Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Art of Selling Your House

Six years ago, when we were trying to sell our previous house, the phone rang one lazy Saturday morning in early April. I took the call, while my wife hovered inquisitively on the landing above.
“Who was that?” she asked, when I finally hung up.
“The estate agent,” I replied. “He says he’s very sorry about the short notice, but is there any chance of bringing a couple along to see the house at 11 o’clock? I told him it was okay, but we’d prefer a bit more notice in future.”
Now, our house was, and still is, normally in good shape, housework-wise. Regular dusting, tidying, hovering, mopping, washing and cleaning means that we normally do not have to resort to frantic blitzes.
However, this particular Saturday followed about a week of distractions from the daily norm. We had been out looking at houses, attending PTA meetings, entertaining visiting relatives and bringing the children to football matches, hockey matches, feises etc. Housework had been put on the back burner, and consequently the house was the proverbial porcine dwelling place.
The scream of horror that emanated from the landing indicated that my wife instantly understood the urgency of the situation. Bounding down the stairs three at a time, she intimated in not very pleasant language that perhaps I had been rash to agree to the estate agent’s request. I was to get “the other two” out of bed “pronto” and then start on the living room. She herself would start in the kitchen.
Five minutes later, I ambled back downstairs and came into the kitchen. My wife was frantically hanging some unwashed jumpers onto the clothes horse, probably on the grounds that there was nowhere else to put them, while a mop and basin of water stood by the door.
“What date is it?” I asked casually, leaning against the door jamb and examining my finger-nails closely.
She leant over towards the calendar on the fridge. “I don’t know. Does it matter? April 1st….” Her voice tailed off as comprehension dawned.
When I awoke in my hospital bed, I was forced to concur that selling a house can be a stressful occupation. If you believe everything you are told, people will not buy your house because the grass verge hasn’t been cut. They will look elsewhere if your windows are dirty, and a living room that has been “lived in” is somehow not conducive to an early sale.
Our estate agent gave us a long list of items that needed attending to, to ensure we “maximised our profit potential,” as he so eloquently put it. We had to cut our postage stamp-sized front lawn, sweep the drive, touch up the front door and window sills, empty the hall of shoes, reduce the volume in the utility room by three quarters, fix the leaky tap in the bathroom, tidy up the kids’ bedrooms, fix that bit of the wall where the settee had been rubbing up against it, repaint the skirting boards, wash the windows, get the chimney swept, fill the house with pot pourri and fresh flowers and reposition the kitchen table over the tear in the lino. As my wife ruefully remarked, if we’d have done all that, there’d be no need for us to move.
Of course, he also came up with that well-worn cliché about baking bread in the oven on the morning of a viewing. The theory is that it gives the house a homely feel, as if potential buyers will be swayed into parting with their thousands by the smell of Hovis. Personally though, I would regard it with the same suspicion that my mother had for extra-strong mints. Is it masking another smell? Sewers, perhaps? Cigarettes? Dogs?
Besides, who wants a house that smells of bread? When we were looking at houses ourselves, we made a point of remarking to the estate agent, “Yes, it’s lovely, but I don’t think we could live with that smell.” God help Messrs. Johnson, Mooney and O’Brien if they ever decided to sell up and move to a ménage-a-trois in the country.
The big drawback with selling your house is that the estate agent normally insists that you absent yourselves from the premises when he’s showing people around. This is partly to stop you cluttering up the place and making the rooms look smaller, and partly so there will be no fits of giggling when he describes the house as a “highly desirable residence set in a prime location.”
Admittedly, it is also embarrassing for prospective buyers to view a house if the occupants are following them around hanging on their every word. I remember on one occasion I was particularly forthright on the subject of a hideous pair of curtains, and failed to spot the mistress of the house eyeing me murderously from an equally revolting armchair. As it happened, the house was not suitable for our needs, but I doubt that any bid we’d made would have been accepted.
Incidentally, when people are viewing houses, why do they always make a point of looking in the fridge? What on earth do they expect to find in there? “Fine big fridge, Mary. If we knocked down a shelf, we could maybe use it as a bedroom for Joshua.”
Of course, in your absence, you have no idea what the estate agent is saying and this can prey upon your mind. Is he confiding that, “Look, the house is a kip, the owners are desperate and if you put in an offer anywhere near the asking price, they’ll snap your arms off.”?
The best way of warding off such suspicions is by donning a false nose, glasses and beard and disguising yourself as an enthusiastic purchaser. (Of course, if you habitually wear a false nose, glasses and beard, another disguise may have to be found.) I did this once, and to be fair to the estate agent, he did such a good job of selling me the house that I ended up putting in an offer for it, which was accepted. Not wishing to admit my subterfuge, I was obliged to follow through with the deal, and ended up purchasing the house from myself at a very generous price.
Oh yes, selling your house is a stressful business.

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