How Honest is Too Honest?

Exactly how much are you supposed to admit to on a seller’s disclosure? Where do you draw the line?

Exactly how much are you supposed to admit to on a seller’s disclosure? Where do you draw the line?

During our last trip to New Orleans, I picked up a copy of The Last Madam by Christine Wiltz. And it’s exactly how it sounds – the life of the last madam running the last known house of prostitution in New Orleans. Very interesting to read. Some for the madam’s story. Some for the sheer amount of corruption during that time.

Norma Wallace. Source: Chris Wiltz.

While the author was nice enough to include a photo of the house from the 1940s, the architect nerd in me had to check out Google to see if the house still existed. Sure enough, there it was. Even better, I found some news links from when the house was purchased post-Katrina.

And discovered that the new owner didn’t know about the house’s history until he was about to close on the property.

Now I’ve been to NOLA enough times, and read about NOLA’s history enough times, to know that when it comes to the French Quarter, I can’t imagine there isn’t a house or building without a history. But this guy didn’t think to ask? And the seller didn’t disclose?

I know a couple whose home in East Texas is haunted. Not pretend haunted. Haunted. Nothing too terrible but just enough to give someone pause. But that’s one of those things I’d want to see on the disclosure form, maybe somewhere between when the roof was replaced, and the house rewired.

Which makes me wonder why it took this buyer so long to find out he was purchasing what was once a house of ill-repute. And as the seller, I think that type of history would add some cache to the home.

At least it would for me.

“Well when I bought the place there was a lot of damage from the hurricane. Wood rot. Holes in the roof. Oh, and did I mention it was a brothel? See? Right there on the disclosure form. Right below termite damage.”

Learn more about 1026 Conti Street.

Main photo: Chris Wiltz

Overheard. To intervene or not to intervene. That is the question.

I stop and ask myself if I should say anything, like offering the aforementioned questions. Or will I get yelled at for eavesdropping and not minding my own business?

Can you speak up? I didn’t quite hear that.

My wonderful husband is notorious for listening to other conversations when we’re at dinner (not to mention eyeballing other people’s food). And after 23 years, I will freely admit I find myself doing the same from time to time. As much as that can annoy me at times, we have overheard some interesting breakfast conversations in New Orleans.

However, what perks my ears up most is when the conversation at the next table turns to design, construction, or architecture. How do I not listen? Except then I struggle to keep my mouth shut.

Most recently, while waiting for a take-out order, I couldn’t help but overhear: “I told her it had to be a 220 outlet, so she canceled the order. Why do people have to be so cheap?” And then came the sage advice from the helpful wag lunching with her: “It’s only $150 to install one. Call her back and tell her.”

The only thing I could think of was the old lady in the Esurance commercial unfriending her friend. “That’s not how that works! That’s not how any of this works!”

Because you can’t just “drop in” a 220 outlet without asking some important questions: Is there space in the electrical panel? Where is the panel in relation to the new outlet? Does the electrician have to run wire through the entire attic? Does the city require rigid conduit? All of that and more before you get around to the actual installation.

At those times, I stop and ask myself if I should say anything, like offering the aforementioned questions. Or will I get yelled at for eavesdropping and not minding my own business? How rude!

Especially challenging are people talking about their own renovation and wondering what to do. Can I casually slip them a card? Or does that make me the creepy architect who can’t mind his own business? Do you really want him working on your project?

No matter, because I’ll keep listening in. Just don’t be surprised one day if I lean over and recommend you ask a professional, even if it’s the nosy one sitting at the next table.

Main image courtesy of Tim Mossholder.

When you gotta go…

To love New Orleans is to love all New Orleans – from the Marigny to the Garden District – and to love all her quirks.

To love New Orleans is to love all New Orleans – from the Marigny to the Garden District – and to love all her quirks. Like knowing full well I’m going to get a cab of questionable lineage from the airport to the hotel. Or that it might cloud over and rain at a moment’s notice.

However, no matter how many times I’ve been to New Orleans, there’s one quirk I’ve never loved and don’t know that I ever will:

The French Quarter restroom.

Any time I’m in a restaurant in the French Quarter, I have to ask myself: How badly do I need to use the restroom? Do I really need to pee so bad I’m willing to risk my health and well-being? Or is there a bar around the corner where I know I’ll be safe?

And I’m not kidding.

One would expect bar restrooms to be of questionable character. I mean, it’s a bar. What is alarming though is that some of those toilets have been nicer and cleaner than those at some of the finer dining establishments. I’ve had times where I thought even the trough at Café Lafitte’s would be a step up.

Cafe Lafitte, New Orleans

To a certain degree I understand. The French Quarter is really the heart of New Orleans and was part of the city founded three hundred years ago. I would imagine many courtyards sported outhouses. But surely someone thought along the way to 2018 about building a better restroom. And maybe placing it in the same building.

Countless times I’ve stepped down dim hallways, around corners, up a flight of stairs, or across a courtyard just to dispose of the hurricanes I’ve been drinking. No trip that I can recall has been a short step away. In one instance, I left a very nice restaurant, walked across the courtyard to the adjacent building, stepped up into the men’s room, only to look down as I’m washing my hands and think:

Is that blood on the floor? Did someone in the kitchen cut themselves? Did the previous occupant get mugged and I’m looking at the aftermath? Now I’m getting nervous but beginning to understand why some restrooms are so dimly lit.

And this phenomenon is not exclusively reserved for men. I’ve heard women’s restrooms described by female friends as “sketchy.” Given the odor coming out of the single-hole restrooms at some of the bars, I can understand why.

However, don’t let any of that discourage you from venturing at least once to New Orleans. For me she is still my second home, quirks and all. Even if it means sometimes crossing my legs and bunny hopping my way back to my clean and well-lit hotel restroom.

Cover photo courtesy of Cayetano Gil.

Hotel Room or Harem?

I remember reading in a Stephen King novel a quote about how the phrase – the more things change, the more they stay the same – was crap. Because the more things change, the more things change. But how do you know when change is needed?

Our first (and only trip to Chicago) was around 12 years ago, and we found ourselves sleeping at the W City Center for the duration of the trip. W Hotels were just starting to open around the country, and the place was young, hip, urban, and even better, paid for by James’ office.

He had come for work and wanted to know if I was interested in tagging along. Interested? It’s Chicago. One of the most iconic cities in America. Home to the Hancock Tower, Sears Tower, and The Art Institute. Not to mention structures by Frank Lloyd Wright, Burnham & Root, and Mies van der Rohe. How could I pass that up?

Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to go a couple of times on my own, most recently this month for an American Institute of Architects two-day conference. Once again, I found myself at a W – this time facing Lake Michigan and the Navy Pier. And the hotel felt the way I remembered my first time. Not as dimly lit but arranged again so the social spaces were all out front, and you had to guess where the reception desk was.

However, from there on up, nothing had really changed from what we experienced 12 years before. Dimly lit hall. Dark carpet. Purple LEDs in the ceiling. Perhaps the only real update was to card readers on the hotel room doors. Then I went into my room.

I suppose for most hotel brands, staying current means increasing the likelihood that you’ll book more rooms throughout the year. And I’ve stayed at hotels that have undergone massive renovations from one year to the next. I even found myself on the unfinished side of a hotel renovation, complete with the original laminate bathroom counter from some time in the 1980s, while I could hear contractors working a few floors below.

By no means was my room unpleasant or uncomfortable. Don’t get that impression. Super-comfortable bed. Tons of space. A really cool rainhead in the shower. I just think someone needs to slip the W a note and let them know change is sometimes a good thing.

Had I opened my door and found someone passed out across the bed, sheets and pillows in disarray, and a couple of empty vodka bottles knocked over on the dresser, I would not have been surprised. My room felt designed more for a party, and perhaps not so much for sleeping.

The headboard for the king-sized bed continued along the wall to become a banquette that stretched onto the adjacent wall. Oddly there was a mirrored “coffee table” at the end of the banquette. Now what could I use that for? And a lamp attached to a pole that was mounted on the top of the bedside table and extended to the ceiling. I’m just going to assume it was always a lamp.

W Chicago Lakeside 

And while I appreciated the décor, most of my party days have long gone by, and I look at a hotel room for what it is – a place to sleep.

I was reminded of a past client who would come to Dallas and check on their project, staying in one of the more upscale hotels. Except the one time their usual room wasn’t available, and their son put them in one of the trendier boutique hotels that had recently appeared on the scene.

At our meeting the next morning, I asked them how their room was.

“Like a Turkish harem.”

That afternoon they switched hotels. I guess they just wanted to sleep too.