Carman: Don’t touch that towel and other rules for selling your house while the world is in chaos
Downsizing seemed like a great idea until I actually had to confront decades of treasures and other belongings to stage and sell my house.
In a fit of I don’t know what, we decided to sell our house this spring after nearly 23 years of tucking away clothing that might come in handy if I’m ever reincarnated as the person I was two decades ago, and collecting random gardening tools, sprinkler parts and old holiday cards that just seemed too cute to drop into the recycle bin.
The concept was great: downsize to a condo where somebody else shovels the snow, weeds the flower beds and repairs the roof when it leaks. Live a simpler life, unencumbered by home maintenance and the inevitable detritus that accumulates over time and too much square footage.
The reality is alternately hilarious and disgusting, as well as thoroughly exhausting.
First, in order to sell a house in 2022, you must eliminate any evidence that living, breathing, eating, pooping people lived there — ever.
This is called staging, which is brilliantly cunning language because staging is unapologetically manipulative real estate theater.
It works like this: You take everything — your furniture, pictures, towels, shoes, tissue boxes even the salt and pepper shakers next to the stove — and either throw it out or hide it. You clean the place till the windows sparkle, the floors shine, and the toilets smell like spring rain.
Then a professional with a warehouse full of off-white furniture, mountains of decorative pillows and all manner of black-and-white abstract art arrives to make the place look, um, perfect.
All available research shows ordinary, profoundly imperfect people who routinely leave their dirty socks on the closet floor insist on this kind of artifice or they’ll refuse to buy your house.
Then you, the ever-hopeful seller, try to live there without touching anything. You also must be prepared to grab the dog and flee whenever potential buyers, preferably highly motivated ones with excellent credit, come to inspect the place.
In addition to these elaborate rituals, some real estate agents recommend you buy a statue of St. Joseph ($6.65 on Amazon) to bury upside down in your yard to rally the spirits in service to real estate sales and deliver a speedy solid offer, preferably over asking price and with no contingencies.
I’m not sure about the research to back up this claim, but after a few days of feeling like you have to make coffee in the garage and eat breakfast in the car, it starts to seem like an entirely reasonable thing to do. And atheist, Jew or Buddhist, you just might find yourself reciting the real estate prayers that are conveniently packaged with the statue.
Life in the neverland between stable homes can make even the most rational among us wild-eyed and utterly gullible.
When you’re not in the car with the dog parked a block away waiting for strangers to get themselves and their sticky-fingered kids out of your sterile house, you’re packing stuff, selling stuff, giving stuff away and arguing with your spouse about whose boxes of really important stuff that haven’t been opened since 1975 are worth keeping.
The answer is obvious: mine.
Every day you maniacally clean the toilet, the stovetop, the refrigerator and all those dusty places behind the furniture, and you swear that in your next life you will be a better, tidier, holier person.
Click here for a reality check.
Your chief source of entertainment during this trying time comes from what is cleverly called “feedback,” which produces the same reaction in the seller as when a microphone in a meeting goes haywire and nearly ruptures your eardrums.
The dining room is too small, people say. The bedroom is on the wrong floor. The park is too far away. The school is too close. The bathroom décor is soooo 1999.
Just tune it out, everyone says. It’s not personal.
Except that the criticism fillets you like a mackerel every time.
And just when you think you’re going to have to abandon all hope of having a retirement nest egg and give the damn house away, it sells. Hallelujah.
Then it gets worse.
There are the contracts, inspections, title searches, wire transfers, address changes and all those infernal boxes, half of which contain stuff you surely will have to throw away when you arrive in your cozy condo and realize there’s no place to put them and not a single sentimental bone is left in your body to care about those pictures your kids drew in the third grade.
We will be fine. Really, we will.
That’s my mantra.
And someday maybe we’ll even recover from the chronic insomnia and wake up after a good night’s sleep in our condo with the red refrigerator and the Murphy bed in the guest room.
In the meantime, we’ll remind ourselves how very lucky we are to have a house to complain about, to clean obsessively and ultimately to sell to someone who will love the birds that sing in the trees outside the bedroom windows as much as we do.
It’s a privilege. I know that sincerely.
After all, we could be shivering in a crowded subway station in Mariupol with explosions making the ground shudder, and death and destruction all around us.
So, St. Joseph, if you’re really out there, forget about overprivileged people and their tacky real estate dramas and look after the folks who truly desperately need your help.