Every little thing shows #698

#698 in a series of true experiences in real estate

For several days in a row for one of our listings, I scrubbed surfaces before we put the house on the market. Every time Anet and I went to the house I found something else that bothered me, something that I judged to be not clean enough. The hired cleaners had already been there, and they’re pretty good, two women who had done cleaning for me at my own house and had impressed me.

But my house is occupied, full of us and our stuff, while our listing was empty. And in vacant houses, we have found, every little thing shows. Even if the house has always been dusted and vacuumed and the woodwork wiped down while people were living there, when it is empty, it looks dirty. Beds are moved, and the couch, and there’s stuff underneath, dust and drips and scrapes.

We know this about vacant houses, and so we advised our sellers to have most surfaces freshly painted, the wood floors refinished, the windows washed. They readily agreed and all of this had been done before the cleaners arrived. Later the stager would add new switch plate and outlet covers, door stops, curtain rods and curtains, along with furnishings and flowers.

I had mailed to the cleaning women ahead of time a list of tasks we wanted completed and added that they should do anything else that would make the house look good. But everyone has different ideas of what constitutes clean, and I guess I didn’t convey what my standards are.

The women did well by accomplishing a number of time consuming and demanding jobs. The insides of the stove and refrigerator, for example, were spiffy. But the pebbly-pored surface of the refrigerator front looked dingy. And the old gas stove top needed attention; the raised chrome brand name and ridged vent covers at the back of the stove were dark with gunk.

Now I know that you have to look closely to see these things. I am also aware that my own refrigerator and stove at home don’t look too terrific, but I thought that these should look better than they did. And so I used a toothbrush, wooden toothpicks and cleaner on them, took the time to carefully wash the details, and they were greatly improved.

The washer and dryer too, while fairly new, were not pristine, not surprising since they are exposed to laundry soap and grit from clothes all the time. There was gray caught in that same sort of textured surface on the washer control panel and smudges on the white metal covers of both appliances. It didn’t take me long to make them clean enough that, I think, no eye would pause on them for long, exactly what I wanted to accomplish.

The kitchen counter tile had been washed, as well as the sink, but the back side of the sink faucet, the part that is hard to reach and scrub, was grungy. I used fine steel wool to polish it.

And although I am sure that the women had mopped the kitchen floor, there were spatters of paint and other spots on it. When the women were at my house they’d asked for a mop and I’d had to admit that I do not own one. I wash floors by hand because it’s much easier to see things up close, so that’s what I did at this house.

In fact, most of my time at the house was spent cleaning up paint spatters, some of them from the most recent painting and others left from past jobs. I really hate paint spatters on things, and I scraped, used steel wool and thumb nails to remove seemingly thousands of them from floors, metal windows, glass door knobs and heat registers. Goof-Off, a wonderful product that dissolves even very old latex paint, was a big help.

The cleaning crew had not remembered to bring a ladder so they did not take down and wash light fixture glass, and so I did that, replacing burned out light bulbs at the same time. The doorbell cover in the kitchen also needed to be washed of grease and paint. I didn’t know how to disconnect it so had to work on it in place. The stove pipe had however been removed by the painter and no one seemed to know how to connect it again. Anet washed it off and fiddled with it until it was back in place.

While the sanding dust from the floor refinishing on the main walls had been swept down, the women had not worked on the insides of closets. These needed dusting and, because all were not newly painted, black marks from metal hangers, shoes and the like had to be scrubbed off.

Also the stager noticed and mentioned to us that the painter hadn’t been able to remove all of the contact paper inside some of the kitchen cupboards. The part that remained was now painted and looked bad. Could we do something? After considering various remedies, Anet and I bought oilcloth and cut pieces to fit the bottoms of the cupboards, a most pleasing addition we thought.

While we worked, I kept thinking about how far some people who detail cars go with their task. Especially when a classic car will be shown in a concours de elegance, it is made really, really clean. Every single inch of these cars, including each engine part, is made absolutely spotless.

And I thought about a client we had once, a woman who was selling, who had the cleanest house we’ve ever seen. Her house was like those show cars. She really was obsessive about it; she cleaned her house every day. Her stove which was elderly, honestly looked brand new. Her carpets, the inside and outside window sills, closets and drawers, garage floor and porches were all immaculate. There was not a chip in any painted surface, nary a spot or crumb or smear – anywhere.

Remembering her made me wonder if maybe we could hire her to detail our listings, to do what we were doing in this house. But after thinking it over, I realized that our past client was just too maniacal. To get a house to her standards, she’d feel she had to work on it for weeks.

As it was, our listing looked really good. The stager did an exceptional job. The effect was spare and colorful, traditional, but with marvelous little visual surprises provided. The house received a most cordial reception and it sold quickly. How very satisfying this entire experience was.

This entry was posted in Seller Stories. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

  • Sign up to receive our newspaper columns: