Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I Put My House on the Market. Three months ago. I'm Exhausted.

Ok, full disclosure: I started this post back in September when I had just listed our house for sale. I was wide awake early one morning and jittery (probably from the stout pot of coffee I brewed) and so I attempted to tap out a post about my experiences selling our home. It was really rambling and disjointed, so I never published it. Here is the condensed version, mostly for Steve and me to remember the experience. Maybe you've bought or sold a home and have some of your own experiences to share? I'd love to read about it.

Selling one's home can't usually be done on a whim. Much preparation is required. First, I interview my Realtor. There are so many options when choosing a real estate agent. How was I to proceed? Basically, I selected one of the largest Realty companies in the city and scanned the agent directory until I found the agent with the most professional headshot (not the Glamour Shot where the agent is pretending to talk on her phone. "Get it? I'm so committed to you, the client, I'll take your call any time. And I mean any time.") An impressive website was the real clincher. You know whose website didn't impress me? The agent whose mission statement highlighted her goals for the year 2002. So...how did 2002 work out for you? This website doesn't bode well for your attention to detail and your demonstrated ability to follow up. Also, I automatically eliminated agents whose email addresses contained their birthday, zodiac sign, or favorite hobbies. I'm sorry, if I had to give up "sassiestgirluknow@hotmail.com" when I graduated college and entered the work force, you have to grow up and get an email that legitimizes your profession. It's only fair. That is, if you expect me to entrust you with the sale of my most valuable asset. There are so many real estate agents out there, and I just don't feel comfortable emailing my agent at "luvs_2_dance@yourmomshouse.com." I need to feel like selling real estate is your top priority, not some side gig you use to pay the bills until your acting career takes off.

But I digress. I reasoned that the Realtor who best markets herself would likely best market my home.  I don't have the wherewithal for this to be a long and drawn out process. I have set a goal of being in my new home by Christmas, an ambitious but not unrealistic goal. I need a winner working for me to get this house sold, and my listing agent is a damn champ! Once she tours my home and begins pointing out the areas where potential buyers might find objections, I get to work with the help of a handy man. The hot pink laundry room is one, which I accept even though I love my hot pink laundry room.
The other major change was the carpet in the master bath. Yeah, you read that correctly. Until two weeks ago, my master bathroom was carpeted.  Let me just say that a carpeted bathroom is one of the worst ideas ever, right up there with the classic children's toy "Bag O' Glass".
Next, the handy man comes to make the requested improvements. Handy man is polite and courteous, but not what I would consider friendly; despite my attempts at friendly banter, his demeanor is very flat. This sorta bums me out. Why do I feel like I have to make friends with everyone I meet? I don't know, but the man caulked my tub, which is more than I can say for any of my friends. He may lack charisma, but damn it if he isn't handy.

After my home has been improved, I have thoroughly cleaned out all my cabinets and closets so that my home appears spacious, and I have packed up all my tchotchkes (yeah, that's the correct spelling of "chotchkies", and thanks to me, you just learned something new today. You're welcome) and other personal items that make the house look like someone actually lives here, a professional stager hired by my Realtor comes in to rearrange furniture and add decorative elements that at the same time make the house look more furnished and less lived in. I thought I knew what staging was about, but I had no idea. For instance, she removed my fluffy, expensive white Restoration Hardware towels from my double towel bar, replaced it with some paper-thin brown towel and tied a tulle bow around it. Additionally, she placed a basket filled with about a dozen wash cloths on my counter, and placed some sort of "decorative accessory" resembling a sheaf of wheat and a sign that says "Relax" on the seat of my garden tub. (Side note: Telling Steve that "Frankie says..." and pointing at the bathtub sign never stopped being funny to me). So...my bathroom has never had more towels, but I'm not allowed to touch any of them. And the sheaf of wheat and the sign instructing me to "Relax" makes me do the opposite. Ok, I think I get it now. You want to fill the house with generic decorations to make the house look full, but you want it to be impersonal enough so that the buyer can visualize themselves in the house and not think about the fact that anyone has ever bathed in that bathtub. Basically I'm living in a model home. I feel like Michael Bluth.
Welcome to Sudden Valley!

Then she goes to my guest room, and her singular improvement is to turn down one corner of the bed. Wait, I'm confused--I thought the house was supposed to look like nobody lives here. Doesn't the turned down bed imply that someone may sleep here later? Unless we're showing this house to Goldilocks, this seems counterintuitive. I still have so much to learn.

After a whirlwind week of preparation, the house goes on the market. I had no idea how strange this would feel. Why? Let me count the ways:

1. There are photos of my house on the internet. Photos of every room of my house. There is a virtual tour online. Thousands of strangers can see where I sleep. I realize that isn't the same as thousands of strangers watching me sleep, but it's still unnerving on some level.

2. Strangers will tour my home outside my presence, make judgments and comment on whether they like or dislike my home, and I will receive feedback. I've been judged before; I competed in a couple beauty pageants scholarship programs and I went through sorority rush, and I know I was sized up and discussed, but I never had to hear about it later. I suddenly feel vulnerable. This is my home. I am a stay-at-home mom primarily responsible for the decoration and maintenance of this place. I know I'm not supposed to take this criticism personally, but if people dislike my home--it isn't pretty enough or sparkly enough--how is that not a reflection on me? If this house doesn't sell, I'll feel like a failure.

3. Preparing for a showing is not unlike Mission: Impossible. Robinson and I are enjoying our Saturday morning in the living room when a message appears on my phone:


It's like saying, "A stranger wants to snoop through your house, and possibly buy it from you. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to clean up this mess, make your house look like nobody lives in it, pack up your kid and your dogs and haul ass out of here. You have one hour. This message will self-destruct in 60 seconds"

It is then I begin running around the house, like Jane and Michael Banks tidying up the nursery:

A key element in successfully selling one's home is to create an atmosphere where the buyer can visualize herself and her belongings in her future home. Part of that requires that the Potential Future Lady of the House never sees the Current Lady of the House. Buyer walks in the front door, seller walks out the back door, and never the two shall meet. I did have a couple of close calls where I was attempting to make a to-go cup for Robinson, and once where I was backing out of the driveway and remembered that I left my engagement ring inside. I stopped the garage door, ran in the house, heard the Realtor's voice calling "Hello?" from the front door, frantically darted into my bedroom, retrieved my diamonds and hauled ass to the nearest exit, breathless and with my heart racing. I had no idea that breaking in and out of your own house could be so suspenseful! I later told Amy, "I am my own cat burglar". It's a weird feeling, being a grown woman and sneaking in and out of my own house.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Next 30 Years

Hey, guess what? I turned 30 on Tuesday! I know, I didn't make a huge deal about it. No big "Birthday" post this year. It got me to thinking about my friends who make huge deals about their birthdays. You know the types, they begin discussing it in detail for several weeks leading up to the birthday, that way nobody can have an excuse for forgetting. They will often declare that their birthday isn't simply one day, that they celebrate a birthweek or even a birthmonth. For these friends, a sheet cake and a card are never sufficient. At the minimum, there is a party, but ideally there would be an entire vacation.

I have never been one of these people, and this is partly because of when my birthday occurs. Being born in a month like October, I cannot plunge a flag into the calendar and call the entire month mine. I can't change the name to "Samtober". It's not mine to take. October belongs to Autumn leaves, and football season, and Pumpkin Spice lattes, and Halloween, and Oktoberfest, and pumpkin patches and Columbus Day. If all of my family and friends can manage to stop whatever they're busy doing to call me/text me/Facebook me within the 24-hours of my actual birthday, I consider it a Happy Birthday. There is no big 30th bash for me. My birthday is on a Tuesday. My husband left for a week-long business trip that happens every year at this time. And I have a toddler who is with me constantly. (No, I still haven't hired a babysitter. I have control issues.)

Ok, so everybody makes a big deal about turning 30. It's a milestone birthday, and milestone birthdays are a time for self-reflection and goal setting. Well, let me clarify: milestone birthdays can be for self-reflection and goal setting, but I'd say that 30 is probably the first milestone birthday for this. The previous milestone birthdays are associated with other things:

1: cake
13: insert chosen "teenage" privileges here (makeup, phones, whatever)
16: driving
18: voting and legal adulthood
21: drinking

And...then you're 30. Turning 30 means joining a new club, a new demographic, taking on a new identity. You're a "thirtysomething". It also means that your membership in the twentysomething club is abruptly revoked, and that a major part of your identity--the age group to which you belong--is gone. Think about it, advertisers trying to win my business will market to me differently now. True story.

How does it feel to turn 30? Well, imagine you've never been to...Italy. You've heard about it. You've studied it in school. You've seen photos and movies set in Italy. Your friends have been there. You have an idea of what it would be like to visit, and you've thought about it. You've just never experienced Italy. So, one day, you fly to Italy. You step off the plane, take a look around, and--much to your surprise--discover that Italy looks a lot like Austin, Texas. You've been to Austin, and you love it. Italy is remarkably similar. It isn't mysterious or unknown. It's a lot more familiar than you expected. Now, this is just an analogy of course. I really haven't been to Italy and I'm not trying to say that it in any way resembles Austin. But, what I am attempting to illustrate, however poorly, is that turning 30 is like a long-awaited voyage to a far away land that feels surprisingly comfortable. Unlike, say, a trip to the moon, which is how some people act when talking about a looming milestone birthday. 

Of course, there are other issues to face when turning 30, because this is the first milestone birthday where people begin to think about things like aging and mortality, and let's be serious--that can be sort of a bummer. I have a friend who turned 50 a few years ago. He's a darling man. Imagine if Rock Hudson had collagen lip injections...
He explained to me that milestone birthdays in and of themselves typically aren't a reason to get the blues. It's when you reach a milestone birthday while at the same time feeling unhappy or dissatisfied with your station in life that a person gets a case of the sads. If, for instance, you are in a co-dependent relationship with an emotionally unavailable commitment-phobe, or that temp position you took as a receptionist right out of college has turned into your job for the past five years, or you're living in your parents' basement, a milestone birthday can shake you to the core. It can send you down a shame spiral, or it can be a catalyst to make you stop being complacent and start a fresh new chapter. Maybe take that trip you planned to take "someday" or take a risk you've been putting off out of fear. 
So, I've made it to 30. I have a happy family and I enjoy my life, but now what? What does "thirtysomething Samantha" want to do? I've got a few ideas:

1. I want to be a jogger. Why? Because honest-to-goodness "joggers" are physically fit pretty much 100% of the time, and jogging is free. Seems like a logical decision to maintain my overall wellness. Full disclosure: I have never run voluntarily unless I was earning college credit. Seriously, I took a class in college called "Jogging". I made an "A". For the Final, I think I ran a 15-minute mile or something equally ridiculous. To help me ease into running I am attempting the Couch-to-5k program. So far, I have run exactly once. Stay tuned.

2. I want to participate in something that isn't all about me. Perhaps something in my future neighborhood, some sort of charity work. I didn't even want to talk about it here, because I don't want to sound like some sort of do-gooder announcing "Look how charitable I am. Aren't I a great person?", but it's something I'm thinking about. I haven't really thought this through completely, but I figure there is more to life than online shopping and Pinterest and attempting to jog, so I'm gonna check it out and get back to you. Also, it would be nice to meet other grown-ups. At this point I spend most of my days jibber-jabbering with Robinson in some made up language that only he can understand. I may be losing my grip on reality.

3. I am decorating my new house in neutral colors. I know, shocking. The kaleidoscope color scheme that appeared in my current home will not be repeated. It's time to live in a grown-up house, and my grown-up house should have grown-up things, such as...
4. A wine refrigerator. I think my new house should have a wine refrigerator, and other accoutrements that say, "I'm a sophisticated, grown-up lady". I don't know why the wine fridge speaks to me on this level. I think it says, "I am an adult, so I drink wine, and I am successful, so I have enough money to purchase a wine fridge along with several bottles of wine at one time to necessitate a wine fridge, and I'm sophisticated enough to care about serving my wine at the proper temperature".  I've given this some thought. Help me out, what other items or possessions make up the trappings of sophisticated adulthood?

5. I want to be the friend who remembers birthdays early enough to send out a birthday card. In the actual mail. For some reason, that sort of thoughtful attention to detail says "I'm a grown-up" What other habits or behaviors should I adopt now that I'm the big 3-0?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Your Handy House Hunting Translator

"Be vewy quiet, I'm hunting for a three bedroom, two bathroom with walk-in closets!"

House hunting and preparing to list our house for sale has introduced me to a whole host of buzz words commonly used in real estate that I rarely have the opportunity to use in any other area of my life. Oh, and these words are almost always used in the first line of a real estate listing. For the uninitiated, here is a rundown of my personal favorite Real Estate terms:

Sparkling: Previously only used to describe Edward Cullen's skin and my personality, sparkling is *the* word that needs to best describe your home, specifically your home's surfaces like counter tops and floors. I have spent hours viewing homes that "really sparkle". Sidenote: I now use the word "sparkle" on a daily basis, and I am incapable of saying "sparkle" without incorporating an enthusiastic set of "jazz hands". I just need you to know this.

Delight: An ideal kitchen is characterized as a "chef's delight". This typically means that there is ample counter space, a sizeable oven, and there are often upgrades such as granite counters, stainless appliances and a gas stove (my personal favorite feature). When viewing photos of a "chef's delight kitchen", I immediately picture the Cinnamon Toast Crunch chefs running around the kitchen, jubilantly preparing Cinnamon Toast. Sometimes the Pillsbury Dough Boy and Chef Boyardee are there too. All are delighted, of course.

Oversized: An oversized mortgage is bad, but an oversized breakfast nook? Delightful. Especially if it sparkles.

Boast: In her song "Gossip Folks", Missy Elliott proudly announces, "I don't brag, I mostly boast". Your mama told you not to be boastful, but when it comes to your real estate, boast away. Your kitchen can boast granite counter tops, your entry can boast hardwood floors, your bathroom can boast a jetted tub. But if you buy this house, you shouldn't boast to your friends. It's tacky.

Delightful/Cute/Adorable/Charming: These words are selected when characterizing a lovely home under 2000 square feet. They're trying to accentuate the positive. Kind of like when a plus-size dress is described as "flattering".

Completely updated: "You should have seen what a train wreck this place used to be! It's all good though; we fixed it up real nice for ya."

Immaculate: If a house is described as "immaculate", its owners have gone to great lengths to make sure you can find no fault with this home. Not a speck of dust or so much as a burned out light bulb, a perfectly manicured lawn and carefully staged interior. They're basically killing themselves to please you, so you better recognize!

Move-in Ready: The entire house is beige.

Great Value: This means a low price per square foot. They don't price houses this way out of charity. There is something undesirable about this house, and the seller hopes an enticing price will help you to overlook the home's shortcomings. There is probably a neon orange stain on the carpet or the deck is about to cave in on itself. But at this price, you can almost visualize your dream home, yes? Used interchangeably with "great potential", "opportunity to make it your own", "UNBELIEVABLE price for this area!"

Exceptional: Ok, you know what "exceptional" means, but let me just say: I have yet to tour a home described as "exceptional" that was exceptional. I found them all quite ordinary. Charming? Maybe. Exceptional? Not so much.

Impressive: This word gets tossed around left and right. In my quest for a new home, I've learned that one of my top priorities needs to be to impress my friends. They need to walk away from my new house feeling like chumps for having to live in their dinky shacks [shakes head "No".] One salesman pointed out the brick pattern of the ceramic tile in the secondary bathroom shower as a unique feature that my friends likely haven't seen, which will therefore leave them impressed. If my ceramic tile impresses my friends...I need new friends.

Desirable: The home may be in a desirable school district, on a desirable street, or on a desirable, oversized lot. Most importantly, it will impress your friends. Used interchangeably with "highly sought after"

A Must-See: It doesn't photograph that well, but it's a cute house. I promise! It's exceptional, don't miss this opportunity to make this house your dream home!

Backyard Oasis: There is a swimming pool and/or landscaping.

And, finally, no good real estate listing is complete without an ENTHUSIASTIC use of capital letters and LOTS! of EXCLAMATION POINTS! For added EMPHASIS!