Misadventures in Real Estate is a humorous six-part series about selling our home.
Part 1: Nature Abhors A Vacuum
The fog that clouded my ability to see the funny in any given situation is beginning to lift. In the throes of my real estate debacle, I wasn’t able to laugh at the absurd. Weeks after the closing, I was still suffering from post-traumatic stress; but with the passage of time, my perception of the ridiculousness of events morphs from nightmarish to dark comedy as I feel my old self returning.
I had good reason to be optimistic about selling our house. We’d been down this road in the late 1990’s with a quick and profitable outcome. As avid HGTV watchers, we learned the tricks of the trade; removing personal items, decluttering, freshening up paint, and cleaning…and cleaning…and cleaning again. Many hours of prep work paid off with an over asking price offer at the end of a two-hour open house. After our second go-around, I realize just how spoiled we were by the first.
Our second house was large and roomy, with a basement, attic, and 10 closets. Over the 17 years that we lived in it, our collection of stuff grew proportionately to fill any empty space, proving the old adage that nature abhors a vacuum. I recently found an old invoice from my husband’s computer business that had printed on the bottom, “Save all shipping boxes.” He certainly practiced what he preached. In many cases the item that came in the box was long gone, but the box was dutifully stored in the attic.
The crap removal and organization project began in 2016 and continued until 3 days before the closing. It’s an arduous task to go through decades of accumulated crap, especially when you’ve attached sentimentality to objects. Deciding what to keep, what to dispose of, and figuring out how to get rid of things isn’t as simple as it seems. But there were a couple of bright sides to the decluttering effort.
As I sorted through the music-related stuff, I decided to preserve some old recordings as described in my blog post, Converting My Analog Past to the Digital Present. I took a fun trip down memory lane with old familiar faces, listening to recordings of bands I played in and songs I wrote and recorded in my home studio. When I discovered an old bandmate on Facebook that I hadn’t seen for decades, I was shocked by the old person who had taken the place of the young one that was frozen in memory time. This internet sighting was followed by the rush of awareness of my own aging as it steamrolled over my self-esteem. Ouch!
In the post, Weekend In Review, I talked about reducing the amount of wine and liquor bottles to be moved to the new house. Open bottles of cordials, brandy, whisky, tequila, vodka, and a dozen different rums used in drink lab experiments all needed to be emptied. Most went down the hatch, not down the drain. Reducing the bottle count gave us a pleasurable opportunity to revisit and revise some of our favorite drink lab concoctions.
Armed with Zillow and motivated by frugality, we thought we’d try putting the house on the market as “For Sale By Owner” or FSBO (pronounced fizz-bo) to avoid paying a hefty realtor commission. And after all, our first house did practically sell itself, so why not give FSBO a try? In the next few weeks we were bombarded by calls, emails and visits from realtors but not a single interested buyer. Realtors have a move where they will tell you they’ll show your FSBO, but never actually bring a potential buyer. In reality, they are waiting you out because they know if you are serious about selling, you’ll eventually sign up with a realtor. The vultures circle the prey waiting for it to die so they can feast on the carcass.
Listing as a FSBO wasn’t a complete waste of time. In preparation for our Zillow listing, I studied similar listings in our area; comparable houses that realtors refer to as “comps”. Finding homes of equivalent size and condition not only helps with pricing, but if you’re creating your own listing as I was, comps are a guide to staging, photographing and writing your sales description.
Photographing each room was where the real work began, and the first set of pictures told the true story. We had become blind to too much clutter, too much furniture, and stray objects that never found a real home. Taking preliminary photos helped me “see” all the stuff that shouldn’t be there. In the interest of getting the job done quickly, I didn’t take the time to sort, dispose of, or pack for moving. Books, music, knick-knacks, mementos, electronics, and life’s assorted paraphernalia was tossed in boxes and moved elsewhere so the room could be staged for my listing photo.
Before and after:
Now on to the second bedroom. Which is where I put the boxes, exercise equipment and extra furniture from the first bedroom. And so I find myself moving a pile of crap from one room to the next in order to make each well-used bedroom look like a hotel room. Eventually, homeless artifacts found their way to our spacious foyer, to which our puzzled guests asked, “Why is there a TV in here?” Doesn’t everyone have a large flat-screen TV sitting on a rolling cart in the middle of the entryway? (I love answering a question with a question.)
When we posted the listing on Zillow, the house was show-ready with the exception of my husband’s basement domain. At least he had carved pathways through the mounds of junk for interested parties to see the furnace, hot water heater, and electrical panel and so we deemed phase one of the crap removal and organization project complete.
A real-life Upstairs, Downstairs: