It’s fine to just announce one day that you’re selling. It’s a whole other ball of wax to actually decide how much you want to sell your home for, if you’re going to sell by owner or by broker, when you should list the property, and how much you should do to the property before you list it.
A routine complaint I get from readers is that we real estate columnists make buying and selling a home look too easy.
“You interview people who go through this every day and they have all the answers. They make it sound easier than it is,” says Ms. Typical Reader, who has had her home listed for the past 180 days without a single offer. “Try walking a mile in my shoes.”
Recently, I have. After living in our Chicago co-op for the past five years, my husband, Sam, and I decided it was time to sell, take our hoped-for profits, and buy a house.
And as Ms. Reader pointed out, that’s easier said than done. It’s fine to just announce one day that you’re selling. It’s a whole other ball of wax to actually decide how much you want to sell your home for, if you’re going to sell by owner or by broker, when you should list the property, and how much you should do to the property before you list it.
And then you have to wait for that ubiquitous offer, negotiate it, resolve the contingencies, and actually close on the home.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Like most home sellers, our first step was to get the home in show-shape. While our home is generally neat and clean, shelves and tabletops were crammed with artfully-arranged knick-knacks and remembrances and framed photographs of our wedding or trips we’d taken.
Sometime in the last five years, our formal dining room made the transition to dining room/office, complete with two huge filing cabinets we attempted to cover up with a tablecloth.
Kitchen countertops were packed with everything from electrical equipment, platters and coffee makers to wine racks, plants and a small collection of half-opened bottles of wine and vinegar. Nearly every inch of wall space was crammed with paintings, covering up our neutral decorating and making the rooms look small.
So what did we do?
We thought about how a potential buyer would look at our home and what he or she would look at first. From the front doorway, if you look to the right, you can see out the east window onto Lincoln Park and Lake Michigan. Straight ahead is the dining room. We wanted these lines of sight to be clear and inviting.
To that end, we removed nearly all the collectibles and figurines from counters and tabletops, wrapped and boxed them for our future move. We gave away some of our larger plants, took two to Sam’s office and rearranged the rest so that they would appear unobtrusive.
We packed up books that weren’t needed, extra rugs and our rearranged our artwork to make each room look more spacious. We removed the filing cabinets from the dining room and added light fixtures. We re-organized kitchen cabinets to make room for infrequently-used equipment, like the blender.
In all, we packed up nearly 20 boxes, which we neatly stacked downstairs in our storage locker. In addition to clearing out the unit, we realized that packing those boxes ahead of time will help when we pack up the rest of the house. In a strange way, we also felt more free. The apartment looked and felt larger than it had in a long time. Packing also helped us prepare mentally for the arduous task of selling our home.
Some areas of our apartment needed a little bit of renovation. We walked through the home and looked critically at the walls. One archway had cracked, peeling paint. We sanded it down, primed and painted it. One small piece of the ceiling in my office had bubbled, and so we sanded that down, and repaired the plaster.
Some things we didn’t do. The rest of the paint was in good shape, and of a neutral color, so we didn’t repaint. We have oak floors in the unit, which could’ve used a professional cleaning. We decided no one would notice but us.
When we were finished, our apartment gleamed. It looked and felt more spacious than it had in years. Yet, some rooms, including our master bedroom, looked too empty. We went to a local discount bedding store and purchased a new comforter cover with matching pillows, shower curtain and towels. We also purchased new gear for our guest bedroom and bathroom.
With that purchase, the apartment was finally in selling shape, and ready to list.
As we move forward with the sale of our own co-op, I’ll occasionally write about the process, as we’ve been experiencing it. So far, we’ve learned to “expect the unexpected.” Perhaps Ms. Typical Reader will be reassured to learn there appears to be no typical house sale.
Jan. 28, 2005.
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