I wandered over to the dining room fireplace to examine the brick work around the hearth when I heard the front door open and shut with a decisive bang. As I turned around I saw a pair of shoes fly into the hallway followed by Sue stomping her way into the living room. I followed her and, not wanting to completely startle her, I did the polite cough and sniff as I went.
Sue faced me quickly and said, "Oh, Josie. I didn't know you were still here." She hastily tried to put her game face back on and pretend that I hadn't witnessed her private moment of frustration. Almost immediately though, she gave it up and with a huge sigh crumpled on the couch, throwing her feet up onto the coffee table.
A bit startled myself, I asked if she was okay.
"Not hardly!" Her tone, sharp as a knife, contrasted dramatically with the peace of the surroundings.
"What's up?" I asked as I seated myself in the love seat across from her.
"I've had it," she replied. "This is my fourth open house of this beast, and I haven't had a single offer. If I don't unload this baby soon, my reputation as a sure fire closer is going to be ruined!"
Obviously she didn't consider me to be a qualified buyer or her frank admission would have been a buyer's dream and a seller's nightmare. Careful not to give away my hand and undermine my own negotiating position, using a vague sympathetic response I encouraged Sue to continue her tirade.
"This house is in deplorable condition. It needs a new roof, new plumbing, new wiring, and air conditioning for God's sake!" she finished loudly as she removed her jacket.
Too much information, I thought. Any serious, normal buyer would have been running for the door without another word. Not me. I had no intention of deserting the ship. "But it's such a great piece of property, Sue. You hardly ever see this type of river frontage come up for sale anymore."
'You're right about that," she replied. "The land alone is worth half a mil, but the problem is that the house has historic status and can't be torn down to build new. Anybody looking for homes in this price range doesn't want to settle for something like this. They're looking for huge master suites with double walk-in closets, garden Jacuzzi tubs and private water closets. Let alone great rooms with vaulted ceilings and media rooms with billboard-size flat screen TV's."
Looking around, I thought that anyone would be out of their mind to not see the potential that this House had. Charm just oozed from every corner. The word cozy must have been invented for the living room alone. Cautiously I asked how long the House had been on the market.
Sue waved her hand in disgust. "Too long! Almost six months and the owners are getting testy. The mom is in a nursing home, and the kids need the money from the sale to pay the bills."
Not wanting to stop the information flow, but at the same time wondering how I ever got so lucky to get this much of the inside track, I asked if I could see the rest of the house.
That captured her attention. She looked at me and raised her eyebrows. "So, Josie, what's your story?"
Realizing my blunder, I tried to act nonchalant. "Just curious, I suppose. I've always loved looking at old houses. Their history fascinates me."
"Well this one's got that in spades."
"What do you mean?" I asked too eagerly. My curiosity overcame my feigned indifference.
"I don't know the whole story," Sue replied, "but the owners are from the same family that built it back in 1906. Apparently there was some sort of scandal that drove the original owners from somewhere in the northeast down to Florida. I'm not sure if the law was involved or not, but the bits and pieces I've heard from the owner's kids led me to think that it was scandalous enough for the family to want to keep their secrets buried and not for public consumption." Sue began to fuss with her hair a bit as she paused and looked at me directly.
Recognizing her attempt to gage my interest level, I struggled to look calm. I sat back a bit and settled deeper into the love seat. "Huh, odd I suppose."
Sue smiled knowingly, not fooled at all. "Why yes Josie, it is. I do know that the whole thing has something to do with roses. That's why I have them all over the place. It's down right strange, but the mom wasn't going to put the house on the market if I didn't agree to it. She got really agitated, insisting that "She" wouldn't rest if the roses weren't there, and I don't think she was talking about herself. It's in the contract that I have to keep them replenished at all times or I lose the listing. The only one that I think knows the whole story is the mom, Mrs. K. She's the one in the nursing home. Alzheimer's I believe. So since the kids don't seem to know the details, I'm afraid the mystery will remain just that. Mrs. K has definitely taken a turn for the worse these last couple of months." Adjusting her pose slightly and once again turning her laser eyed vision upon me, Sue continued, "So Josie, now that I've told you the house's story, how about answering my question. What's yours?"
I saw that Sue hadn't bought my poorly played disinterested act for a second. She spent too many years in the business and could read people well. The inside info I thought I had gotten had been deliberately doled out to peak my interest. A bit like scattering crumbs about to lead a rat to the trap. Alright. What have I got to lose? I decided to go for it and laid it all on the line.
"Actually, Sue, I've always loved this House. I've driven by for years and fantasized about what the inside must look like. When I saw the "For Sale" sign I thought I'd take advantage of the opportunity and take a peak to see if reality matched fantasy."
"And?" Sue prompted.
"So far it's way better." In spite of myself, I smiled.
"And didn't you mention a little something about an inheritance?" Sue asked. "Well, yes," I said, reluctant to give away too many details. "It's not a huge sum, but enough that I can finally afford to purchase something of my own. Although the price of this house is somewhat out of my reach."
Sue shook her head. "You know what Josie, you just never know. Right now you look like my best prospect. Let's take a look around and see what happens."
We passed through the hallway and dining room and entered the kitchen. It was a large open room with cabinets everywhere. The hard wood of the cupboard doors framed glass panes. I envisioned endless decorating possibilities with antique crystal glasses and china lovingly displayed. The gleaming counter tops I'd spotted earlier were spacious. Not the modern granite of today, but old fashioned white speckled formica. Clean as a whistle, the speckles a bit faded in spots, showing that they were clearly well used. The appliances were dated, but according to Sue, functional. I had to rely on her expertise for that. A window overlooking the lush green lawn was over the sink. Dish duty, my only expertise in the kitchen, would be a pleasure with such a beautiful view.
To the left of the kitchen, a hallway with cupboards on one side and a large closet on the other led to a bathroom that was tiled entirely with large light blue and white squared tiles. They complimented bright white wood work surrounding the window on the wall. Even the ceiling was tiled, something I had never seen before. It was a fairly good size room, not large enough for his and her vanities. I imagined that upgrades would be possible though.
Going back through the hallway, we exited the kitchen into a huge room that Sue told me had been added on in the seventies. To the right was a utility type area with washer, dryer and water heater. The left side of the room was empty. Sue explained that this had been the family room at one time. The entire back side of the room was windowed with old fashioned jalousie windows, be popular in Florida's past. Their overhanging panes allowed the breeze from the backyard to flow in, giving the room comfy temperatures. The backyard expanse, visible through the windows, enticed me and urged me on for a look at the greenery.
I stepped outside the back door into a brick courtyard. The huge Magnolia tree visible from the street was dead center in the yard. An old fashioned cement bench sat beckoning underneath. Yum. Another perfect coffee spot. I could feel myself falling in love.
Further off the patio and to the left was a huge barn-like structure. Sue told me it had been built for a garage in the thirties when cars became more popular. "There's a second floor added on to it a couple of years ago, Josie. It's great for a little apartment. Could be rented out I suppose, but it's not quite finished. The family's run out of money because of the outrageous medical bills they're paying."
"Hmmm. Food for thought." My brain was working feverously trying to figure out a way to make the House mine.
We crossed the large patio to a curving brick path that led towards a screened structure at the back of the property. I stopped short. Bordering the path along both sides were three lines of rose bushes. The fragrance of the flowers hit me as the cooling evening breeze pushed the scent my way. The colors were varied, shades blending into one another as they transitioned into a different rainbow hue. The effect was sublime, a gentle river of blossoms flowing through a kaleidoscope of color, leading me back into the green velvety grass of the lawn.
"My gosh, Sue, they're beautiful! Is this where you get the flowers for inside the House?"
"Are you kidding? Not me. I have a deal with a florist in town where I get them at wholesale and delivered, without thorns, every week. I'm not the gardening type. Frankly, I haven't got a clue how they're surviving," Sue shrugged and kept walking.
We made our way through the luxurious flowers and came to the final part of our tour, a completely screened in pool and deck area. "Wow! Who knew this was back here? It's a tropical paradise hidden from the world's view," I gushed.
The pool was centered in the huge backyard, bordered by flowering ginger hedges along with enormous sea grape bushes and a multitude of exotic plants I couldn't identify. The foliage concealed all visibility from any of the surrounding homes. A small oasis tucked away from prying eyes, including the handsome, but cranky JT.
Sue turned to me abruptly. "Well, now that you've seen the piece de resistance, what's your mind set?"
Startled, I couldn't help but to tell her the truth. "I'm in love with the place, Sue, but even though it breaks my heart, I just can't afford the asking price."
"Let me clue you in to a little secret, Jo," she said. "I'm just one commission check away from closing up shop and moving to the Keys. I bought a little place down there ten years ago before the housing boom and I've finally paid it off. With the money I've saved from selling these overpriced mansions up here, I have enough to live fairly comfortably for a while. Plus my brother has a dive shop in Key West, so since I'm a certified instructor, I can earn extra money when ever I want. And the rest of the time I can relax and enjoy life with no worries in the Conch Republic." Pulling a clip from her pocket, Sue grabbed her long hair, quickly piling it atop her head.
Sensing my chance to jump in, I took the opportunity to try and gain her support. "That sounds like a fabulous plan Sue. I so admire your ability to go after what you want! Wish I could find a way to make my life work out so well."
"It's all about knowing what you want, Josie, and never letting anything get in your way. I've been working towards this moment since I graduated college. My master plan has always been to work like a fiend, squeeze every commission penny I could out of each sale and then get out and spend time the way I want to. Not at the beck and call of every wealthy, house jumping, social climber in town. So today is your lucky day. Considering all of the problems with this particular house along with the urgency on the sellers' part, I'm pretty confident I can negotiate a much lower price for you. It will put a bit of a damper on the commission I take home, but I'm tired of waiting, and this is my last listing." She touched my arm smiling. "With your obvious love of this house, we've got a good chance. The mom really wanted to sell it to someone who would take good tender care of it. Between my sales skill and your house infatuation, I think between the two of us, we have the potential to make a deal. So what do you think? Are you game?"
"Sue," I said as I smiled and we made our way down the rose lined path back to the House, "I think this may be the start of a beautiful friendship!"