Sunday, March 13, 2011

357. Selling The House

(About two years ago, we decided to move. This post is a flashback detailing that time period.)

You wake up one sunshine-soaked morning and decide that your life is relatively calm and stress-free. Because you are an adrenalin junkie, you confer with your husband over double lattes and cinnamon rolls to come up with a Plan. The Plan involves putting your house on the market, losing lots of money, and ultimately moving to a different house about four blocks away with a slightly bigger yard. Ah, yes. This fabulous Plan will change your life.

And your life does change. Immediately. You must now clean your house not when you “feel like it” or when your “mother-in-law is coming over” or even when it gets so dirty you “can no longer stand it”: no. Instead you must clean your house Every. Single. Day. Sometimes twice a day.

This is a different category of cleaning. This is Olympic caliber. Floors must be obsessively swept (“No more spills,” you beg the toddler as he flings his spaghetti across the room, ignoring you). Dishes in the sink are beyond unacceptable: they will incur a stern “helpful reminder” call from your own realtor later (“Keep in mind that the way you actually live day-to-day is not necessarily the best way to show a house when you're trying to sell,”). Even the closets must be organized, because they, too, will be inspected with military-precision-awareness by Potential Buyers.

You have seen enough TV house-hunting shows (and their endless spin-offs and mutations and imitations) to know that you are required to be absent when the Potential Buyers stream through your home, dissecting every decorating and design choice you’ve ever made (“She sure has weird taste in patio furniture!” or “Those pillows do not match that bedspread at all!” or “How many pairs of shoes does she own?”). When the phone call comes, you must scoop up the toddler (who was napping quite happily, thankyouverymuch) and the preschooler and whisk them away somewhere, somewhere you can spend large chucks of time without arousing suspicion or scorn, somewhere like: the mall.

You wander the giant mall aimlessly, and you even take a quick peek in Pottery Barn because you know (you just know) that your house would sell instantaneously if only you had some pretty candles on chunky wood pedestal holders displayed on the fireplace mantel. You tell the girl you’ll take four in various heights, and as she wraps them all up in pastel plaid tissue paper, your confidence soars.

Next, you stop at Barnes and Noble to buy a few books on home staging (as you suspected, the books do confirm that candles on the fireplace mantel are of utmost importance).  You hand the clerk your credit-card and do your best to mentally block out the nasty thing she just said to you: “That will be $87.52, please.”    

You look at your watch. It has only been 20 minutes. How much more time do you need to waste, you wonder while the toddler tries to knock over the decorative fake trees and the preschooler tries to pull away from you to inspect the glass elevator. You stop to buy a snack of overpriced pretzels and drinks (this home selling business is starting to get expensive, you think wryly to yourself as the toddler “accidentally” dumps cranberry-grape juice all over your white blouse), and “enjoying a snack” slowly kills another 10 minutes.

The weekends are worse, much worse. You and your husband must dream up endurance-building activities to keep you all gone for the entire afternoon during the Open House. Of course it is March, the month known for rain, and the only thing that looks mildly attractive is the Boat Show at the Expo Center. You have never been to a Boat Show in your life, and it seems odd to look at boats (something that belongs in water) inside a large, dry warehouse while it is wet outside. It seems discordant, like shampooing dry hair.

Before you can leave, you scurry around the house, frantically shoving diapers in the trash and toys under the beds. You are calling out to your husband “How much time do we have before they get here?” but he can’t hear you over the din of crying children and the overzealous vacuum cleaner. “Did you pack a snack for them?” your frenzied husband shouts back to you from the next room. “Don’t forget to pack some snacks, and hurry!”

You and your family abandon the house just as the realtor is pulling up, a flurry of balloons defying the rain and peeking out the back of his Lexus. You smile, thinking how great it is that he is going to hopefully sell your house today, and then you realize you forgot to brush your teeth.

Lookie-loo neighbors brandishing soggy umbrellas are walking up the sidewalk in muddy boots as you drive away. You ask your husband to stop at 7-11 so you can buy some toothpaste. You mentally add yet another $6 to the moving tab in the column of “hastily-made unnecessary purchases”.

The Boat Show is packed. Your sons have a ball climbing into every sleek expensive boat to check out “where the captain sleeps” and begging you to buy them a boat. Your younger son (age two) is a bit confused and makes observations such as “Boats need water. When will they bring the ocean in here?” while your husband reads boat literature. He is now bandying about terms like “slip fees” and “Coast Guard documentation” and “rigging lines” and “marine insurance” with various salespeople, and you are becoming increasingly worried that you might not sell your house after all, but your husband might be buying a boat.

At last, you extricate yourselves and return home to find out the results of the Open House. As you approach your house, you realize there are still cars in your driveway, Potential Buyer Cars, so you must circle the block a few times. After five slow loops, you finally decide to park down the street. You are cursing yourself for forgetting to stock binoculars as a normal item in your glove compartment. Who are these people wandering around your (immaculate) house? You start to feel strangely … violated.

The Potential Buyers linger but ultimately leave, and you and your family casually walk through your front door as if you just arrived mere seconds ago. You nonchalantly ask your realtor, “How’d it go?” as if you are discussing his routine dental cleaning instead of your entire financial future.

He slowly mouths the words you have been hoping for, “It looks like we’ll be receiving an offer later this evening,” and you start jumping up and down like a deranged kangaroo on crack. “It’s all going to pay off for us!” you think, prematurely.

The offer does indeed come, and the back-and-forth negotiations begin, and an acceptable number is mutually agreed upon. The home inspection goes well. Then the buyers' financing falls through and you are back to more boat shows on rainy Sundays.

Three more months and two more low-ball offers elapse and you wonder if any of this is worth it. Yes, you live in a model home now, a home where the lights are always on and the kitchen always smells like Williams-Sonoma mulling spices and the cat is always at the vet and soothing music is always on the radio. It seems like it isn’t even your home anymore, it is more like a fantasy Barbie Dream House that you played with as a child. Every picture hung just so, every vase arranged with permanent fresh flowers.

Just when you are beaten down and discouraged, the phone rings and the realtor’s scratchy cell-phone voice is saying, “We have a solid offer!” This offer goes through. And you have sold your house. And you prepare to move.

And as you are packing every infinite possession that you and your family has ever owned, you are thinking to yourself, Ah, selling the house was easy; it’s the packing and moving part that’s hard.

(“Moving Out Veteran”)


  1. after the mountain man and i looked at a few houses (mostly bank-owned, a few staged) i asked my mom how she and my dad ever sold their houses while they had 2 and then 4 kids. i was in utter disbelief of how they did it, and even as the oldest child having seen 3 of those moves & home sales at an age where i should have been able to remember it, i didn't remember her chasing us around the house frantically cleaning up after us. i was confused, and i was sure that she wouldn't show a house covered in toddler goo - so why couldn't i remember any of it? was it so scarring that i blocked it? did she show an imperfect house? how did it happen? why don't i remember any of it?

    she told me that she and my dad decided it was better to dip into our college savings accounts to pay two mortgages so they could show their houses vacant, rather than living with the chaos of combating the toddler goo.

    and that's why i've never been to a boat show.

  2. Megan,

    Your mom is obviously brilliant, and you can tell her I said so. This must be where you get it.

    I did have the common sense to take my two sons for an "extended vacation" to visit the grandparents in CO (for a month), but The Husband was still unable to sell the house without me there (must've been due to the lack of chunky candles on the fireplace mantel).
    I must say, selling was the longest 4 months of my life. I would not wish that kind of torture (uh, having to keep your house sparkling clean every minute) on my worst enemy!

    And Megan? No boat show? Oh, you don't know what you're missing!!


  3. Thank you for linking me to this post. It is like finding a support group where we can huddle and I can cry and shake while you tell me it will all be OK. The hardest part has not been the is the dogs. We have been dividing and conquering, splitting animals and children between the two parents during showings. And the mowing. So. Much. Mowing. Cindy


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