Repair list grows as house empties

Touching up a house: Is it love or war?
#562 in a series of true experiences in real estate
September 2008, Hills Newspapers

War stories.

No, actually, they’re love stories.

I was scraping old paint off glass bricks, triple rows of faceted glass on either side of the front door. I found it a tedious task but quite satisfying. The razor blade in my hand worked pretty well but I had to change the angle of my blade hundreds of times to get the paint off the irregularly shaped surface.

We were only a day away from showing the house to agents and buyers. Stray threads had been clipped from the edges of the new carpeting, closets and cupboards washed and dusted, light switch plates replaced with gleaming new ones.

The showers were washed and wiped down, chrome towel bars polished, light fixture glass removed, washed and put back up.

The white vinyl-covered window frames had looked dingy so, before the window washers arrived, each track was vacuumed out, then the frames were washed and wiped down.

Fifty little paint touch-ups, probably twice that number of old paint drips removed from floors and door hardware, new doorstops installed, mirrors shined.

Refrigerators spotless, closet doors planed so they swing freely, contact paper and left-behind stickiness removed, and dozens of small repairs made.

“Could we do this at home?” I dreamed along as I worked. What would we have to do to make every detail at home look this good? First, we’d have to move out. I don’t think it would be possible to clean to this extent in an occupied house.

In this house, for example, many areas haven’t been cleared for over 50 years. On the top shelf of the linen closet lay dusty boxes of Kodak slides, and in the far reaches of the kitchen drawers, old soda straws and stray toothpicks; the garage, not unexpectedly, was packed to the ceiling.

It’s unlikely that the residents would have gone to the trouble of removing everything just to clean thoroughly. It wouldn’t be necessary anyway. As long as people are living in a house, while their belongings are everywhere inside, many surfaces are covered up, drips and dust unseen.

It’s when a house is emptied that close-up scrutiny is possible. This is when the tiniest details — light switches and plugs, sink stoppers, window hardware, and on and on — jump to the fore.

It isn’t always necessary, but the three houses we’re getting ready for sale now will all have floor refinishing done, painting, small repairs and replacements. In one, the termite work was completed. No termites, but eliminating dry rot meant a new kitchen sink counter and cabinet, back stairs, bath and laundry room floors.

Plus, in all three houses, cleaning, window washing, curtains, gardening and staging.

Scheduling the work, arranging work in a sensible order so that the electrician can turn off the electricity but not on a day the floor people are sanding, is challenging. For the last six weeks, we’ve spent many an hour lining up workmen, making sure they have access and materials, going to the houses to check progress and, inevitably, making changes and adjustments.

Each and every single time we go to the houses, I see something new that needs attention. Sometimes it’s just another paint splatter or grime that can easily be washed away. Other times, we encounter something more dire.

The second refrigerator in the kitchen was recycled through the state program. We arrive not long after it’s been carted away. Apparently the movers thought they’d turned off the ice maker water. They’ve left the water tubing end in a vegetable bin. But whoops, water is now overflowing onto the floor and spreading fast.

Anet locates the water line tie-in under the house and turns the spigot. But water continues to run. We dump out the bin, position tubing in a larger container, and go to the hardware store. Anet explains the situation and purchases some sort of screw-on fitting.

Back at the house, she puts on the fitting, but water continues to flow freely. We call our repair person but he can’t get there until the next morning, so we use electrical tape around the fitting, kink the tubing and tape it, then secure it inside a 32-gallon garbage can we find in the garden.

The day before the floor refinishers were to arrive, Anet and I take down the floor-length living and dining room drapes, fold them with the lining out, carefully transport them to the car (they’re heavy) and bring them home. The drapes are in good shape, creamy white and classy, and we will rehang them later. But meanwhile, we realized, they’re getting wrinkled.

Anet suggests that we pleat and tie them, lay them safely undisturbed. We put down clean sheets on my recreation room floor and work on one panel at a time. Kneeling on the floor, with Anet at the pleated top and me at the hem, we try to be precise about our pleating before tying each bulky bundle in several places with strips of cloth.

We wash off the exteriors of the clothes washer and dryer and look inside. Find grit and fuzz in the washer so turn on to rinse it. Water all over floor. Quickly shut the water off. A search shows a hole in the hose. Mop up water, call Shaun.

That night, although we already know the answer, Anet and I ask each other why we do it? We do it because it matters. Because we want the best for our sellers and for the buyers. Because we are compulsive. And because, as my mother would say, things should be done right.

Kitchen cabinet handles are needed, 34 of them, matching. We find silver-colored, brushed metal pulls, the right size, at Target. Perfect, but only 9 available at the first store. We get into it, go to 5 Targets in a row, manage to buy 30. Sahdu, our trusty stager, goes to a sixth Target and finds four more.

Building inspector going to be there to look at termite repairs in next couple of days. Have to have smoke detectors up and operational. Anet takes step ladder and her DeWalt.

Wood floors upstairs are being refinished. Can’t walk on them. But that’s OK because we can still get into the kitchen by the back door, then use the garage door opener we’ve left there to enter the lower floor through the garage.

But on this day, in late afternoon when Anet and I look for the opener, it isn’t there. We call the painters and are told that the opener isn’t working. In fact, the last guy had to leave via a freshly painted window.

We’re tired and want to go home. But we have to solve this problem. We use the front door. Fortunately, floors haven’t been coated yet. We gingerly walk across them, find the opener near the window used by the exiting painter and check to see what’s going on.

“Electrical problem,” Anet says, and she goes to find it. Blown fuse, a particular type: 20 amp, small base. Oh miracle of miracles, in Anet’s car trunk, in a plastic baggy of assorted fuses, she finds exactly the right one.

Add to shopping list, new doorbell button and blank cover for old kitchen clock plug. Get trust for title company. Add to disclosure, crack in fireplace brick. Make sign for gate. Line drawers? Oil bathroom fan motor and re-caulk upper edge of shower. Front door deadbolt sticks.

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