The Before Before the Before

Before I post an official “before” tour of our current house, I thought it would be helpful to show what it looked like when we first fell in love.

Front Yard 4

Beautiful, right? My brother said it looked like a space station on Tatooine, but what-ev.

I knew from the moment I saw it listed on the MLS that this was going to be our dream home. It was the crappiest house in the best location. What’s not to love? And it was selling in 2009, a rare time when the real estate market had crashed in the San Francisco Bay Area. For the first time in a long time it was a buyer’s paradise. No one seemed to want it! And so it sat.

Unfortunately, the bad market did not bode well in our efforts to sell our current home in San Francisco. It sat on the market for three months. Three months! Almost unheard of in an area where bidding wars are the norm. We had to drop our price … twice.

With two kids under the age of 3, I was getting really tired of keeping our perfectly staged house spotless for the twice-a-week open houses, plus additional private showings.

I especially recall this bowl sitting on our coffee table filled with rattan balls that the kids were constantly throwing around and picking apart. Every time we had to be out of the house, not only would I have to wipe down all the glass, mirrors and floors, but I had to collect those stupid things from the furthest reaches of everywhere and place them … just so.

Catalog Living

I think that’s what led to my abhorrence of little cute knick-knacks and decorations.

As we waited for someone — anyone — to nibble at our San Francisco house, all I could do was stare dreamily at the listing for the home in Mill Valley. My husband and I even snuck into it once or twice. The security on the place was nonexistent. All it took was a gentle, yet firm, shove in the right place and we walked through and marveled at what a glorious dump it was!

While most of the house was fairly meh, it was the living room that did it for us.

Living Room 3

This picture does not accurately represent how big the room is; it’s 24×19 feet. Who knew where the floor had gone, but that ceiling! I loved walking in and feeling the grandness of that room.

I knew that the spot just under the window on the left would be perfect for the baby grand piano that I’d had since I was six years old. In both of the places I’d lived with my husband, we managed to stuff it in somewhere, even though it looked horribly out of place.

Here’s a view from the living room looking out onto the front yard and rickety, old deck. The side door leads to the kitchen.

Living Room 1

It was very disheartening when my husband and I watched the house go into contract and escape our grasp. Our San Francisco home was going nowhere and I worried about our future.

We were heading into summer and our eldest daughter was due to enter preschool in the fall. We were getting rejection letter after rejection letter from all of the schools to which we had applied. I thought those only came at college! Where was she going to go?

Then the Mill Valley house fell out of contract! Then our San Francisco house sold! Were the stars aligning? We quickly got an offer drafted and sent it off.

And waited.

But the Mill Valley house slipped through our fingers … again! They had rejected our offer in favor for a developer.

Our San Francisco house FINALLY closed in June, and we had nowhere to live. So I took our two kids … and the dog … down to San Diego where my in-laws have a beach house.

My poor husband had to fly down to San Diego on the weekends and then couch surf during the week so he could work flipping houses to support us. He rarely complained, which was awfully nice of him. While it was sure nice to be at the beach every day, it certainly didn’t help in our efforts to find housing 400 miles away.


Plus, it was confusing in a way because I was SO sure the Mill Valley house was meant to be ours. This was all wrong! No other house held any appeal for me. It was really hard to let it go because … I just couldn’t.

And then … the Mill Valley house went BACK on the market! What was wrong with this place? my husband and I wondered. But no matter. We wrote up another offer, all-cash, and sent it in.

By now, we were the only interested party, so it happened really quickly after that. We tussled over a minor $5,000 price difference and almost lost it before thinking, “Swallow your pride, already” and closed in about 10 days. Bam!

Front Yard 2

Just look at this place! While most of the homes in our new neighborhood were tucked romantically away amongst trees, ours stuck out like a sore thumb. It really slapped you across the face as the road turned and you came upon it.

Before we bought the house from a group of developers who decided against flipping it, it had belonged to a woman who had to foreclose on the property after she was institutionalized. Yes, she was ca-razy.

So crazy that she had PG&E come and disconnect power to the house because she was convinced they were spying on her through the electrical system.

Our neighbors told of how she would threaten to shot anyone who tried to use her driveway for turn-around purposes. At one point, she even had a horse tied up in the front yard. It was eventually became so sick and malnourished that the neighbors had to call the Humane Society to come and take it away in the dead of night.

Naturally, she was a hoarder. Google Earth pictures at the time showed the house surrounded by heaps and mounds of garbage. In fact, she had so much crap in her house that “legend” has it she had this outdoor staircase built just so she could gain separate access to her bedroom.

Backyard 1

When she was trucked off to the mental hospital, the fire department had to come by and pry open the doors to her house, but it smelled so bad that they had to air it out three days before coming back.

Once they started pulling stuff out of the house, it was no wonder that they found a few dead animals inside. And God knows what else.

I’m not sure what caused the developers to sell this house so soon after scoring it as a foreclosure. Clearly, they had gone so far to consider paint colors! To this day, I still don’t understand why it fell out of contract twice. Five years later, this house hasn’t crumbled to the ground. In fact, it’s been quite good to us.

Backyard 2

For some explicable reason, the front door is actually at the back of the house, just beyond the outdoor staircase and tucked away so you can’t even see it. Which is not at all reassuring after hiking up our eerily cracked driveway.

Front Yard 1

This, naturally, has stymied many a pizza delivery man, as well as visiting friends, and I have endured their many tales of frustration and being lost. As if we arranged all of this on purpose!

Below, we are in the entry way, gorgeously lite by this circa-1972 stained glass window, which we still enjoy to this day.


Opposite the entry is a staircase. I can’t find a picture of it, but one of the stair treads was marked with the word “hate,” which was incredibly spooky at the time.


I kept on having visions of this crazy lady escaping the institution and hitching a ride to Mill Valley, a la Robert De Niro in Cape Fearand busting down the door screaming, “What are you doing in my house!!!!”

Here’s the original kitchen. Not at all sure what happened to the sink and lower cabinets on the lefthand side.

Kitchen 1


And here is her lovely stove, which I can only presume was used to cook meth! Naw, I’m sure it looks like that due to all of the delicious feasts she put together.

Kitchen 2

This way to the dining room, friends!

Kitchen 3

Here we have the downstairs bathroom. We still have those gorgeous green tiles on the wall because we love them so much!!

Downstairs Bathroom 1

I don’t have a picture of the girls’ room, which is downstairs, but here’s Jack little narrow room … with our work permit on the window! Yay!

Jack's Room 1

And finally, here is the master bedroom looking out onto our own private deck/escape route in case we, too, become professional hoarders.

Master Bedroom 2

The master bathroom looks almost the same as it does today … but much cleaner, of course (well, usually.) While the tub was in good condition, I still take what’s supposed to be a relaxing bath and stare at that pukey green-and-yellow-swirl tile, wondering what psycho thought that was a good idea.

Master Bathroom 1

The throne.

Master Bathroom 2

And there you have it! The before before the before.

My husband spent weeks trying to whip this place into shape with the help of the cheapest contractor he could find. He stayed in this little motel and I almost cried when I came to visit.

Daddy motel

His room was painted what I referred to as “suicide-prevention yellow.” It was just so bright, you could tell the owners were trying to compensate for the overall sadness of the place.

The kids and I were still in San Diego, so I had little input on the colors and carpet he chose. So, it was no surprise (but still a bit of a shock) when I discovered the entire interior was “builder beige.”


BUT … it really didn’t matter. He had done such a good job in such a short amount of time. He was exhausted juggling this with his day job. And he was more than a little burnt out on eating take out food and basically living like a lonely bachelor in a cheap motel.

And, more importantly, we finally had a home that we loved. Before I let anyone actually live in it, I smudged the house. Yes, I felt like an idiot. No, I’m not sure it actually did anything. But the house was just sooooo creepy, that I felt like I had to do something to clear out the bad vibes!

Lisa Charleyboy/Spirituality & Health

Lisa Charleyboy/Spirituality & Health

In the end, what was probably more effective was the sounds of our girls laughing, cackling and pitter-pattering through each room. In my heart I felt that the house heaved a grateful sigh at finally having a happy — and mentally stable — family living within it.


2 thoughts on “The Before Before the Before

  1. Pingback: Garage Dreaming | Housebound in Marin

  2. Pingback: Current Situation: Our Living Room | Housebound in Marin

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