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"You're not paranoid: your house really hates you"

If you've just bought a house, you may be able to relate to a fascinating essay in Maya Angelou's book, Even the Stars Look Lonesome.

When Ms. Angelou moved into a designer house in California, she says, nothing worked. Her pictures didn't look right on the walls. Cakes fell in the oven and curtains fell off the rods.

The house, she concluded, hated her. And it wasn't much consolation to realize the house hated her husband, too.

What I want to know is, how could she tell?

Let's face it, most houses hate their new owners. They have adapted to the rhythm of one family and resent being sold.

Like most cats that you rescue from the pound, your house probably believes, "If I'd waited awhile, a better owner would have come along. So I'm going to make this one's life miserable."

When you move

Those who are trained in modern research methods will be skeptical, but there's plenty of evidence. Everyone knows what happens when you move into a new house.

"You'll see a lot of repair services in the first six months," I was warned. "When a house hasn't changed hands in five years or more, lots of little things will happen when you move in."

Now, you'll notice this doesn't happen when you rent a house or apartment. Some friends of mine rented a house while they saved to buy their own property.

For two years, the refrigerator purred and the air conditioner hummed contentedly. The plumbing flowed silently and the insect life remained hidden. Encouraged ("see, a house isn't so bad after all!") they took the plunge and bought their own home.

I'd like to say they're doing great but in fact they've dropped out of sight. They can't take phone calls any more. "Sorry, we can't tie up this line. We're holding the phone open till we hear from the handyman..." Or the pest control guy, or the electrician. They considered Call Waiting but were afraid to jinx the only object in the house that seemed to be working.


If you seem particularly gullible, (e.g., the house senses that you're new to this game), your appliances may join the fun. I am absolutely positive the once-faithful refrigerator sent out a message: "How about this, guys. Let's really confuse everybody. I'll put out a leak, send the water over to the sink, and they'll think it's a big pipe in the wall. After they've poked a few holes they'll realize it's time to wake up that sleeping repairman!"

And one day my security system kept getting an "Open Door" signal even when the door was firmly locked. The tech found nothing wrong and it never happened again.

My lawn service person knew how to work the system: Let Them Know Who's Boss. After he cut back the hedges and pulled some over-aggressive vines, the bushes stopped sulking and started putting out nice flowers. They knew what would happen if they didn't.

Making Peace with the House

Soon you've emptied your bank account to create a peace offering -- a new floor or a paint job or a screen door.
"Every so often," I'm told, "you even get thirty days with no service calls. But after six months or so, the house gets bored and it'll start all over again."

One thing is certain. In your house's "Lose the Owner" contest, there's one simple rule. Whoever costs the most, wins.

Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D. is an author, career coach, and speaker. She works with mid-career professionals who want to make a fast move to career freedom. Visit her site http://www.movinglady.com or call 505-534-4294.


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