Making some lists, checking them twice

#512 in a series of true experiences in real estate
May 2006, Hills Newspapers

One of my earliest memories is walking alongside my mother and her friend Kippy a few blocks from the house we were renting to the house we had bought and were going to move to. I was about 3; Kippy’s daughter Roberta who was about a year older than I came too.

My mother led a metal red wagon with a long black tongue and handle. Inside were supplies for our trip. A cloth for having a picnic on the floor, and sandwiches, and a thermos of milk. Floor wax in a round tin and clean rags for waxing the oak floors.

My mother was looking forward I think to making our new house clean and shiny. Her friend was happy that we were buying our own house and was I’m sure glad to help in the preparations. This is a very cozy memory for me.

We walked for some time before using a key to open the front door. Roberta and I ran from one empty room to another. We opened closets, jumped inside, closed the doors, ran out again. Our mothers put their hair up turban-mammy style and waxed the floors on their hands and knees while we explored the backyard. We had lunch on the back bedroom floor – I loved that – a room with 3 windows looking out to the yard. I think my mom washed some windows during lunch.

I remembered this day with quite a lot of pleasure as I was thinking about making a vacant-house checklist for Anet and me to use for our listings. We’ve listed four vacant houses in a row recently and many of the same things have come up with each, some of which were overlooked until time was running out.

First wave: Take paper towels, toilet paper, brown paper bags for throw-aways. Check condition of toilet seats. Try doorbell. Look at gate latches.

Remember note paper and pencils. We and our workmen will need these. Soon we will bring, too, scissors, single-edge razor blades, screwdriver, other tools for specific tasks. I always have with me in the car, garden shears and a weeder and a few cleaning supplies.

There is something about a vacant and naked house that I find compelling. Maybe because I can see its secrets. Almost always, I want to mother it, clean it up and make it warm, then dress it, comb its hair.

There are advantages to moving out of a house before selling it. For one, moving away helps the letting-go process, and this can be painful and lengthy. And too, workmen can go without an appointment, at odd times of the day and night, without disturbing anyone. Problems are more easily seen so they can be fixed, disclosed, or – and sometimes this works – embraced and cited as advantages.

We will be at the house often to see how painters and floor people, carpenter and furnace people are doing. And we want to allow time to ourselves to discover the feeling in the house. Who walks on the streets, which rooms get morning sun, is the sound of a toilet flushing apparent downstairs?

I can’t seem to be in or around a house without having to wash black marks off doorways or – here’s a favorite – I see tiny paint blobs on a floor or on the bath tile and I’ve just got to get them off. Or, we’re talking to our contractor about outdoor lighting out on the back porch when I spy yellow oxalis weeds amongst the geraniums and while still talking, I’m ripping the oxalis out, carrying it around it my hands.

The notepad and pen are handy for recording curtain and rod measurements, the number of cupboard handles we’ll need, the different watts, base & style of light bulbs.

Also, cautionary notes for anyone coming to the house. “Careful when you go in the basement. Last step is loose.”

We write down questions to ask our sellers and items that will be included in disclosures. Are there keys to both back doors? The front walkway cement is cracked and one light switch in the dining room operates nothing.

Frequently it takes sellers longer than they anticipated to empty out the house. As the layers go, as closets and garage are emptied, inevitably we discover new things that need repair or replacement or should be mentioned in the disclosures. We’ve discovered at the last minute missing window hardware and cracked glass (they had been hidden behind curtains), a squirrel nest (in a dryer vent), electrical boxes without covers (behind stored boxes), cat box damage (under newspapers).

Later phase checklists: Wash outsides of washer and dryer; get rid of rust rings in sink; oil on cutting board; hand soap in kitchen; baking soda for refrigerator.

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