Milk and cookies at Grandma’s house

#426 in a series of true experiences in real estate
May 2003, Hills Newspapers

Everyone loved “Grandma”

We just put a grandma house on the market. It’s so cute. Two stories, good big bedrooms upstairs and a bath, unusually nice living room with what I call a Leave It to Beaver fireplace and mantel, and an older kitchen with built-in breakfast booth.

From the first, we called it a grandma house, partly because it had been owned by an older woman for forty years until she died last summer, and partly because the decor was outdated and “grandma looking”.

Throughout, the walls were wallpapered, the stairwell in a small patterned dark red, the others painted over, mostly in brown. Tweedy brown and black flecked carpeting covered wood floors in the public rooms, and on the windows hung both blinds and heavy cotton curtains.

Our client is a bank trust department acting on behalf of the heirs, and as banks typically insist that the houses they handle be sold just as they are, we asked gingerly if it was possible to make some changes to the house before it was put on the market. Surprisingly, and to our delight, the answer in this case was yes, and so we drew up a plan: Remove and discard carpeting and window coverings, thoroughly clean the surfaces, wash the windows, too, then hire a stager to do some light staging.

But first, we had inspections done, and we found (this was unexpected) that the house needed quite a few repairs, unfortunately including a new foundation. All the more reason, we felt, and the bank agreed, to make the house look its best.

What a difference these ministrations made. Over a two week period, the house was considerably lightened. The carpeting went away and sheer, clean white to-the-floor curtains were hung. Quite suddenly (a wonderful shock), the brown walls looked current and rather terrific.

Sahdu Mannell, the talented stager, brought in a golden Chinese rug for the living room and placed on it lightweight rattan and wood furniture, well upholstered. She arranged large blowsy flower bouquets for fireplace mantel and tables. She hung pictures and mirrors on the walls. A soft-toned Oriental rug was laid in the dining room with French country look table and chairs.

I loved the look, loved being in the wonderfully awakened rooms where numerous happy touches caught my eye: Silk lampshades, painted metal trays, a multi-colored rag rug for the kitchen and a bowl of brightly colored pot scrubbers on the sink counter.

The stager even worked on the yard. She arranged wooden garden furniture pleasingly, brought in a pedestal bird bath and, on the whirligig clothesline, pinned half a dozen bright dishtowels – a brilliant touch, I thought.

“Grandma wants a new dress – and underpinnings” said our advertising flyer on which we used a photo of the house exterior and a photo of an appealing grandma (my own great-grandmother), along with a floor plan and description of Grandma’s “ills.”

All three of us, Anet and I and Sahdu, were increasingly smitten with this house. We often talked about its former occupant, wished we had known her, hoped aloud that we were changing her home in ways she would have enjoyed.

Then, one fine day, Anet had an idea. “Milk and cookies,” she said. “We should serve milk and cookies to agents at our open house because that’s, of course, what grandma would offer visitors.”

And so, we taste tested a number of store-bought cookies, rejecting them all, and I volunteered to bake homemade oatmeal cookies.

The first batch went ok except that the stiff dough was very hard to mix. My small electric mixer just wasn’t up to the task, and I decided it was a perfect time to buy a long wanted larger mixing machine. Boy, those Kitchen Aid people really know what they’re doing. I put all the ingredients for a double recipe in the large bowl, turned it on for what seemed like only seconds, and it was done, mixed and ready to drop by teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets.

We bought half pint cartons of milk, exactly like the ones we used to buy in the school cafeteria (in my day) for five cents. (Agent friends, younger than I, remember paying ten cents and twenty-five cents. One said cafeteria milk came in tiny bottles in the Midwest where she grew up, but Anet’s from Illinois and she never saw tiny bottles.)

Two trays of sandwiches, some of the milk, and all 20 dozen cookies were consumed by agents and neighbors that day. And everyone loved Grandma.

There were ten offers to buy her. The sprucing up we did was a good investment in her future. Best of all, Grandma’s new owners should benefit as well.

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