Vickie Leonard

This afternoon I made a few quick calls to buyers to see if they might be interested in properties for sale. J., whose expectations from a $325,000 house (it serves breakfast in bed to the owner) made me chuckle, confides that his wife’s company’s stock is going public in a few months and that could change their home-buying price range considerably. I concur and we both laugh. Could we be talking about a $400,000 breakfast-serving house with view?

My demanding 70-year-old says forget the house, let’s look at condos after her trip, and I agree that it’s a much better idea and quickly describe a few that are available. She’s told me that her elderly husband can’t handle the stairs very well and they must move. When she returns, she is determined to get the housing matter resolved, even if he’s still dragging his feet.

People may love each other but have very different ideas about what is the right house. One client loves their wooded suburban yard, while her husband describes their outlying location as “north of bumf**k.” Couples can have terrible fights about the right house. H. adored the brand new townhouse with the lovely windows, but her husband always saw the seedy homes behind the new development. D. loved the sweeping view of Puget Sound, but his wife didn’t like the condo’s pet restrictions. E. loathed the long, narrow living room, while his wife saw the perfect newer house. G. said no because of wear in the deck, though his wife loved its woodsy stream setting. T. really liked the spacious layout of the split-level, but his wife insisted the price was out of their range. Two people, two opinions but only one house.

Home buying and selling are extremely stressful. It takes its toll on the relationship and the individuals. One agent lost two sales this year because couples ended their marriages just as they were buying new homes. Even my sunniest buyer told me today that she was dreaming about house-hunting every night. “It attacks every aspect of your life,” she said blithely.

My graduate training in social work comes in handy. Clients share their dreams and fears about their finances, their obligations, and their futures. The new house will reflect who they are, who they want to be, and whom they will welcome. How much space is needed for future children, visiting relatives, grandchildren?

While working with B. and W. on their loan last night, she asked if I would abandon them if they couldn’t get a mortgage right away. I could genuinely reassure her that I would stick by them. I was mortified when a minister client said that his agent had dumped him because he had an FHA loan.

In Seattle we get lots of immigrants and mixed-race couples. I held my breath last week when the Minnesota blonde wife and her African husband were looking at a home directly across from a suburban high school. Fortunately, they agreed that the yard was too small. I was beginning to devise how I would find out about the school’s reputation for tolerance. Each time D., a Hong Kong-born programmer, and his American wife explored a different neighborhood, she raised the issue of their acceptance outside of his hearing. Two women in their 40s who own a house in a lovely urban neighborhood are considering a move to the suburbs. They aren’t lesbians and don’t want neighbors who would fixate on the absence of men as a reason to value them less as neighbors. In my experience, the suburbs are less tolerant than the city of Seattle. I reassured them that, in my opinion, it took an avant-garde perspective to see two single women automatically as lesbians. Reporting this conversation to friends, I was taken to task for being naive. Malinee lives in a small affluent town in California. She’s a wonderfully attractive, smart professional naturalist who wears cowboy boots and tight jeans. (The two men present concurred that she does not seem at all gay–that’s their code for “naturally, incredibly appealing.”) She was rumored to be a lesbian, because at 40 she has a close woman friend and no husband. Her local boyfriend complained that he didn’t like the rumors that he was dating a lesbian! Strong, smart single women, clearly a threat to any decent community. Where is Janet Reno when we need her?