What explains the emotional hold which the homes of our youth exercise over us? Those places, imbued with our memories both joyous and sad, are always anchored in the imagination. They intertwine with the memories themselves in an inextricable way; it becomes impossible to separate the experience from its location. Long after we forget what we wore, the actual words said, the redolence of where we were remains with us. Our job as real estate brokers is, at its core, to facilitate the creation of that marriage between the person and the place.
For me, while I have strong associations with the apartment in which I grew up, my happiest recollections are those of my grandmother’s home in Katonah, New York, where we spent weekends and summers beginning when I was 9 years old. There, my brothers and I had a freedom unimaginable in the city, where our every hour was devoted to improvement: school, homework, sports, music lessons, or religious instruction. In Katonah we had a pool, a tennis court, lots of lawn, and our own little guest house out of sight of the main house. That main house, a rambling old colonial with multiple additions added helter skelter over the years, was presided over by my grandmother, a formal but loving presence who greeted us as we popped in and out on her absolutely unvarying routine, and shared with us a wonderful tea served exactly at 4 PM every day, complete with finger sandwiches, cookies, and a pastry or two.
The houses and grounds are imprinted on me at an almost cellular level. My best childhood and teenaged memories – of seeing an antlered deer standing stock still at the corner of the woods, of following the nearby stream down to its little delta at the Cross River Reservoir, or visiting the working farm (now Martha Stewart’s house) next door for eggs, of inventing diving games in the pool before eating lunch at the pool house in a wet bathing suit with a towel wrapped around my waist (an informality undreamed of in NYC) – are completely bound up with those rolling hills and that house, with its sense of a somewhat careless love hovering over all. At the time that I went into the real estate brokerage business, I intuitively recognized the deep connection between the importance of MY sense of place and the desire to be a part of creating that experience for others.
In many ways the physical location makes the memory. Hence the objections, often acute, voiced by many adult children when their childhood home is sold, and the innumerable memoirs and novels which center around a beloved, or hated, or haunted, house, from George Howe Colt’s The Big House to Dickens’s Bleak House to Anne Roiphe’s 1185 Park Avenue. Each of these books is, in its own way, a hymn to real estate, exploring how the home enters the bloodstream and both participates in and defines the story. As guardians of and facilitators in the choices which create this vibrant, almost sentient ground to our life stories, we agents play a role which can shape our clients’ lives for years, or decades, or generations to come.