“So there’s no door to the master bedroom?” Freddy asks, energetically chewing his gum.
Freddy, who’s inspecting the house we are buying, has had his jaws working overtime for the past few hours. A word of clarification for Europeans — Freddy is not doing a bank appraisal. What he does is much more extensive. During his three-hour walk through, around and even under the house Freddy looks for potential problems. In case he identifies some serious stuff we can take his report to the seller and ask him to have the issues fixed or to lower the sale price. Or — if something really bad is uncovered in this process — we can just walk away from the sale.
Even though I am happy to know that his inspection will guard us from buying a house with major flaws, the process in itself is hardly a positive energy boost.
For one thing, Freddy doesn’t seem to be a big fan of contemporary architecture.
“Oh, they built this like that? Interesting,” seems to be his favorite observation, in between two chews, as he discovers the architectural gimmicks that make our hearts beat faster. To Europeans, ‘interesting’ might sound like a compliment. Everyone who has spent some time in the USA however, knows that it is a term favored by Americans when they don’t share someone’s enthusiasm but are too polite to say so.
On top of all the ‘interesting’ things, there are the — luckily minor — flaws Freddy points out to us.
“There are six steps leading up to the house. Legally, when there are more than four steps, a handrail should be installed,” he informs us. “I’m not saying this is a serious flaw, it’s just not as it should be.” Next he says, “Those gutters are going to need permanent attention. With all those trees surrounding the house, you’ll have to empty them all the time.” Or yet, “The windows in the addition are very high quality, but you might want to replace those in the back. Although that will not be cheap.” Or, more frightening, “See my humidity meter? High humidity in this basement storage room. Of course, that’s a given in this area. Not a lot you can do about it. All houses have it. Just keep that dehumidifier running at all times.”
Looking at the house through Freddy’s eyes does somewhat abate my own enthusiasm. However, he doesn’t seem to stumble upon major issues, which is good.
Until we enter the master bedroom suite, that is. Freddy’s observation about the missing door does slightly alarms me. Call us crazy, but my husband an I enjoy the occasional private bedroom-time. A door would come handy in that process.
The four of us — Hubbie, Melissa (the real estate agent’s assistant) Freddy and myself — set off on a hunt for a door. Hubbie is the one who locates it. It turns out to be a white, sliding affair that is perfectly camouflaged by the white double wall in which it is slid back. Only a tiny metal latch gives away its presence. I congratulate Hubbie on his find, relieved that our bedroom comes with a door after all.
“A pocket door. Interesting,” Freddy chews,”I wonder how one closes it.” His fingers pry at the small metal latch, but the pocket door stubbornly refuses to leave its pocket.
“It looks like it’s been opened too far,” Melissa says, “It’s kind of blocked there.”
As Hubbie lowers himself to the floor to have a closer look at the door mechanics, Freddy shrugs and leaves the scene. I follow him to the bathroom with its modern walk-in shower, which instantly gets labeled ‘interesting’.
“There, I can see the end of the door here, right in front of the window,” I hear Hubbie’s voice, “It’s been shoved back too far indeed. I’ll push it back your way, Melissa. Maybe you can grab it once it moves.”
“Okay,” Melissa says.
Hardly a few minutes later, over the sound of water running from the shower, I hear a loud thud. I wait for Freddy to finish his observation about the water temperature, then walk back to the room which now is closed off by a big, white door.
“Yee-ha!” I call out, “You fixed it!”
Melissa and Hubbie don’t look that happy by their prowess, however.
“It seems to be locked now,” Melissa says, frowning.
So? Many bedroom doors can be locked, can’t they?
“Can you try again to unlock it?” Hubbie asks, to which Melissa starts to fumble a small metal circle in the door.
“It still doesn’t bulge,” she says.
“I’ll try to lift the door, maybe that will help,” Hubbie says. Lowering himself to the floor again, he tries to push up the door, while Melissa fumbles with the lock once more. Some minutes later, Hubbie lets go of the door with a heavy sigh.
“It doesn’t work,” Melissa states the obvious.
“You mean we’re locked in here?” I ask.
Melissa laughs. “It certainly looks like that,” she says, looking around the room. When she notices the big double sliding door leading to the yard, her eyes light up. “You know what? I’ll just slip outside through there, walk into the house again and try to open the door from the other side.”
She uses both hands to slide open the heavy door — ‘That’s a big sliding door they put in here,’ Freddy said just minutes ago, ‘I wonder why they wanted such a large door. Interesting.’ — Black leather ballerinas take Melissa out onto the snow-covered balcony, from where she athletically jumps down to ground level, some six feet below. Barely three minutes later, Melissa’s footsteps sound in the hallway.
“Okay, I’ll try to open it now,” her muffled voice reaches us.
The three of us observe the white door intensely, willing it to slide open. No such luck. The thing doesn’t move an inch.
“Let’s try to pluck out the lock,” Melissa says, now clearly in charge of the situation, “Many of those locks can just be plucked out.”
I glance over at Freddy, still chewing his gum while seated down on the bed. Only ten minutes ago Freddy looked like the God of all handymen, his screwdriver in the attack as he walked from room to room. My trust in him has somewhat faltered now. It is obvious that if anyone is going to get us out of here, it will be Melissa and my husband. Freddy seems to be utterly useless in ‘breaking and entering’ situations.
“Melissa seems to know about those things,” is his sole contribution. “It does make you wonder about her.” He refrains from saying that it’s interesting.
It does make me wonder indeed, especially when Melissa says next, “Freddy, do you have that screwdriver of yours? Now that the lock is out, that could help us forcing it.” Docile, Freddy walks up to Hubbie, who takes the screwdriver from him and tries to pry the lock with it, alas to no avail.
“I’ll run off to the basement and the kitchen,” Melissa chirps through the closed door. “I might find some other tools there.”
I sit down next to Freddy, who seems to chew his gum even more forcefully now. “If only I had my computer here,” he mumbles, “I could get started on my report.” Next he goes on about how houses nowadays are so large and peculiar. Freddy himself lives in a moderate colonial house, he informs me, “with the wife. Before the children left the house, there were five of us in the three bedroom house. We only had two bathrooms, but nobody ever complained.”
“Really? that’s interesting,” I reply. I refrain from saying that I grew up in a house with only one bathroom for five people. There’s no need for me to be more enthusiastic about Freddy’s housing arrangements than he’s about mine, is there?
Some ten minutes later, Melissa’s voice sounds through the closed door again.
“Guys, I don’t know what to tell you. There’s nothing useful in the whole house …”
After a few more fruitless attempts at sliding the pocket door back into its pocket, we decide to follow Melissa’s example and leave the room through the balcony. As I ready myself to jump down into Hubbie’s arms — I admire Melissa all the more for doing this on her own — Freddy says, “Obviously, this balcony could use a railing and even a few steps. It’s interesting how they did this.”
We are gathered in the kitchen when Susan, Melissa’s boss, joins us.
“What about the outside sliding door? Is that unlocked now?” Susan asks. We nod. “That might be a little unsafe, I guess. Then again, nobody’s going to get into the rest of the house, right? Not with that pocket door blocked.”
“Oh,” I say, “You know, I did notice the back door has a lock on the outside. Maybe the key you used to enter the house fits that lock too?” There. I said something useful at last. I look pointedly at Melissa.
“Don’t look at me,” Melissa replies, “I might be good at jumping off balconies, but I’m not too sure about my abilities to climb up again to lock that door.”
Let me tell you, that revelation makes me happy. I was starting to feel a bit like a loser. What with Melissa — looking so normal in her pleated pants and ballerinas, a pair of glasses resting on her nose — suddenly jumping down balconies Lara-Croft-style, then plucking locks and embarking on tool-treasure-hunts while I just sat on a bed listening to Freddy? I am glad to learn that Melissa has got her limitations too. She’s not superwoman in camouflage after all.
“Is it reasonable for us to ask the seller to fix the door?” I ask Susan. She nods vigorously.
“I think asking for a way to get into your bedroom without having to climb up through the outside is a reasonable request,” she says.
Freddy, still chewing his gum, chimes in, “I think so too! It’s a good thing I drew your attention to the missing door, isn’t it?” I guess it is indeed.
Overall, I do now have a good feeling about Freddy’s inspection. The man might not be superman, but he was extremely useful in a pointing-out-kind-of-way. I’m glad we hired him for the job. Just imagine how nice it will be to have a working bedroom door once we move in!
Helene Toye is the author of ‘Go West, A Belgian Attempts American Motherhood’, available on Amazon : http://amzn.com/1493592548