The last time I sold a house it took exactly one week. Of course, it was Christmas time and the old farmhouse was all decked out in country charm with fires in all the fireplaces and the scent of cookies baking in the oven. Also, it was 1996 and the economy was better.
This time around, the process doesn’t feel so charming. I’m one week into the sales pitch, and it’s wearing me down. The week is up: Where are you, buyer?
This time it’s a bright, updated ranch in an upscale town. We’ve spent a lot of money and elbow grease transforming it from a basic suburban ranch to a very special home. All the lilies growing tall in the front yard should be enough to cause a bidding war.
But, put your house up for sale and you learn one of the hard truths about the process: People get all persnickety when it comes to committing a lifetime of work and money to owning a house. That perfect gray on the kitchen walls – the color selected after an hour comparing samples? It’s going to give a cold feeling to the next wife who walks through.
It’s hard not to take these things personally, which is why real estate agents prefer the homeowner get lost during a showing. Inevitably, someone’s going to turn his nose up at something (my shower curtain comes to mind), and that sort of thing should stay between him, his wife and the Realtor.
So maybe they won’t like my decorating taste, but the place is spotless. This has been the hardest part of it: keeping an occupied house clean enough for the critical public. The default condition of most lived-in houses – shoes by the back door, a coffee mug on the desk, a dog or two asleep on the sofa, a dead spider or two in the window tracks – just will not work. And so, an hour before each showing appointment, I become one of Snow White’s little bird friends, twittering about clearing it all away.
The kitchen’s the most difficult, of course, because eating and cooking are messy. Believe me, on the morning of a showing you think twice before eating a bowl of cereal or, more problematic, scrambling some eggs. On the way to the fridge, you’re stopped in your tracks by the thought that if you eat something, you will have to clean up. It might be the latest diet craze: try to sell your house.
I’ve been on the other side of this equation, and not every homeowner is so worried about what people may think. I remember touring a split-level home so littered with dirty paper plates and dusty little dog statues and actual dog hair that I concluded that the family fled in the middle of the night, pursued by law enforcement.
They say every house has a buyer. That’s true, if you want to sell your house for three thousand dollars and 99 cents. I need to get more for mine, and so I may be in for a summer cleaning and fretting.
We’ve shown the house three times so far. Because we don’t have a lockbox, I’ve been there to let the people in. I open the door, say hello, and then go wait in my car around the corner. The last couple were in there for 38 minutes. If they hated it they would have walked back out in a hurry, right?
Or maybe it took them that long to make a list of all they hated about it. It tried to read their faces when they finally walked out. I think they were smiling, but I never heard back.
Beth Dolinar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.