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Elegant Isn't Always Best

n an effort to downsize, we recently decided to put the house in Los Angeles on the market—it's our attempt to "cash out," and take advantage of the hot real estate market in SoCal. It's a wonderful house, at the top of a hill overlooking much of northeast Los Angeles, but it's huge, expensive, and worth a lot more than what we paid for it. Yes, I know you're really feeling sorry for me here. I'm totally ambivalent about the sale/move, and hope it's all resolved by the time you read this.

Figuring that selling and moving was going to be a terrible time suck, and because there's no real pressure forcing us to head down this path, we decided to be hard-nosed about the sale and accept no offers below the asking price, which we set at the top of the possible range. You know the drill—you look at all the other houses in the neighborhood that are for sale, decide that yours is nicer than all of those, and up the price a little. We contacted the agent that sold us the house seven years earlier—he's the top seller in the area—and signed the necessary papers.

Then, once we were hooked, the pain started. Brian (the agent) swept in one night, looked about the house, and regaled us with everything we must do in order to sell. We were told to remove every shred of personal content from the house, to paint the outside, clean the windows, fix the roof, fix up a few little leak-damaged spots on the walls, move plants around outside, hang a chandelier in the dining room, put away all computer technology, clean closets, pump and certify the septic system, and on and on. We were even given instructions on how to decorate (down to the big bowl of lemons on the dining room table—see Figure 1.)

At one point, Brian and his helper started rearranging furniture in the living room, to give it a more "elegant" feel. Dust and cat hair were flying. Of course, we actually lived there, and used the space and never really gave much thought as to the feel. We just wanted to be able to plop down on the sofa and watch TiVo. At this point, the sofas may be arranged in a more elegant manner, but there's no place to sit and watch TV. What's a guy to do?

And it gets better. Because of the cats, we had never invested in plants, or nice fabrics, or, well, much decorating of any kind. Certainly there was neither a big bowl for lemons, nor a big bag of lemons, to be found on the premises. Accompanied by my friend Diane, who has a keen eye for design (and a beautiful self-decorated house), I headed out for the local Bed, Bath, and Beyond, Pier 1 Imports, and IKEA, picking out stuff we should have gotten seven years earlier, it appears. We bought throw pillows and candles and rugs and wall hangings and chenille throws (an item of whose existence I wasn't even faintly aware previously) and lots of plants, some real and some fake. And more, lots more. The damages—$2000 or so. I'm in pain, but the house is nice. With visions of the huge real estate windfall, we just bought whatever Diane suggested. (In case you care, what we really learned from this adventure is that $5 IKEA throw pillows will never look any better than exactly what they are: $5 IKEA throw pillows. You get what you pay for. Who did we think we were kidding?)

Now, we have a fully decorated, elegant and presentable house. In case you're interested, Figure 2 shows the results in just a single room. This "after" picture shows the guest bathroom, which before we started, had no soaps, no plants, no rug, no bath towels, no little basket with rolled up towels, and no cacti. Just a litter box or two, and a hand towel. Clearly, things are better now.

But are they? Is elegant always better? At this point, we can't use half of the rooms (they're closed off for showing) because the cats would eat the plants with inelegant biological results that we might not be able to clean up before perspective buyers came through, and we can't really even watch the TV in the living room because of all the throw pillows and the rearranged sofas. Sure, it may sell faster, but we can't really live in the model house as it is for long.

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