Their house looked so nice, they decided to stay #741

#741 in a series of true experiences in real estate

People who are thinking of selling almost always feel overwhelmed. Often they don’t know where to begin. Cleaning should be done, they know, and probably some painting, but what else? How far should they go to get the house ready?

They know there is no sense in hiring a painter yet because first they have to do something about years of accumulated belongings. They wonder what will they do with all that they’ve got stored and when they will find the time and energy to deal with it? Should they rent a storage space, maybe hire someone to help, rent a truck to move things to storage?

They think about whether they need to fix the little things they never got around to fixing — cracked glass, windows that don’t open, dripping faucets — and larger things like the caved-in garage roof, blackberries all over the yard, loose bricks at the top of the chimney. Biggest of all, should the kitchen be redone? What would it cost, they wonder, who would they hire to do the work, would they get their money back?

They need to know what the house will sell for and how long it might take to sell. If they will be buying another house when the present one is sold, there is another batch of questions. Where will we move to? At what point do we start looking for a new house? Will we be able to find and buy something that we want?

Tom and Mary, a couple in their sixties called us for help. For 35 years they’d enjoyed their big, old 3-story house where they raised their children and have been friends with their neighbors. But they noted, they are older now. Climbing the stairs will become harder, the house needs maintenance, and they’d like to live closer to their grandchildren.

“We have questions,” Mary said in our first meeting. “We need to know, for instance, if it makes sense for us to put a new roof on now or make it part of the sale negotiations. It has leaked in several spots, but it’s going to be an expensive job, and I really don’t want to have to deal with the construction noise and mess if I don’t have to.”

As we toured the house with Mary she pointed out a shower stall that leaks, some worn hardwood floors that she would like to have refinished, rot in window frames, old carpeting, and many others of her worries. “Can we sell as is? Would that make sense?”

Also, would they need to clean out the basement entirely? Put the cupboard doors back on the kitchen cabinets, lay linoleum over the soft wood floor? Tom was not there that day, so Mary passed along his questions. How much will the house sell for? When should they order a termite report? Do we know someone who could be hired to work on the windows?

There was a lot to tell, too much for one sitting. We said that the roof should be attended to before winter. We talked about termite reports and other pre-sale inspections. But most important of all, we said, is addressing the where and when of moving.

Over the next six months, we met with Mary and Tom at the house, talked to them on the phone and by email often. We surveyed the market and came up with an estimated price for the house, a price that might be adjusted as the house looks better and as the market changes.

They cleaned out the basement and hired a roofer, and they pruned and weeded the garden. Tom worked on the windows, carefully carved out dry rot and filled it, in hopes of keeping the termite bid down. Together we decided to have the kitchen painted but to otherwise leave the kitchen as it was. We planned for other repairs and for replacing the old carpet.

They spent Sundays looking at houses in the town where their son lives and this caused much concern. Prices are high. The house they now own is, by comparison, so much larger and better, they told us, than anything they saw to replace it. There’s no point in selling, they said, if they can’t buy what they want.

The floors were refinished in the entry, living and dining rooms, and they look marvelous. The clean, new surface seems to bring in more light and, because they had to pack away books and bric-a-brac before the floor people arrived, the rooms are appealingly spare. Mary likes this look a lot.

Things went along like this for a time, Mary and Tom getting their house ready while looking at houses on Sundays. They asked a number of times if their house has gone up in value. Then a neighbor said he has a friend who is interested in buying the house and there is a flurry of talk around the subject. How to proceed? What price? Would they have to do the termite work? When would they have to move out? They wanted to know all of these things.

The idea of selling without having to show the house to a number of people was very appealing, but they wondered if they will have to sell for less? Is it a given that they’d get more on the open market? As we are all considering the answers, the buyer decides that the house is not right for him.

As it happened, Tom and Mary found that they didn’t want to sell. Mary called one weekend to say they’d seen a house located close to their son. It was big enough and was surprisingly affordable. But they were sure there would be several offers and they’d have to pay more than asking. She said they just couldn’t stand the thought of competing for a house and maybe losing.

Besides, their house was looking so nice, they’ve decided to stay.

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