House abuse

A new home is the biggest investment most of us make in our lifetimes, yet we regularly let others slash its value, right under our very noses.

I'm speaking here, of course, of our children.

We wouldn't let our kids play around with our stock certificates or our banking paperwork, but we let them run amok in our houses, doing so much long-term damage, we'll be lucky to make our money back when it comes time to sell.

Yes, the children have to live somewhere. And, yes, they're our responsibility, at least for the first 18 to 27 years. And yes, they don't mean to wreck the place and diminish its resale value.
But accidents happen: Boot holes in sheetrock. Bloodstains on carpet. Ceiling fans pulled out of their fittings by "Tarzan." Exploded toilets. The occasional small fire.

Turn some kids loose in your home and it will be transformed from a domestic showplace into a scuffed, scratched, soda-saturated dump faster than you can say "Martha Stewart." And your investment will be ruined.

Such damage has been much on my mind since we moved to a nearly-new house a few years ago. Our previous homes had been battle-scarred veterans that were well past retirement age. Perfect places, really, for rearing two boys. What was another spill, another chip in the plaster? It gave the house "character."

(This fit with our evolving philosophy on furnishings as well. Before the boys were born, we liked old cabinetry and rickety tables, items picked up in antique shops. But once we had kids, our house became the Place Where Antiques Go to Die. We wised up, and started buying heavy-duty furniture, stuff that could take a beating, with upholstery that would disguise spills and other forms of "character.")

But our latest house came to us in pristine condition, which meant I became a nervous wreck.
Our sons ran through the house, wrestling and crashing and throwing things, all the while dripping chocolate ice cream on the beige carpet, and I anxiously scurried along behind them, begging them to be careful.

The boys call such rambunctious behavior "horseplay." I see it as undercutting our investment.
Look, I tell them, we won't live in this house forever. Given the vagaries of career relocations and the yo-yo real estate market, we'll eventually sell the place. If nothing else, we parents will want something smaller when they go off to college. All of us must take care of the current house so that, someday, we'll get our investment to pay off.

My sons listen carefully to these explanations, nodding along, agreeing with every word. Then they race off to the other end of the house, crashing and wrestling, juggling ice cream and setting small fires.

I try to ignore the noise, but then I'll hear a loud thud against a wall. Or the violent slamming of a cabinet door. Or the thunder of oversized sneakers and the lightning of malicious laughter. Or the startling clank of a dropped toilet seat.

(Why, oh why, must they always slam the toilet seat? Are they mad at it?)

I'm on my feet in a flash, hustling to the other end of the house to put a stop to the playful destruction. The boys will pronounce me "no fun," but they'll halt their house abuse. Then I can go back to the sofa, confident I've protected our investment. Until the next thud/crash/clank/slam.

I'll definitely need to invest in a smaller place by the time the kids go off to college. I think they call it a "padded cell."

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