If you were a prospective buyer eyeing up homes on Wisteria Lane, 'the seemingly perfect American suburb', what would your impressions be of the houses you visited? What do the homes say about the people who live in them, and what messages would we like our homes to give about us? Do their homes reveal their secrets?
The style of home we live in, the way it's decorated, looked after, and the way we furnish it is as much a reflection of who we are as the way we dress. And when it comes to selling the home these 'hidden' messages can be all important.
In the popular TV show 'Desperate Housewives', the homes take on the characters of the people who live in them. Take the perfectionist Bree van de Kamp for example. She lives in a picture-book house, painted pastel blue. Inside, the house is furnished with tasteful objets d'art, antiques, and fine furniture. Everything is color-coordinated. Her perfect kitchen features stainless steel appliances, granite work surfaces, hanging pots and pans, and everything in its place. Cups and glasses are carefully placed on coasters, the walls are pale. And she has been known to scrub down the street in front of her house with extra-strength detergent. The drapes are half closed...
The home belongs to a neatnik, a very prim and proper person with a keen sense of what her neighbors might think. You can bet she will have cookies in the oven when visitors come over, to prove how perfect her home is. But the drapes half closed? Does she have something to hide?
Lynette Scavo's house has a contemporary feel with decor a casual mix of Ikea and Pottery Barn. Wood floors, blue walls, and white painted woodwork are an attempt to provide a calm backdrop to the whirlwind she lives in and the clutter that inevitably piles up when you have a young family - especially four out-of-control children. She's having a hard time staying on top of everything, even as a high-achiever and successful career-woman. And now she is returning to work, this will be even more the case.
This is the home of a woman who desperately wants a sanctuary, a place of comfort, but she obviously has little time. Or maybe her frustrations with her life mean that housekeeping is not really her priority.
In the case of 40-something single mom Susan Mayer, her more modest home and its style are no surprise. Her romantic nature is reflected in her collection of trinkets and curios. The furnishings are mostly 'shabby chic', antique pine, and antique bedsteads, beveled mirrors, light colors and flower prints on the walls, which are half-paneled in old-style. There are clothes hanging up on doors - she probably lacks closet space. Her home is really rather a mess, not helped by having a teenage daughter living at home.
This is the home of a single mom who is a bit distracted and has better things to do with her time than tidy up. It's very feminine - there are no signs of a man living here at all.
On the other hand, Gabrielle Solis and her husband Carlos are out to prove something to the neighbors. Their house is the most imposing on the street - its style is of a Hispanic mansion, double-fronted, with covered porches and balconies, painted yellow ochre. It makes a statement. Inside, the grandiose theme continues, with an impressive religious painting in an antique gilded frame hanging over the mansion-sized black marble fireplace, and expensive faux-plaster paint effects on the walls. Throne-like chairs, large, overstuffed sofas, church-size candles in wrought iron candlesticks, a heavy coffee table laden with coffee-table books. On the face of it, Gabrielle has everything she wants, but she's not fulfilled. As Carlos says to his wife, "We're shallow people. Can our lives ever have any meaning if all we do is buy stuff?" To which Gabrielle replies, "That depends on what we buy."
Martha Huber's home is a reflection of her generation, and, as one character says, "It's where taste comes home to die." Everything in the home is old and out-of-date, an old fridge is covered with fridge magnets, the home is strewn with knick-knacks, the kitchen surfaces are cluttered. She has checkered tablecloths, hanging plants, and net curtains.
This home belongs to someone who has lived here probably for decades and never updated anything in it. You can be certain it would have to be rewired and replumbed, and anyone buying it would want to install a new kitchen. And you can be sure she is constantly tweaking those net curtains.
Mike Delfino on the other hand, lives in a typical 'guy's place'. Nothing has been updated since he moved in and he's obviously not someone who cares a lot about the way his home looks. It's not looked after, it's untidy. He has old drapes and net curtains, probably left by the previous owner. All the paintwork is dark, and the interiors are always poorly lit, perhaps he never replaces lightbulbs when they burn out. His large dog doesn't help the general air of disarray, and when Susan falls through the attic floor, it's further proof that for all his handyman ways, he is not spending any time on his own house.
His dark, untidy house, also indicates he might have something to hide. It certainly needs work...
Edie Britt - well, if anyone should know about the local property market, it's her. She's a real estate agent. But would you buy a home from her? Even though her home was burned to the ground by Susan, she's not the most sympathetic individual. And as a client, you would definitely get the impression she would give away all your secrets...
Next time you find your version of the 'perfect American suburb', look around you and look carefully at the home so it reveals its secrets to you.
As a seller, if you want to avoid people finding out too much about you and your lifestyle, or if you have any dark secrets to hide, put as many of your personal possessions in storage as you can, paint all the walls neutral colors, tidy your house, and open your windows - and of course your drapes!
Anthony Marguleas is the owner of Amalfi Estates. He has sold $100 million worth of real estate and is an expert on real estate sales, contracts, negotiation, and technology. The company has been in existence since 1995 and has Los Angeles offices covering the west side and the San Fernando Valley.