THE BLOG
12/01/2011 11:21 am ET Updated Jan 31, 2012

Middle Class Masquerade

The home seller sobbed when she heard her real estate transaction fell through. "I've got to get out of here," she let me know for the umpteenth time. "I can't keep pretending to be middle class."

Though I offered my cellular shoulder to cry on, I couldn't give her what she desired, which was to merely live within her means, not beyond them. When she bought the house with her husband in 1997, they owned a very successful business. The rooms were big and plentiful, the grounds were spacious, and all the neighbors kept up with that over-achieving Jones' family. What the heck? figured the buyers, as the mortgage payments and real estate taxes hardly dented their stuffed wallets.

For many years, their middle class fiefdom guaranteed regular income for a nanny, a house cleaner, and a landscaper. They compensated carpenters, painters, roofers, and cesspool pumpers. And, please, don't get them started on the HVAC company who charged them big bucks to boost the efficiency of the home's energy-sucking heating and cooling system!

Times, as we know, changed dramatically. The copious cash stream ceased when the Lord & Lady's business crashed. At first they were anxious to keep things going while they regrouped, sucking out the substantial equity in their home. However, as the economy shifted from souring to spoiled, their outlay greatly overshadowed their income.

The owners bid the working folks in their home goodbye and listed their home for sale. They ditched their pool club membership and heeded advice to lower their price to entice unenthusiastic buyers. Yet buyers still avoided eye contact, as the sellers stressed over their enormous mortgage payments and gargantuan real estate taxes. And, please, don't get them started on the hulking utility bills waiting to pounce once the temperature drops!

The sellers slashed their home price once again, attracting a seemingly interested purchaser. However, this buyer bolted once the home inspector elaborated both on the house's energy inefficiency and all the flaws the sellers failed to keep up with after their downturn.

Having been through the sellers' winter of discontent (spanning the past four seasons), I knew how much my miserable message would aggravate them. I was prepared to offer them both some further alternatives to attract a deal and some sincere consolation. What I didn't expect was an outpouring that pushed me towards my professional precipice.

I heard from the Lady how exceedingly tired she is of suburban subterfuge. She wants to get out of Sunny Acres and rent a small place in Shady Pines. She hates scurrying down the aisle in the supermarket to avoid the neighbors after dropping out of the block's "$100-dollar poker nights" and dreads the frequent PTA fundraisers, charity fundraisers, team equipment drives, plus the "knock, knock, knock" of local kids selling wrapping paper, candy, and discount booklets.

"This life is my old life," she sighs. "I want to take my mask off and get out!" However, without a buyer to take her place, she can't escape the masquerade ball.