The voice on the phone is female, crackling with confidence. “Hi! I’m Sophia and I’m calling to set up a viewing time with you for the Burns Road property.”
“But,” I say, confused, “I thought someone called Leonard was showing me the property.”
“Yes,” says the cheery voice, “I was just on the phone with him. So, how is one today?”
“Great! I just want to confirm with you that if you decide to make an offer for this property, you’re going to do it through me.”
“Excellent! See you then.”
I stare at the phone. A minute later it rings again. This time, it’s Leonard.
“I just got a call from your agent,” he says. “So you’re seeing the property with her?”
I finally snap. “She’s not my agent! I don’t even know who she is.”
Silence. Then: “Really? She told me she was your agent. So who do you want to see it with?”
“You.” I am definite about this. “You’re the one I contacted, right?”
“Sure! You’re the client.”
I don’t know Leonard either. But it was his name and number on the window of the sun-lit 2-apartment semi that caught my eye yesterday. I set up a time to meet him that afternoon.
Outside it’s a blowing-snow-becoming-blizzard March day. Perfect for viewing properties, I think. I huddle into multiple layers and step out into the stinging wind.
Leonard is a bald, grinning man with a too-firm handshake that leaves me feeling a bit embarrassed. My own handshake probably leaves much to be desired.
It transpires that Leonard owns the house I am viewing. I am flummoxed. I thought he was just the agent for the seller? “I am an agent, this is my investment property,’ he explains. We remove our boots and go upstairs. The thick, sweet smell of marijuana coated with incense hits me. Lily – this is the tenant who lives in the upstairs apartment – is blond and bejewelled.
“I cleaned the floors for you guys,” she says, and we thank her. She invites us to look in the closets, explore the nooks and crannies of the lone bedroom, and walk out into the deck in the freezing snow.
I ask Leonard about the updates.
“Oh, I did pretty much everything, didn’t I, Lilly?” he demands.
The girl nods. “Oh yeah!” Lilly would like to stay in her apartment, I have been told.
Leonard enumerates the finer points of the upgrades. Floors, boilers, paint, tiles. He walks barefoot into the bathroom. “Hey, you haven’t got the heat on! You know how much I paid for these tiles? You gotta put the heat on, Lilly!”
I am feeling claustrophobic in the apartment, and ask if we can see the downstairs.
“Absolutely!” We say goodbye to Lilly and head downstairs. “She pays seven hundred,” Leonard tells me. “I could probably get more, but I haven’t the heart to increase her rent.” He says this twice, holding his heart, looking very sincere. “She’s been here five years and she’s a lovely person, and she’s decided to go back to school. She has a boyfriend and they could probably pay a bit more, but I just don’t have the heart.”
The downstairs apartment is functional, not as nice, not much light. We walk around the rooms. I ask Leonard when he bought the property, and for how much. “Ten years ago,” he says. “For 77 grand.”
The property is marked at two hundred and seventy. He sees my expression and adds, “I must have spent over nineteen thousand upgrading it.”
I nod, trying to look understanding.
There is a lull. Then: “Let me show you the basement,” he says suddenly.
I step over some cans of paint and follow Leonard down a dark, rickety staircase.
The space beneath the house is a dark hole that I may visit in my dreams. The floor is rough, littered with junk. Stuffing pokes out of the low ceiling.
“What is that?” I ask, pointing.
“Oh, that’s insulation,” says Leonard. “It just has to be pushed back up. Great storage place, isn’t it?”
I am suddenly desperate to get out of there. I climb the stairs, leaving my desire for home ownership in the basement.
Perhaps, like Leonard’s weed-loving tenants, I am destined to remain a renter. Is that such a bad thing?
Outside the snow stings my eyes, and the cold takes my breath away. Spring is almost here.
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