Newmans Own

Philistines at the Hedgerow

You can tell a lot about a real estate listing by its photos. And the few photographs in this listing are as enticing for what they don’t show as for what they do. Namely: a kitchen. But I’m no longer daunted by kitchen renovations. In fact, after seeing so many over-the-top kitchens, like this one , I’ve actually come to prefer a kitchen we can make our own. It won’t have granite countertops or high-end appliances, but it will be comfortable and practical. In this case, we could even get a great view of a magnolia tree just outside the window.

Michael: The kitchen in the last place we liked was worth more than some houses in Detroit . But before we get there, I need to pause—as I did yesterday—on the front lawn. I was mesmerized by those two elephant-size hedges. A little boy could get lost for days in one of those things. His father could spend a month’s worth of Saturdays trimming them.

Nora: I liked the manicured lawn and hedges. They give the property a certain grandeur, making the Tudor-style house seem very English, very elegant, very expensive. Yet it’s in our price range!

The interior was equally elegant, though I didn’t necessarily feel that way walking around in my socks. (The floors had just been refinished, so we were instructed to leave our shoes at the door.) The vaulted ceiling, the wood beams, the stone fireplace—it was all very stately, and the attached sunroom was charming. I’d seen all this from the photographs, however, and was more enticed by the kitchen mystery around the corner. It looked like it hadn’t been renovated in decades.

Michael: I really like this place—it’s just different enough to be interesting, but not so different as to be impractical. Well, there was that one closet with a window. But in general, this house had well-used space—not a lot of overlong hallways or closets too big for the room. Sure, the kitchen was tiny and poorly applianced, but that’s fixed easily enough.   The agent told me renovations would cost about $25,000. Or maybe it was $30,000. Either way—that was easy!

Redoing the floors was also a shrewd move. Something about newly finished floors makes a place feel shiny and clean. So the fumes were a little overpowering. But I got used to them. Also: New floors are cheaper than central air conditioning, which this house would also need. Now we’re spending more than $30,000 on renovations—but don’t worry; it’s all theoretical.

Nora: I wouldn’t be so sure about these renovations, Michael. I’ve been warned by many a friend and seen too many renovation shows to think fixing up is an easy or inexpensive task. And I have a feeling that this house needs more work than we can see in a quick walk-through. Maybe we should bring a contractor with us next time we look at a house? I’d really like to get a better sense of how much all this costs before I get my heart set.

Michael: Sure. Last but not least: After several background briefings, phone calls with anonymous sources, and predawn meetings in parking garages , our crack team of researchers has been able to learn the identity of the former owner of this house . I have jogged on the campus of her alma mater.

Nora: I would like to have met her. The fact that proceeds from the sale of the house will go to fund minority scholarships gives this place good karma. Still, just because I admire her doesn’t mean I want to live in her house.

Michael: OK. I suppose I can let this one go. But if it’s still here in a few weeks, I reserve the right to come back. This time maybe I’ll bring a landscaper and get an estimate for hedge care.