There are many advantages to prepping & marketing a vacant house #718

#718 in a series of true experiences in real estate

One of my earliest memories is walking with my mother and her next door neighbor 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, about a year older than me, came too. They’d brought a little 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 to making our new house clean and shiny. Her friend was happy that we were buying our own house and glad to help. This is a very cozy memory for me.

We walked for some time it seemed to me before using a key to open the front door. Roberta and I ran from one room to another. We opened closets, jumped inside, closed the doors, ran out. Our mothers wrapped up their hair 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 – and I think my mom washed some windows during lunch, too.

I remembered this day, with quite a lot of pleasure, as I was thinking about making a vacant house checklist.

Remember to take toilet paper, paper towels, brown paper garbage bags. Check condition of toilet seats. Try doorbell and gate latches.

Probably my mom had brought along a dust mop with her. I know she was partial to their use. But I prefer a broom and I make sure to take a good one, and a dustpan and brush. Always, on the first day, we have paper and pen, scissors, single-edge razor blades, screwdriver, blue tape and a few cleaning supplies.

The notepad and pen are handy for writing down measurements, the number of cupboard handles, light bulb base and wattage, doorstops and sink baskets needed. And we leave notes for others – “Careful when you go in basement, steps need repair”. “Please reattach the gate latch; put in new furnace filter and smoke detectors.” We also make notes that will be included in disclosures – “Cracks in the front walkway cement; one light switch operates nothing.”

Garden shears and weeder and a weed bucket. Often cleaners, painters and floor people, carpenters and furnace installer will be working at the house and we will be there ourselves to see what’s going on. I can’t seem to be in or around a house without having to wash black marks off a doorway, or – here’s a favorite – I see tiny paint blobs on a floor or the bath tile and I’ve just got to get them off.

Or, we’re talking to an inspector or contractor out on the back porch about outdoor lighting and I see yellow oxalis weeds amongst the geraniums and I’ve got to get them out.

Frequently, it takes sellers longer to move completely out than they anticipated. As the layers go, as closets and garage are emptied, inevitably we discover new things that need repair or replacement or should be included in disclosures. We’ve discovered, often at the last minute, missing window hardware that had been hidden behind curtains, cracked window glass, cat box damage. Once we found a squirrel nest in a dryer vent.

I wonder how much of my first house experience I am still recreating as we work on our listings. There is something about a vacant house that inspires mothering. A naked house draws us in and invites us to see every corner. We want to provide more than any good spring cleaning could. We can wash and wax and recover and mend, and we do.

There are many advantages to both prepping and marketing a vacant house. Simply identifying what is right and wrong is tremendously easier when there is nothing inside. Also, we can send workmen directly without having to meet them. We, and they, and, later, buyers’ agents too can go to the house without an appointment and at any odd hour.

No time has to be taken to cover and care for belongings during painting and cleaning. Work goes faster. Floor work requires that nothing is on them. Almost every time, houses with no one living in them cost less to make look good and, it seems, they sell for more.

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