Skip to contents
Zillowing Out

A $350,000 Townhome Where We Can Play Our Own Dirge

Chris Thompson/Defector

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the man who lived in my apartment before me. Ever since I moved in here, we’ve gotten stray pieces of mail for him. Nothing more important than mailers: the kinds of postcards that come from the gym you used one time or the local car insurance salesman. “[HIS NAME] or CURRENT RESIDENT,” the mail says, because it’s not important to them who lives here. I am surprised now when his name appears in my mailbox. I have lived in this apartment for almost seven years. He only lived here one. But here is his name before me again.

When I first moved in, I thought a lot about him. How did he arrange his furniture? Did he always take the stairs or did he take the elevator? Where did he put his forks since there is only one damn drawer in the whole kitchen? How did he manage the useless space near the door? I got a piece of his mail yesterday and I remembered how when I first moved in, the apartment felt like a hotel. I knew it had been empty for a couple of months before we took it, but it had the same kind of lingering ghosts that hotel rooms have, where the movement of the people who were there before you is always just ahead of you, the memory of their bodies evaporating from the mattress right as you lay down.

Over time, I’ve forgotten him. I’ve lived here so long now. The apartments on either side of me have each had five different occupants. Two of the women on my floor have been here for more than a decade each. Two older residents have died on my floor since I moved in. But inside my actual apartment, it feels like no one has ever lived here before. There are no more surprises. I know everything about it. That haunting presence of past residents has faded.

We talk a lot in the comments of this column about hauntings. What is that blur in the corner? What are those wires doing? What kind of mistake could we accidentally forever bind ourselves to with a mortgage and never be able to detach? This is a kind of surface level discussion of what a haunting really is. We are usually talking about peeling wallpaper or unfinished construction. We are talking about the visible signs of decay and taking them as an indication of bad vibes. But as anyone who has ever felt a truly bad vibe knows, hauntings can be anywhere. The South, for example, is full of pristinely kept mansions that have such terrible hauntings you can feel them in your bones.

When you go on a ghost tour, for example, you don’t need to actually believe in ghosts. Ghost tours are just nighttime history tours. They are an accessible format to talk about brutality, to talk about history’s villains and their victims, to focus not on the victory speech, but the murder before that. On ghost tours you learn about prostitution, about murder, about kidnappings and slavery. Evil.

But in some houses the haunting is more genial. The ghosts of the people who lived there before haven’t left. They are still hanging out. Usually, realtors try to scrub this reality away with staging. If everything is painted white and we install new countertops and shoot everything with a fisheye lens maybe it will be bland enough that you’ll forget that other people lived and fought and fucked there. I hate this scrubbing. I like to think about who lived places before me, to wonder if we might be kindred spirits. We are going to Baltimore!

The previous owners of this week’s house had personality. They had spunk. They made some weird decisions, but all of them I respect and envy. They let the house decay, sure, but I’m lazy. I identify with this. I assumed the person who is selling this house had died there because, well, you’ll see, but that turns out not to be true. This house was sold both in 2009 and in 2015 and now it is being sold again. Our home is a classic row home, built in 1920 with a brick facade. It is three stories tall plus a basement and 4,000 square feet. That is so many square feet. Let’s go inside:

Screenshot: Zillow

First we have a little gate around the front patio, which is adorable, and four stairs to the double doors. The entryway is flooded with light from a half moon window above the door, and there is a little vestibule before another pair of double doors with textured glass. The second pair of doors has a mail slot at hip height, which leads me to believe you could open the front doors on a nice day and leave the second pair of doors closed.

Screenshot: Zillow

Inside we have a long hallway, and a set of stairs that seem to be made of stone with a carpet runner down the middle. This is good. No stairs should be runner-less, or I will slip down them very quickly and hurt myself. The stairs are also good because their railing is made of carved wood and not those stupid modernist metal beams everyone is installing now. Entering houses into a hallway is kind of old fashioned now, in that everything is open concept and one big room, but this house makes a really good argument for maintaining this kind of purgatorial space to allow you a breath before you see anyone who could be in this room to the right. Let’s go in there.

Screenshot: Zillow

This room, I must say, absolutely rules. The paint job (a coral wall with dark teal trim) is brave and, in my opinion, pays off. Usually, I am adamantly against painting wooden trim, but in the same way that ugly things look good on very hot people, this paint decision works. Right in front of us we have a marble fireplace (hell yeah) with a clock on the mantle and an ornate mirror above it. Yes, love this. To our left we have two big pianos. The floor boards are so thin. All floor boards now are like a foot and a half wide, which I assume is to make them easy to install. These are maybe two inches? I love them. I want them, and oh my god what is this.

Screenshot: Zillow

IT IS AN ORGAN!!!!!

At least I think it is an organ. I have never really seen organs anywhere but very old churches, but look at this thing! It’s got cool pipes mounted on the wall that are framed in the same trim. It’s got built-in bookshelves. The radiator has been painted to match the wall. Do I know how to play an organ? No. Do I even really know how to play the piano? Also no. BUT I WOULD LEARN. Imagine how loud it must be. Can you control the volume on an organ? Don’t you want to find out?

The next room on this floor, down the hallway, is my dream room. Here we have another giant marble fireplace with a clock, but instead of many pianos we have a kind of Renaissance Man library. There are two full floor to ceiling bookshelves crammed with books and records on one wall, and more bookshelves elsewhere. There are two couches which you can imagine having a really nice late night chat with your pals on now that we are all allowed to be inside. There is a huge bay window with a desk and a telescope. On the other wall is a little reading nook with MORE BOOKSHELVES.

Screenshot: Zillow

“But Kelsey,” you might be saying, “you would need so many books to fill up these shelves,” and to that I invite you over to my one bedroom apartment to see the stacks of books that currently have to sit on the floor because they do not fit on the shelves I newly installed just two years ago. I need space to grow. I need this room!

Also in this room is a door to the outside. We will go out of order with the Zillow listing this time because it makes sense to me to go out this door first. Out here we have a big yard. So grassy. The grass is lush. I want to lay on it and get green smudges on my elbows. I want my dog to sprint back and forth on it. I imagine, because there are no fences among these houses that the neighbors must be friendly. Hello neighbors. Do you like our organ music? There is also a private parking spot in the alley. I feel nothing for this.

Screenshot: Zillow

Let’s go upstairs!!

“Upstairs?” you might be thinking. “But where is the kitchen?” And that is an excellent question. The answer is that the kitchen is on the second story. Now at first I thought this was stupid and I hated it. But the more I thought about it the more I liked it. Why is the kitchen on the first story of the house? Cooking and eating are altogether different from hanging, so why not prioritize hanging? Plus, whenever I think about moving to a cheaper city and buying a house and having enough shelves for my books, one of the problems I always run into is the idea of three story row homes. I grew up on one story. I live in an apartment. I have never in my life lived in a place with stairs. And frankly, I do not want to travel down two stories every single time I want a snack in the day. I need a lot of snacks per day!

Therefore, I like this set up with the second-story kitchen, but first we must see the dining room, which is huge. The wall color is beautiful, and though I think this room would be great with a very long table instead of the circle table, the symmetry with the chandelier is very lovely. What I really love is the green fireplace paired with this minimal painting. What taste these people have! Adopt me!

Screenshot: Zillow

Off the dining room, is the kitchen. Some of you are really going to hate this kitchen, but you are wrong. This kitchen is strange and wonderful. It has so many shelves which is important when you have many many things. It has so many pots hung on the wall. It has shelves for all of your cookbooks! It has (by my count) 14 drawers, which is 13 more than I have currently. It has two microwaves (why). It has a little working table, and a too-small fridge. I love this kitchen because the counters look a little low and most counters are too high for me to chop things very well, and because it is clearly a kitchen for working, which is what I want my kitchen to be. I want surfaces and drawers and systems. I want this kitchen with its over-counter hanging lighting. What I do not want is the sink, which is for some reason two small sinks in a corner. But we can ignore that, I guess.

Screenshot: Zillow

Going up some stairs, we have some strange murals. Weird, but cool.

Up here we have a pool table room that has more built-ins! This room also has the first bathroom we have seen and boy is it upsetting. There are neon green trims and two full walls of mirrors. No thank you. It is unclear to me where this room is. I think it’s on the front of the house on the second floor, which according to the floor plans is the main bedroom. This is confusing because of the pool table, but fine.

Screenshot: Zillow

Up the stairs we go to the final floor where there are cracks on the ceiling here that, as Trey said, are “concerning” but could just be chipping paint. There are four bedrooms up here and a full bath. There is also a tiny kitchen. We’ve got a big rectangle room with only a dresser in it. Spooky, but nice. Through a big open doorframe with no door we have another bedroom with only a piece of counter in it? This room has some kind of paint on the floor that seems like it’s in the process of either being scrubbed off or painted over. It’s unclear. There is also major cracking on this wall. We can see some nice brick underneath it. This would be really promising if I was not 95 percent certain in my heart and soul that these walls (like my apartment) are absolutely plastered in lead paint. Lead paint cannot be left like this. It is not safe.

Screenshot: Zillow

Past the bathroom which there are no photos of, there is the tiny kitchen, and off this room there is a small room being used for crafting or sewing. I cannot sew, but I will move into this house as is and learn this skill, too. This is a good place for an office because you are right next to the tiny kitchen. Here we have more “concerning cracks” on the walls. But you know what? Decay is a part of life. We can remedy it, but we must respect it.

All the way back downstairs in the basement there is a laundry room and a workshop full of spare parts and papers and junk. Imagine having as many hobbies as this house’s past owners had. How full your life must be of creation and excitement and novelty. We could leave but do you hear that music? Maybe we should stay a while and hear how this song ends?

This week’s house has been listed on Zillow for $350,000 for 10 days and is already pending sale! Whoever bought this house please sign the deed over to me so that I can move in and live amongst the happy ghosts.