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A New Broom Sweeps Clean -- Except When a House is Involved

"Broom clean," our lawyer said, shortly before my husband and I purchased our new home.


"That's the standard way in which a house is left when the owners vacate, and you're ready to close the deal."


I was surprised to hear that anyone used a broom anymore. Silently, I wondered, shouldn't the words be "vaccuum cleaner clean" or "dust-buster clean?" Sweeping floors seemed quaint, like using a rake instead of a deafening power blower to blast leaves and debris off your lawn.


OK, I thought. Broom clean is how the house will be. But later, I learned that no matter how empty a house looks after it's sold, stuff remains. And sometimes, it takes an enormous effort for new owners to dispense with the ghosts of owners past.


Maybe it's impossible to get rid of everything, like lint in the dryer or coat hangers tangled on a closet floor. Or maybe sellers think they're being kind and/or helpful by leaving behind open bottles of pesticide and spray cans of perfumey cleaners. Maybe they were so in love with that broken down toaster and hall lamp with a tattered shade that they actually thought they were doing you a service by bequeathing these objects to you.


You wish you had stopped them before keys were passed. "No!" you would have wailed. "Take that rusted gas grill with you! Get it out of here!" What one person considers a precious treasure is another person's out-and-out junk.


Several weeks before we moved in, the sellers asked if there was anything we wanted. "Garden equipment would be great," we said, since we knew they were moving to a condo with no lawn. We were thinking of shovels, sprinklers, hedge trimmers and usable outdoor furniture, but what we got was a motley collection of rusted lawn chairs with sagging seats, and a horrifying array of insect powders with blurry labels. To make matters worse, the local dump classified the powders as "hazardous waste" and charged us an "environmental fee" to dispose of them.


A few years before the house went on the market, the sellers' teenage son had slapped acid green day-glo paint on the walls, ceiling, doors and window frames of his room. The place literally glowed in the dark. We covered the noxious color with two coats of thick white paint, and painted it again to make sure it was dead and gone. But whenever one of us bumps into any of the painted surfaces, flecks of that putrid hue reappear and stick out like a bullfrog's tongue.


Remnants of the former owners (and their former lives) continued to pop up in surprising places: under the kitchen sink, where we discovered three bags of moldy Halloween candy; and on a high shelf in the guest room, where a dust-covered corset languished as if it were still mourning the death of F.D.R.


Then, in the bare master bedroom closet, my husband and I spied a band-aid taped at eye level on the back wall. We stared at the band-aid and giggled. "What do you think would happen if we removed it?" I asked.


"Maybe the house will fall down," my husband joked. But we were curious, and he was willing to take a chance. Gently, he lifted one corner and peeled it off. Nothing happened, but we did see a row of penciled numbers: "34 - 5 - 28."


"Looks like the code for a combination lock."


"Maybe it's for a safe. Maybe that's where they stashed the family jewels."


That was quite a while ago. We're still looking for the safe.


Published June 24, 2007, Hartford Courant. (c) Copyright Susan J. Gordon, 2007