Selling a house/condo/apartment takes fakery, the same kind of fakery as selling almost anything else in a market economy, including yourself. But you read all about faking the “anything else” in my last post. ( “Faking It,” February 2, 2017.) So let’s move on to profitable unloading of real estate. Very few people wanting to buy seem to be really clear about what they’re looking for. Oh, they may say it’s location — location, location, as the realtors are wont to chant ad nauseam. Or square footage. Or number of rooms. Or a sunny kitchen. Or a good public school for the children. And it may well be some or all of those things are what they hope for. But when the realtor shows them the location, the footage, the rooms, the sun on the breakfast table (not so easy in itself), they will still dither and waffle and toe the sand and think about it. And think about it. And think about it. And get back you. Maybe.
For a speedy sale you’ve got to enchant them, open their minds to a fairy tale life: the life they imagine they could have in your house/condo/ apartment. Of course they never will have that life. Nobody does. Nobody keeps their kitchen counters immaculately empty except for one perfect appliance (perhaps a Museum of Modern Art toaster) and a charming French pot of herbs near the window. Nobody’s stove top is free of cooking utensils, except for a little red enamel teakettle. Nobody’s rooms are junk-free, emptied of detritus, piles of this and that on the floor, children’s toys, cat trees, litter boxes. Almost nobody’s bathroom counters aren’t crammed with toothbrushes, mouthwashes, beauty aids, Kleenex boxes, deodorant, Q-tips.
But you can play let’s pretend. You can be the fairy godmother who transports your potential buyer into never-never land. Of course, it’ll take more than just airily waving a wand to whisk away all the imperfections of real life. You’ll have to pile the kitchen stuff in the oven, in the broom closet, in the dishwasher. You’ll have to buy some Sterilite boxes and sweep the bathroom mess into them, for storage under the sink. You’ll have to clear the tops of your furniture except for one or two really good decorative objects. You’ll have to polish those tops till they shine. Into the closets with everything else! Then up with the shades, on with the lights! Let everything be bright and cheery and uncluttered and clean! That’s what modern fairy godmothers do.
I learned about this sleight-of-hand back in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2005, when I sold a condo all by myself for the very first time. I was beginning to tell you about it in that last post — published, alas, much too long ago. That was a post designed to set us up (in its “To be continued” promise), for an account of my second sale, which was of the condo Bill and I lived in together for ten years, until he died. That second sale would have the logical next chapter in the ongoing saga of my life after his death. However, the ongoing-ness interfered with the blog. (I won’t explain, except to say there was too much happening at once, too soon, to digest and write about it.)
And now that I’m a year past the worst of it, even selling our home last year has become stale news. So let me summarize quickly: The Cambridge sale in 2006 was a great success. I had bought that first condo (two bedrooms, one bath) for $200,000, lived in it for eleven years (the last four with Bill), and sold it (after learning to play fairy godmother) for between two and three times what I’d bought it for. True, I sold in a rising market. But still…. There was even a bidding war after the first open house. Two potential buyers even asked if they could also buy everything in it, it looked so nice, so ready-to-move-into. (And this “everything” was mostly my mother’s old furniture and knick-knacks, from the 1960’s). With that kind of success, “staging” (aka faking it) was a lesson I didn’t forget.
A couple of photos should give you an idea of what that Cambridge condo apartment looked like in its “wouldn’t it be nice if” fairy-tale period, until the closing:
Thus, when it came time to sell the Princeton condo last year, I knew just what to do. In a way it was easier without Bill, although being without him was why I had to sell; we didn’t have to argue about where to put what where. There was a garage and half the basement for storage (we’d turned the other half into a furnished room); we already had a lot of Sterilite boxes in multiple sizes; and I did a lot of dragging things up and down stairs on my own, to tuck them out of sight. Then the realtor brought in a professional photographer. He put the camera on the floor. “Why is he doing that?” I asked. “It makes for better pictures,” the realtor whispered.
It sure did. I may have played the role of fairy godmother to my property; the photographer played fairy godfather. His camera placement and wide-angled lens turned a modest, nicely furnished condo, now “staged,” into a magical dream. Who wouldn’t want to live there? Even though I knew how much trickery had gone into what we produced together, I loved his pictures so much I bought a set, to keep forever and forever after they vanished from the internet, post-sale. Although it never really looked like this when Bill and I lived there with our two British Blue cats (their grey hairs over everything, their litter scattered on the bathroom floors), I could imagine, couldn’t I? For one shining moment (e.g., ten days), this beautifully spacious sunlit dream house was mine.
There was another bidding war. I don’t know what the successful buyer was thinking when she offered the slightly inflated asking price. But I didn’t ask. I needed her money to buy myself and the cats a much smaller apartment — one bedroom with “den” (a separate room, although minus a closet) — in an over-55 community, and then fix it up to my liking. (Wood floors, white walls, more lights, etc.) So I busied myself with that. It’s where I’m living now. A very different kind of place, and a different kind of life. I’m sure you’ll be hearing at least something about it in future posts.
But I still have the photos of what 35 McComb looked like through the photographer’s camera eye just before its sale. And although I know it’s not really a good idea to keep looking back — I might turn into a pillar of salt — I do take those photos out from time to time. So you’ll have to see them too, to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s. The front door is at the top of the post. You can leave whenever you like. I left out photos of the three bathrooms and the laundry room, so as not to overtax your indulgence. But if you do stay till the end of the tour, just remember — this is what “faking it” looks like:
All the same, and even when you’re too old for fairy tales, a little make believe is nice….. (Sigh.)