Location, location, location.
Earlier this week I had call from an estate agent, Simone: driving past the house in Emmarentia, she had noticed that there were people moving in; she had observed the big clean up. Back in 2007, it appears, she had provided Eileen with a valuation, so she remembered something of the background: now, she wanted to know, would I be interested in a further, free valuation?
Yes, indeed I would be, I responded, without hesitation. I had not thought of putting the house on the market, so early on; I had not even begun to consider seriously whether I wanted to sell or not. And yet, when the call came, it was if there was no debate at all: if there was a possibility there might be a buyer – and it turned out I had a price quite clearly written out in my head as if, unbeknownst to me, someone had already done the calculations – then I was a seller.
Simone’s call, following on from a preliminary inquiry the previous evening by her husband, came early in the morning, just after seven. It was a day I happened to be working at home, and so it was that barely five hours later I was opening the gates to Simone and going through the little ritual of introductions. We quickly established a rapport, chatting for a while in the garden, and then I led her on a guided tour of the house – noticing anew, as one does in the presence of others, how the damp ceilings sag, how dried out the woodwork is, how scraggly and bare the garden, now that we’ve ripped out the weed trees and uprooted the wild and savage cacti.
But Simone, to my surprise, took it all in approvingly, commenting on the cleanup, the good ‘flow’ of the rooms, the merits of the basic configuration: three bedrooms, two bathrooms, lounge, dining room, office (the one aspect of the house I will miss), two cottages for work or rental, swimming pool, large garden – and, most of all, location.
Our location, she explained to me as we pulled up our chairs and seated ourselves on the covered veranda, is ideal. New families are moving into the area, amongst them Muslim families for whom proximity to the mosque down the road, as well as to relatives and friends, is an important factor: from the mosque to our street, she added, is prime territory; from here back towards Melville prices begin to drop off.
She thought aloud about price, and discussed possible buyers. The kind of buyer she had in mind, she confided, would not be put off by the state of disrepair; this kind of buyer would in any event be planning a major makeover, perhaps would gut the house completely or even tear it down.
Location, again, was the major factor, not the house itself.
I told Simone about the repairs and renovations I was planning – she advised against this. Fixing up the house might make it easier for her to sell, but would not really influence her buyers, and I would not necessarily recover my money, let alone be able to justify the time and trouble.
This was a whole new perspective on things. She ran through her lists of clients, approving of some, discounting others – and then, having come to a conclusion, told me what she thought the property was worth, not on the basis of the general conditions in the market, but to the particular buyers she had in mind.
The number was the number I had in my head.
And so, to cut a long story short, I confirmed that I was willing – indeed, happy – to sell, if Simone could find me a buyer at that price; a price that would allow me to pay out Eileen and settle the bond, and to bank a tidy sum of money to boot.
Between Simone’s early morning call and her tour of the house I had called Rob, to tell her about the unexpected turn of events, and as we went through the options and the possibilities both of us, I have to admit, had a sense of rising optimism and excitement.
With the house off my hands, and cash in the bank, we could decide whether to rent or buy, whether to invest here in Johannesburg or think about a move to Cape Town; the idea of a two-country solution, part of the year here in South Africa and part in Canada, suddenly becomes easier to contemplate. I had to make a deliberate effort to damp down our expectations: it’s early days, I reminded us both. We have yet to see a single buyer.
But today, Simone brought round the first of her potential buyers, and tomorrow she is bringing another. The people this morning were Muslim, an older man in a white fez, a wife in headscarves, a teenage boy; they walked around the property in silence, and when they were gone Simone came back and reported to me, he kept saying, how much he liked the location.
So, we shall see.
But I’ve learned one thing, about my own true feelings about the Emmarentia property: it’s just a house. It will never again be a home, though Rob and I have tried to make it homely; the house in Emmarentia will never be this man’s castle.
Something else, too. In my thirties and forties, it was all about putting down roots; creating a family home; it was about security and stability. Now, perhaps, as I seek to start afresh, to broaden my horizons both literally and metaphorically, it is all about travelling light.
‘Of no fixed abode’ – that doesn’t seem such a bad place to be.