Let Inga Tell You: How to kill your home’s value

Inga's wood-paneled garage-conversion master bedroom in 1980.

Anyone who has been reading my column for a while knows that I’m a sucker for those internet articles about how to make yourself look 20 pounds thinner (Photoshop?) or what your car says about you (um, cheap?)

Recently I read one titled “14 mistakes that will kill your home’s value.” I was dismayed to see that half of them applied to my home. Fortunately, none was done by us. Even more fortunately, we’re not planning to move anytime soon.

I do have to say that I have occasional fantasies of being able to meet for even five minutes with the builder of my home, an edifice built by the lowest bidder after the war. I can only assume there was a scarcity of quality building materials, along with the knowledge of what constitutes a square corner. I also wouldn’t mind a brief chat with several of the previous owners to query what possessed them to inflict what I consider this home’s most egregious flaws on it.

My house is teeny, on a really big lot. The house next door could be similarly described. So why, one wonders, would the builder, despite all this land, construct these two houses practically on top of each other, 10 feet apart?

At least in the original configuration, the builder had the wisdom not to put any windows in the other home’s master bedroom on the side facing us. That all changed when a house flipper bought the place, ripped out all the gorgeous sound-barrier foliage between the two properties and installed a row of master bedroom windows right over our patio.

The person who purchased the flipped property — a hunky single guy with an active social life — made Sunday morning newspaper reading a whole new experience for us. We tried to delicately convey the situation to the new neighbor by talking loudly.



One of the new neighbor’s lady friends eventually seemed to catch on to our dilemma.

Lady Friend: Um, honey — no, don’t stop — does it seem like there are people right outside your window?

Neighbor Guy: Hrrmph?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. When my former husband and I bought this house some four decades ago, it was a real estate boom era. In fact, the owners made a whopping 40 percent on the place in the two years they’d owned it. They probably couldn’t believe that these idiots (that would be us) were actually willing to pay that amount for a house with a dead lawn, a seriously leaking roof, hard water stalactites dripping from the faucets and a master bedroom entrance through the kitchen. (Definitely lacked feng shui.) But we were New Yorkers. It had a palm tree and a pool. We could have happily overlooked plutonium deposits for the palm tree alone.

Clinching the sale, they had upgraded with then-all-the-rage green shag carpeting and matching avocado appliances. (Are you listening, granite countertops and subway tile?)

Not surprisingly, numbers 5 and 10 in the “14 mistakes” article are “Screwing up the floor plan” and “Converting the garage.”

Hence, it’s the 1955 owners I’d really like to chat with. These people incomprehensibly ignored the huge potential view lot and decided to convert the two-car garage into a wood-paneled laundry room, master bedroom and bath. (Who panels a laundry room???) I realize that wood paneling was the hot new thing in 1955, now regularly disparaged on HGTV shows. And with good reason: It gives rooms the charm of a root cellar.

While we were away about eight years ago, our son and daughter-in-law stayed in our bedroom when they came down one weekend. Afterward, my daughter-in-law suggested our bedroom was such a depressing cave that a bear faced with wintering there might elect not to hibernate.

Thus motivated to take action, we had the paneling painted a soft creamy white, which frankly should have been done 40 years ago but has improved its livability dramatically. But we still have to walk through the kitchen and laundry room, past the water heater, to get to it.

It goes without saying that anyone who ends up with this house will bulldoze it and hopefully even relocate it 40 feet to the west, where it should have been constructed in the first place.

So that’s my fantasy of meeting the Ghosts of Owners Past. I’m still desperate to know what they were thinking when they made the decisions they did.

Now, of course, our City Council is trying to encourage people to convert the garage (or the back yard) into a rent-producing “granny flat” to create housing. Not my favorite idea, frankly. But please, skip the wood paneling.

— Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at ◆