How about a woman on the street interview– I’ll query myself about my long day’s journey into night looking for housing in Berkeley. No guilt attached. I’ll simultaneously purchase a big $$$ spread in Patch (an Online Newsletter) advertising my rental needs, so as not to muddy the waters. My blogger role will be intact, without the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Therefore, with a clear conscience, I’ll share my colorful adventures.
1) Early yesterday morning I schlepped up to the East Bay on Amtrak to check out a rental that hadn’t yet reached Craig’s List, CAL Rentals, Trulia, Apartment Hunters Z, Roomster, Facebook Market Place, Oodle, Noodle or Poodle.net. (Was I going bonkers, dreaming up more housing listings with cats yes, dogs no, cats and dogs, hooray, or GO AWAY! NOW and forever!)
In most cases, hundreds of ads on Craig’s vanished with a cat box mouse click, meaning that You Tube sensation Aiden cat, my older daughter’s feline during law school and then adopted by me, would be sent packing–orphaned at 7! WE couldn’t bear it!
2) “We” is anathema–Homeowners with cottages and in-laws ARE HORRIFIED THAT A SIGNIFICANT other might invade a cat-less space.
Case in point–Yesterday afternoon I was hounded by two feisty mutts (big ones) who had the run of a once promising rental property–that is, before it became a real-time house of horrors!
As soon as the front gate opened, I was surrounded by two hyper-adrenalized, foaming at the mouth canines who were unsure of my pedigree. Was I dog’s best friend or not?
Was this a harbinger of things to come?
The cottage had been floated by me, in response to my BPN (Berkeley Parents Network) housing wanted post. From e-mailed pics sent upon my request the rooms looked bright and airy. The cottage, however was clearly a converted garage. And in person, it looked like a moderate security prison with dungeon-like doors. Two dogs from HADES blocked the entrance as if trained to do so.
Once I had been cautiously escorted inside the living area by the homeowners, the door was slammed shut as a mandatory measure to keep the pooches out–long enough, that is, to steer them over to their Alpo bowls. Such a well-timed break, allowed me to fantasize a huge make-over of this dreary and depressing “cottage.” (It was the antithesis of a fairytale image with a princess dancing about as chirping sparrows perched on her wrists.)
Did I dare mention Aiden cat and my daughter in the same breath? The dungeon suddenly darkened. A demonizing spirit would hex my 29-year old, who was navigating a difficult job landscape in the midst of a faltering economy? Especially considering her special needs.
From the homeowner’s perspective, Frankenstein’s extended family was about to exorcise the premises. (But what about those evil dogs?)
Both husband and wife bolted back that my cat was the real deal breaker, not my daughter.
They explained how the feline would arouse the dogs’ wild instincts and cause them to attack him, even in his safe sanctuary.
Strangely, my classical music-making was not the problem as I had expected.
Marilyn, G., a Berkeley-based realtor and friend, carefully instructed me how to respond to housing ads, to improve my chances of landing a good rental.
1) Don’t include your signature in your email inquiries! (web and you tube links)
2) Don’t say you’re “a musician.” It has a bad connotation.
2) Replace the M word with CP, “Classical Pianist”
3) And don’t dare introduce another warm body beside yourself into a cottage or in-law.
I thought back on the canines that had corralled me. The homeowners insisted that they could spring out the front gate and escape if I didn’t physically steer them back into the yard.
That’s why I was urged to stay within the cottage, and minimize visitors?
Did they hear me say, “piano students,” inadvertently, in the same breath as “friends?”
Marilyn would have excoriated me for such an ill-timed leak. She insisted that I needed the lease before I shared the intimate details of my life’s work.
Was she kidding? Or had she gone berserk? (in the spirit of namesake, Bezerkeley)
I had noticed a narrow, fenced-off space behind the garage, or should I say, “cottage” that could have been a safe haven for Aiden, me, my daughter and the few students that would trickle in to take lessons.
No such luck! The homeowner husband firmly announced his intentions to re-landscape the back area, so the mutts could get their exercise scaling a lower barrier.
Watch out, Aiden! It was worse than a looming mountain lion attack!
That was my cue to beat it out of there as fast as possible, heading a mile up Shattuck to see a rental off Eunice.
Greeted by a chipper young gardener, I was guided through a pleasing in-law space with a trail of students right behind me.
Still, it was a relief not to see dogs, only deer traces of trampled foliage. (It was definitely an improvement over the bald patches of dried grass and howling dogs at the previous location)
Of more concern, were 12 steep wooden stairs that could challenge even highly skilled piano movers.
Oops! Did I mention a “piano” to the gardener, without realizing it?
Marilyn insisted that I should soft pedal it. (no pun intended)
But how could I sneak a piano over those steps without being noticed?
We both knew that the piano was part of my baggage and could be a deal breaker if the elderly man who occupied and owned the home, objected to Chopin or Brahms’s music seeping through the walls into the dining room.
The place stole my heart with its polished hard wood floors, redwood paneling and divine acoustical environment. I could easily imagine my piano, center stage, in the den.
In my fervent excitement, I offered the gardener a 6- months rent advance, but it didn’t fly. Rental practices had changed.
As instructed, I filled out still another application as I sat at a table, over-looking a gorgeous ravine.
A thick packet containing bank statements, a recent laudatory credit report, my record of a long established home ownership and rental history, plus a generous list of references, had been lumped in with the paperwork.
Suddenly, I noticed a mom and her daughter coming through the gate to look at the place just as I had done. They had a glimmer of hope in their eyes.
Surely the youngster had the edge on me in this housing market.
In the old days, the first knock on the door about a rental, earned an advantage–one application had to be completed before another was processed–but not so in the Millennium.
Homeowners often had showings for days, and collected reams of paper to stuff in recycle bins. By and large they favored students, because of their short stays. Rents could be hiked after leases expired. A healthy turnover of tenants was desirable.
After a long day of cottage/in-law hunting, I headed back to Downtown Berkeley Bart, destination Richmond Amtrak station.
Once on board the train, I recapped the day’s events and made sure to jot them all down.
What a catharsis. I was up for my second wind.