Close to Home: Chapter 21| November 22, 2022
The level of cleanliness in a home can vary drastically. Some people take cleanliness to a whole other level
have two promising houses to show you today,” I told a new client. “But make sure not to wear your holey socks. You may have to take off your shoes.”
It’s a joke that’s not really a joke. I’ve had clients who were very embarrassed when they had to take off their shoes and their socks were not in good shape.
In some cultures, one doesn’t wear shoes in the house. As soon as they enter the house, they take off their shoes and put on slippers. And they have multiple pairs of slippers, so they’re covered no matter where they enter. There are slippers at the front door and the back door, at the garage and sometimes on the upstairs landing; different areas of the home get different pairs of slippers.
Many people don’t like anyone to wear shoes in the home, not because of superstition, but to keep the house clean. When a house is up for sale, you’ll often find a basket of booties by the door, with a written request that everyone take their shoes off and walk barefoot, or wear the booties.
Religion shows up in people’s homes. The Indians have a prayer room. Those prayer rooms often contain statues that look very much like what you imagine Avraham Avinu smashing, and they burn incense in there. Not surprisingly, every time I show a frum couple an Indian home, they get uneasy.
Bhanu Patel was Hindu, and one day, as I often do, I brought him and his wife a challah as a small gift.
“Does it have eggs in it?” he asked me.
“Yes, it does. Are you allergic?”
No, he told me, he wasn’t allergic, but his religion had certain special days during which they refrained from eating any animal products. I learn new things every day.
Then there are individual quirks. The level of cleanliness in a home can vary drastically. Some people take cleanliness to a whole other level.
When Eric and Julia Gould and I arrived at Samantha Pickering’s home, she answered the door wearing gloves, and had a rag and a spray bottle in her hands. As we were going through the house, she kept a few steps ahead, spraying and rubbing away dirt that only she could see. As soon as we left the room, she’d come back in and spray any surface we might have touched.
The house was utterly immaculate. At one point, Julia actually turned to Samantha and asked, “Do you live here?” thinking maybe she was a housekeeper.
“Yes, yes, this is my home,” Samantha said proudly.
After we left, the Goulds were thinking it over. The Pickerings’ agent called to hear their impressions, and I commented on how incredibly clean the house had been.
“Who wouldn’t want to buy a house in such amazing shape?” I asked. “Look, no one wants to be married to someone that fastidious, but everyone wants to buy a house from her.”
The other agent laughed awkwardly, then said, “Actually, the Pickerings are in the middle of getting divorced. She’s so particular, it drives her husband crazy.”
At the other end of the spectrum, you have homes that are utterly neglected. Rivky Steinfeld kept telling me how disgusting the house she’s moving into was. After the third comment, I wondered if she was exaggerating; how bad could it be? Then she sent me a picture: she had moved the fridge and discovered a moldy peanut butter and jelly sandwich behind it that no one had even noticed.
And while I’ve yet to see a skeleton in the closet, I’ve been to homes in which, when you open the closet door, dirty laundry cascades to the floor.
There are also surprises in the backyard. Many people have buried pets there, and may tell you where Spot’s grave is.
Some people actually take a piece of their yard with them; I’ve had several sellers who uprooted trees and took them to their new home. These were trees with nostalgic significance; often they were trees from their childhood home that they took with them wherever they moved.
Culture impacts when and why you sell. The number one reason the general population in my area sell their homes is because the kids grew up and went to college so the huge home is no longer needed, and they want to downsize.
“I open up the pool each summer,” they tell me, “and it’s used once or twice all season. I clean my bathrooms and see that some of them haven’t been used all week.”
Unlike frum society, where people often need more room once their kids marry and start coming back with grandchildren, many of these couples rarely see their adult children. And if the child does want to move back, some of them charge the kids rent.
Different cultures also prize different rooms in the house. In many ways, Italian families are similar to Jews, and many Jews find that Italian homes perfectly match their family’s needs. Italians tend to have large families, they place the older generation on a pedestal, and they frequently host family dinners with lots of delicious food.
In Italian homes, the dining room is the heart of the home, and it’s used all the time for family get-togethers. In other cultures, the dining room may be used just once or twice a year — for Thanksgiving and holidays. In fact, some builders aren’t even bothering to include formal dining rooms in their new homes.
Garages, on the other hand, are a big thing in general culture. Many men use their garage as a man-cave; they may have a workstation there, use it as a personal gym, or just hang out. I’ve had people refuse to look at a house if it didn’t have a two-car garage, or not want to sell their home because the garage is a mess.
Jews have different feelings about garages. They see them simply as a place to keep cars. What they can never get enough of is bedrooms and storage space. Have you ever met a frum woman who felt like she had enough closet space? I sure haven’t.
to be continued…
Nechama “Nicky” Norman is a licensed real estate agent servicing greater Lakewood, New Jersey. She focuses on residential property and loves to educate people about buying and selling by hosting seller events.
Always ask. Ask if you can walk into the room that the owner uses for prayer. Ask if you can open a closed door. I know a buyer whose offer wasn’t even considered because the seller was insulted that they hadn’t asked if they should remove their shoes. Respectful and cautious is the way to go.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 819)
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