The current owner of Dawn Friedman's childhood home recently painted the front door red. When Friedman spotted the change during one of her regular detours down her old street, she called her sister to discuss it.
"We approved," said Friedman, of suburban Columbus, Ohio. "We liked that."
Friedman, 38, and her sister, Erica DiPaolo, 40, routinely drive past their old house to relive good memories, check on the neighborhood and see what has changed.
"My sister and I are kind of obsessed with it," Friedman said with a laugh.
So are a lot of people. Many former owners drive by their old dwellings, slowing down to get a better look. Some, unable to move on after moving away, drop in for tours and watch for open houses. Others even write about their experiences on the Internet.
New owners can feel the shadow of former owners. They wonder whether they would approve of changes to the property and feel self-conscious about adding their own touches.
Mary Mars, who now owns Friedman's and DiPaolo's old house, said she was flattered by their attachment to it.
"I think that's wonderful," she said. "I understand that phenomenon."
While the sisters approved of the new door color, other changes, such as the removal of some trees, a fence and a lamppost, were met with less enthusiasm.
"It pains me," Friedman confessed.
Houses especially childhood homes can evoke a lot of curiosity and emotion, said David Klimek, a psychologist who specializes in attachment issues. Seeing an old house can stir up memories of family celebrations, loved ones and the everyday pleasures of times past.
"It's like a temple or shrine of their own life and their own family," Klimek said from his office in Ann Arbor, Mich.
When Jane Porricelli's parents sold their house in Barrington, R.I., around the time she went away to college, she didn't think much about it. But years later, when she moved to a neighboring town, she found herself driving past her childhood home.
"The memories came back," the 27-year-old said. "The nostalgia was there."
Dating an old family friend who had spent countless hours in the house added to her sentimental feelings. In a nod to their past histories there, Porricelli's then-boyfriend got permission from the owners to bring her to the house for a tour.
At the end, he asked her to marry him.
"I thought it was great," said Margaret Vatter, who had bought the house from Jane Porricelli's parents in 1998.
One of the things that had appealed to Vatter about the house was that a family had lived there. "We looked at a bunch of homes here," she said. "When I walked in, I said, 'I'm home.' There were pictures of kids everywhere."
Although the Vatters extensively remodeled the house's interior, they did little to Jane Porricelli's bedroom. That pleased her.
"It's really beautifully done," said Porricelli, who bought her first home, in Cranston, R.I., two years ago.
Porricelli sometimes wonders what that house's former owners, Lenore and Joel Cerel, think of the changes she has made. The Cerels, who lived in the four-bedroom Colonial for 34 years, moved into a nearby apartment building.
"We chopped down a ton of trees," said Porricelli, who sends the older couple a Christmas card every year. "I'm a little bit scared to invite them in."
Lenore Cerel said she would pass on a tour anyway.
"I just want to remember it the way I had it," she said. "I was very happy to hand over the love of my life to Jane and Steve. They're a lovely couple."
That's not to say she approves of the landscaping changes.
"I could sit and cry," the 70-year-old said. "We liked the look of the house, but it's not our house any more."
Jessica Walliser, a professional horticulturist, had a similar reaction in September when she drove past a house she had sold in 2001.
"Now I'm upset I even looked!" Walliser, of Sewickley, Pa., wrote in her online journal. "They hacked out my garden to put up an 8-foot-high retaining wall that is topped with lots of weedy sumac, ragweed, horseweed and other assorted junk."
Such feelings are natural, said psychologist James Quick, who teaches at the University of Texas at Arlington.
"It's part of our human DNA to connect and attach to places and people," he said. "So when somebody takes out those bushes it tears our heart out."