Most houses aren’t perfect, but don’t second guess future buyers’ preferences

#581 in a series of true experiences in real estate
March 2009, Hills Newspapers

About twenty years ago my then-husband and I bought an ugly ranchy-sort of house in Montclair. It looked pretty much like a lot of other houses of the era – big chunk of driveway concrete and double garage door with everything else – living and the garden – up two levels of stairs.

We did not buy the house because we liked it but because our children were young and already going to school nearby, and because we could afford it. We determined to do things to the house to make us like it, and in many ways we did. I’m still here and probably always will be. My garden is large and fun and pretty, we feed the finches and love seeing them, the house is comfortable and mostly, attractive.

No finished floors were laid here during original construction, only rough sub-floors covered with carpet or linoleum. Over the years I’ve had wood laid over living, dining and kitchen, beautiful old fir planks and new, narrower beech.

Two bedrooms still have carpet and in the third, most recently my daughter Annie’s room, we removed the cherry-red shag carpet, looked at the 4 x 8 foot plywood sheets underneath, decided they’d be fine painted, and they are. Light gray industrial grade paint looks ok.

The long bedroom wing hall floor had linoleum tiles on it when I arrived, black and white in a checkerboard layout. Bad, really bad. I couldn’t stand them but it was going to be expensive to lay wood, plus during installation, we’d have to stay out of that part of the house for a couple of weeks, impossible at the time.

And I was still trying to decide whether to keep or change the skimpy trim and baseboards, a decision best made before a new floor was installed. So I had the tiles taken up and sheet vinyl laid, light blue, very plain vinyl. Hard to find, by the way; it doesn’t look like fake rocks or bricks or cobblestones, it’s just vinyl.

I was looking at that floor the other day thinking that it still looks ok to me, which is pretty surprising, because who would want vinyl flooring in the bedroom wing hall? I started wondering what I’d do about it if I were planning to sell my house?

For that matter, what overall changes would I consider making if I were selling? The house has many flaws, like most houses do. The bathrooms for instance have not had any updating. Redoing tile or sinks, tubs, showers would be huge. I thought I’d do some of that one day but when contemplating the number of decisions that would be needed, plus the money and upheaval, I never did anything to the baths except paint and change the shower doors.

Some windows in my house are all-wrong aluminum sliders, something else I’ve intended to fix but haven’t yet. Wood windows could be made to replace the metal and to match other, better windows in the house.

My kitchen storage units are a bit of a mish-mash. The best ones are recycled from a hospital lab, the uppers glass-fronted, all unpainted and all deep with wide doors and old brass latches, some with key locks. Others could best be described as uninteresting. They’re original-to-the-house painted cupboards. I have one pretty, free-standing china cabinet and one – the worst — gray metal shelving unit from Home Depot meant of course to be temporary.

This metal one holds much: the microwave, pans and lids, spices, olive oil, syrup, soy sauce. It’s crucial but it looks tinny and it stands in an odd-sized space next to the refrigerator which means whatever replaces it will have to be custom built.

My dining room is now an office, wall-to-wall. There is a nice round oak table in the center but around the edges — precluding the use of the table for dining — are copier, fax, computer, files and phones. This is convenient for us but not what would be seen as well presented for show.

It goes on and on. Too many knickknacks. Too few window coverings. No doors covering the laundry in the bedroom hall. Just like almost all of our seller clients, not to mention just about everyone else we know, I have a house that is comfy and nice to live in but I’ve brought too much into it and I’ve stopped seeing it as I once might have.

Also, while it was the case years ago that I had my steam up for changing and improving structure, function and visuals of my home, I’ve gotten stuck in the garden and may never get back to the house. It’s ok because I don’t think I’ll be selling my house. But if I were, I’d tell myself what Anet and I tell our clients.

First, find where you are going, a new place to live. If it is possible, take all of your belongings with you and begin living in your new home. Making the house that is to be sold empty will ease all that follows. Once it is empty, you can see more clearly. Workmen can be there at any hour without interrupting you. Buyers can see the house as their own. Get inspections, make repairs, make changes that carry the most visual punch, and clean, clean, clean.

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