Clients’ trust allows ‘amazing’ transformation

#504 in a series of true experiences in real estate
January 2006, Hills Newspapers

Our clients Anne & Harold did something none of our clients has ever done. When they moved out, they gave us all of the keys to their house. They didn’t keep one.

We were surprised and touched by their trust in us. What Anne said was that there was no reason for them to go back. They moved to a senior community leaving us to do whatever we thought was best to prepare their house before selling it.

We gathered bids from a number of tradesmen and made a budget. Anne and Harold agreed to write checks. They did not ask what we planned to do, didn’t seem to want to know what we were going to change, although Harold did say a new mailbox would be a good idea.

Inspections had confirmed what was already apparent, that the house was in quite good shape. In the 20 years that Anne and Harold had enjoyed living there, they had attended to things well. About the only thing the general inspector recommended was to upgrade the electrical system to circuit breakers. So Anet and I, on behalf of our good sellers, hired an electrician to do that work. But almost everything else that was done over the next 8 weeks was only surface deep.

Anet and I so enjoyed being in and working on that house. It had been built in 1951, in a style of that time, it is more boxy and unornamented than houses we have in the past taken to heart or bought for ourselves to live in. But as we renewed the surfaces and spent hours there, we came to appreciate its beauty. We even talked about living in it ourselves because this house works so well.

Practicality becomes, I suppose, more appealing the older we get. The heating and roofing and plumbing all worked. The floors were level and the walls were wide and ideal for hanging artwork.

The bedrooms are clustered together with two baths and this area is separated from the living areas, yet the distance is easily traversed with only a few stairs between.

The garden had been beautifully planted with a variety of shrubs, trees and flowers and could be entered immediately outside the breakfast area of the kitchen and also from one of the bedrooms. There were lots and lots of closets (three in the entry hall alone, for vacuum cleaner, coats and other items – I was envious) plus a large unfinished basement for storage.

But the best feature of all, the one I wanted for my own more than any other, is the double garage with an inside entrance and two – not just one – automatic door openers, one for each of the two doors. Drive in, unload your groceries, walk up 9 stairs to the entry hall and kitchen. Heaven.

We were at the house frequently meeting workmen, watching progress, holding up drapes and curtains against the windows to see how they’d look. Early on we had decided against changing the Formica counters in the kitchen and baths because, although they were dated, we liked that they were dated. We didn’t think that granite or Corian-type surfaces would look right (there is still, for example, an original scalloped trim piece over the kitchen sink) and if the counters went away, so would the chrome trim around the edges of the counters. The longer we looked at that chrome, the more we liked and wanted it in this house.

For all of these reasons, we changed very little from the original. All rooms were painted (soft greens, two shades of cream, one room in a color called clay). All hardwood floors were refinished and a new, light blond bamboo floor was installed in the kitchen.

We added sleek chrome and glass light fixtures in some rooms and we changed out all door knobs to shiny brass. Old paint spatters were scrubbed from all hardware — coat hooks and cabinet pulls – if not being replaced with new. A round mirror set in an extra wide wood frame for the guest bath and new medicine cabinets for the full baths. Classy look drapes and sheer curtains on some windows, and the stager chose roman shades for others.

Anet and I cleaned up after each work crew. Cardboard boxes and packing material, paint over-spray, muddy footprints, sawdust. The only truly tidy workers were the floor refinishers. Probably we went a little crazy, cleaning the garage door springs, removing and polishing the trim on light fixtures, washing the fireplace hearth.

The gardeners continued their maintenance regime and added more plants in bloom. The stager moved in furniture, paintings, lamps and rugs. She lined a window sill with a dozen identical containers filled with richest blue Dutch iris. Tall sprays of pinky coral quince stopped us dead in our tracks, they were so beautiful.

We cleaned and cleaned every inch and we also hired cleaners and window washers. All plates for lights and plugs were changed to new, most in brass or chrome. The screen door leading from the bedroom to the garden was replaced. Crisp paper lining was laid in most drawers. Of course we also added a shiny new mailbox.

I think it’s the little details that make the difference. Even when you don’t notice them, you do. The house looked wonderful.

Anne and Harold had not asked how things were going, nor had they mentioned going back to the house themselves. But the day before we were holding the house open for the first time, their daughter and a granddaughter came to town. They wanted to look at the house and Anne and Harold wanted to go too.

We did not know how they would feel about the changes. They’d spent a fair amount of money and we hoped that they would approve.

And they certainly did. We got a phone message from their daughter using words like awestruck and amazed. And then we received an email from Anne. They couldn’t get over the transformation. They liked everything – the colors, the light fixtures, the shades and filmy curtains, and the sparkling clean windows. Floors, rugs and the new brass kick plate on the front door. Anne described the house as being classy without being snooty. That was nice. And then she inquired whether the team who put together their old house would do it again at their new place.

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