Houses speak to me and they always have.

They tell stories and reveal secrets. The basketball hoop on the garage says that children once played there. The tool bench says that the mister liked to fix things.

The ancient stove in the basement says that the same people lived in the home for a long time. The ancient green carpet and the flowered drapes in the vacant home say that someone is gone. Maybe the former occupants are in a nursing home, an apartment or a graveyard.

Some homes feel happy inside and others do not. Most of us who have been in the business can spot a divorce home. Sometimes there is evidence of children, but it doesn’t look like they live there full-time and there is no evidence of a couple. The home is either filled with his things or hers.

The homes that are filled with all the stuff that a growing family has are happy homes — I can almost feel the love. The children’s rooms are bright and filled with toys and pictures. I can tell that they are selling because they need more space.

There are sad stories in homes, too: the home that someone bought to rehab — empty, with some missing walls, and now owned by a bank — and the homes with missing copper plumbing and holes in the wall where the appliances used to be.

There are homes with ceilings falling in because the roofs that needed repairs long ago were never attended to. And now that a bank owns them, they may fall further into decay. There are some beautiful historic homes that are rotting away before my very eyes.

There are homes that the occupants left quickly. They were likely rental properties that were foreclosed on and the renters didn’t get much notice. I find children’s toys in odd locations and in one vacant home I found one piece of furniture: a child’s playpen — in pristine condition, complete with a blanket and some toys. …CONTINUED

There was a magnet on the refrigerator with the number of a pediatrician. There wasn’t anything else in the house.

I remember when the housing crisis began. I went out with a young buyer and what we saw was an eye-opener to both of us.

We would talk in the car on the way to the first home and by the second or third home neither of us had anything to say and would ride back to the office in silence as we tried to absorb and make sense out of the vacant, unheated homes we saw and the stories they told.

Neither of us could look at the homes without thinking about the people who once occupied them.

Inman News is sponsoring a photo contest. I think it is a wonderful idea. The deadline is March 31 (see rules). Photos are worth a thousand words and there is no better way to tell some of the stories that we see every day. Some of those stories are not happy but that doesn’t mean they should not be told, or that they don’t matter. Winning a $200 gift certificate is kind of cool, too.

Inman has also started a general photo group on Flickr: Submit any real estate-related images to this group. It is a kind of nationwide collection of stories that should be shared. They are everywhere and waiting to be told. If you have a camera, use it to tell a story and share that story with the rest of us through the group. –Teresa Boardman

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.


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