Do you feel guilty that your house needs cleaning? #743

#743 in a series of true experiences in real estate

Do you feel guilty that your house needs cleaning? Are you worrying that your closets and basement are stuffed?

Let it go. Give it up. We’re here to tell you that we have met quite a few perfectly pleasant and well-mannered people, people we like a lot, who never do a lick of housework, never did. Zillions of people just live.

They live cluttered, they live messy. Why not you? They read books, or they go to committee meetings, or they sit. Vacuuming, washing and putting things away is just never done by them.

“I need to know what my house is worth,” one woman said over the phone.

“I really must sell it. But it’s so bad that I can’t let you see it.”

She was near panic and tears. We soothed, we told her it would be ok. Messy houses can be cleaned. Full houses can be emptied. Houses in need of repair can be fixed. In fact, we explained, having done nothing to a house can be an advantage. Lots of people prefer buying a house that’s been left alone. Especially with old houses, if the original details are as they were built, that’s a bonus.

Our caller said that she’d taken care of basic things, the roof and the furnace, but she’d never done anything inside because the house was filled to the rafters. “So, things need repairs. My faucets are leaking, the floors are stained, things are broken. I can’t lock the back door anymore.”

We listened and we sympathized, then we told her a story of another woman and her house, how she managed to move and get her house sold. She invited us into her packed-with-stuff living room, cleared a small space on a sofa for us to sit, and told us how, some 50 years earlier, she and her husband had bought the house when it was brand new.

They’d raised their children there, had lived fully and happily until the kids got married and her husband had died. Now she intended to move to a distant city to be near family. This dear woman knew her house looked bad, and she didn’t want anyone to see it. Outside of her family, we were the first visitors allowed inside in years.

We made our way through the rooms trying to discover what the house was like. It was hard to see surfaces, what with the accumulation of belongings, multiple window coverings, burned out lights, but the faded wallpaper was obvious, some in strips.

Wall paneling was faded and dried by the sun. Flooring was blackened and stained with soil, some lifted and curling. Window glass was mostly obscured, the metal frames caked with grime, and tiled counters greasy, the grout black.

She was a thoughtful person and she’d been thinking about what to do. She knew that it would take months to sort through her belongings, let alone make the house right, and so she’d devised a plan. With the help of her daughter and a moving company, the contents of the house would be packed and shipped to her new home. No big attempt to throw things away would be made. Her best and favorites would furnish her new home; the rest would go into storage. Perhaps someday she would go through all of it, but not now.

Once the house was empty, she wanted to know, “Can you pull the house together?” We said we could.

She did exactly as promised. About a month after we’d first met, we had the keys to her vacant house. Right off, we had inspections, and were delighted to find that the basics were all in surprisingly good shape. While the house looked sad, its problems were primarily cosmetic.

We called in our crews to give us bids and to set up schedules: cleaners, painters, gardeners, floor people. And our stager came, surveyed the scene, and said, “It’s a matter of layers, just one after the other.”

Layer one was buckets of loose dirt swept and vacuumed up. Two: all window coverings removed.

Thirdly, new wood was laid in severely damaged spots in the wood floors and the floors were refinished. New linoleum was selected and installed in the baths, kitchen and family room.

Window frames and tile were scrubbed. Wallpaper was removed, some was painted over. Damaged paneling was repaired, then painted, closets and cupboards washed and painted too.

Several appliances were beyond reclamation. We scrapped the refrigerator and purchased new dishwasher, vent hood and cook-top.

Concrete pathways outside were power washed and the overgrown garden trimmed.

Small, all-important details were attended to. Almost all light fixtures, plates for light switches and plugs, and old rusted furnace outlet covers were replaced. The stager brought in sleek metal curtain rods and hung them with crisp white curtains. She added pretty furnishings, rugs and paintings. She filled vases with bright flowers and dressed beds with creamy-colored linens.

The best part of this story is that our seller lived for 50 years in her house exactly as she chose. As far as we know, she did so without any particular anxiety over the state of her house. She just didn’t invite the neighbors in.

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