 4 percent.

This was outrageous. It's bad enough having to fix every latent nail pop in my house before putting it on the market. Worse that I have to power wash every millimeter of the place to erase all signs of human habitation, because God forbid it should seem as if people live there. Now I have to resort to bribery? It's undignified, unethical and ...

Will that be cash or check?


Glen Slattery, P.I., is on assignment in Old Testament Alpharetta.

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