Preparing to sell our house was like staring into one of those cosmetic mirrors with the nuclear lights, the ones that show every pore on your face, and when you try to see inside a nostril, you can see all the way back to your tongue. It truly is a process that tests relationships and requires immense humility. We had to come to terms with some unsavory personal practices involving cleanliness and hygiene. And for those of you who are now thinking, “Yikes, I ate at their house!” Don’t worry. I think the health inspector would give us at least a B.
We began with a list of approximately ninety items that we wanted to complete before the house listed. We accomplished most of the tasks, although by the end we looked around and said, “Why are we selling? This place really looks nice!” I must admit that after we’d finished project #85, our standard of excellence decreased significantly, a few of the items were just eliminated, and the statement, “If they don’t like it, f*** ‘em” became our mantra. Then there was the reflection: why would we make these improvements for a total stranger and not ourselves?
I define staging as taking all of our crap out so it looks like imaginary people live in our house.
Why? Because really, who is going to take the time to clean out the sewing kit unless she absolutely has to? It’s been doing just fine these past 55 years. (Like my mom ever cleaned it out? I think not.) This is when I discovered I had 16 spools of black thread. Furthermore, I will now publicly admit that in the 19 years we’ve lived in this house, we’ve only cleaned out the space behind the fridge when we’ve remodeled. (Note to son: Alex, I now know where your hamster is. Please come get him. He’s been living on the endless food that inexplicably got back there and is now the size of a deer.) I’ve never vacuumed behind the water heater (why?), and we’ve never dared to organize, dust and sort the behemoth collection of cords and wires that lives behind the Ikea TV cabinet. We have no idea what the thick red cable is or why there are several “cords to nowhere.” We just know not to touch.
As we prepared for the big clean, we purchased a few things to help us, most notably a Dyson Animal, the most expensive vacuum I’ve ever owned. My first car cost less. Dyson is the vacuum that has the huge ball at the bottom, which supposedly makes maneuvering the machine nearly effortless. I could never get the hang of it. By the time I’d pushed “Big D” across the floor, the furniture was overturned, the dog was whining in the corner and something was inevitably broken. There was one great characteristic of the Dyson: it sucked. Bigly. It was so powerful that when my next-door neighbor asked to borrow it, I just turned it on from its place in the closet, and a half-hour later she texted and said thank you.
Furthermore, my wife’s and my relationship was tested to its limits. Each of us had our own meltdowns and disagreements about such important first-world issues as where the end table should go (the end of the couch, right?) or which items would get to spend the rest of their Arizona-existence in the storage unit.
And why did we store our stuff? Because of staging. I define staging as taking all of our crap out so it looks like imaginary people live in our house. We were told to “think model home.” And in the model home, the dog never poops or eats, nobody leaves her toothbrush out, the ultra-white towels in the bathroom stay ultra-white, there are no appliances on the counter because imaginary people don’t cook or eat, and the smell of the house is always an American Ninja battle between the Glade Plug-Ins and the baked chocolate chip cookies that come out of the oven 24-7.
The actual showing of the house is indeed the audition. Will they like us? Will they hate our colors? Why didn’t we ever change out that door the dog chewed? What will they really notice? Research suggests that potential homebuyers make up their minds within thirty seconds of entering a home. We thought about a 21-gun salute as they stepped over the threshold, a bucket of confetti descending upon them, and a guest appearance by Bruce Springsteen, who’d shake their hands and offer a friendly welcome. Turns out Bruce was busy.
Fortunately, we’re not there to hear what potential buyers say, and that’s probably a good thing. Somebody might get slapped. But there’s also another reason: we had to start thinking about what it was like to have strangers in our house and the idea that it eventually wouldn’t be our house anymore.
Then there’s the inspection period, which is like the mean person who points out all your flaws. When the potential buyer makes the offer, it’s all about how beautiful the house is and how much they’ll use the backyard, and isn’t that little brick pathway cute? But then…the inspection happens. And the house turns into the Amityville Horror. Everything is “satisfactory” (no gushing allowed in the home inspection report), or it’s in need of repair or it’s DANGEROUS and you should run for your life! Home inspectors want everything redone, upgraded, or fixed. About the only thing he didn’t ask us to do was move our plot of land a little to the left. *
Eventually, after the most nerve-wracking ten days of the process, the contract is finalized. Nobody can back out. Nobody can change his/her mind. So we pull out all the small appliances that regularly sit on the counter, especially my pink, vintage can opener from 1940. We tell the dog he can finally go out and poop and we order the Dyson back in the closet. Then we drop into a chair and let out a deep breath.
And then we start to pack.
*Note: At the time of this blog entry, we are still hashing out the inspection. Writing this blog is my therapy.