What I Learned About Real Estate By Putting My Condo On The Market

All The Condo's A Stage
What I Learned In Today's Real Estate Market

My husband and I made an important decision a few months ago -- to sell our city condo, unload a lot of "stuff" and settle into a simplified lifestyle in our favorite Blue Ridge mountains.

But, of course, before anything, we needed to sell the condo. The time seemed right, the market was good and my naive worry was that it would sell overnight and I would be pressured into making instantaneous downsizing decisions.

It's been a long time since we've sold a home, so we signed on with a well-respected realtor. That's when we learned that the business has changed dramatically.

First order of business, we were told, was photography. Before taking a slew of photos, worthy of House Beautiful, our realtor insisted we remove all personal effects from the scene. The prospective buyer, she explained, should not be distracted by pictures of family weddings and our perfect grandchildren. Okay, we got it.

When the pictures were up on Zillow and Trulia I was stunned. The rooms looked enormous, elegant and off-the-charts inviting. I passed the i-pad to my husband and we looked at one another. Are we crazy to want to sell this?

You need to know this about us: we love (love, love, love) the traditional, we love to collect, we love the feeling of our home's arms encircling us. And, as if you couldn't guess, we are, indeed, "older."

Ninety days have passed and we've only had a smattering of showings. The caravans of realtors were a little more plentiful, but were probably helped by the bottle of wine our agent gave to each viewer. But here's the dig: those realtors swigging that wine know that real estate today is an online business. The first introduction any prospective buyer has is on those websites I just mentioned.

So, our realtor introduced a new player: The Stager. The concept is that with a few creative tweaks, we could establish a more desirable, visual on-line presence.

Her credentials arrived in an email before our appointment with her. Our stager has, among other things, two certifications in staging, including a certificate in color with over 100 (yes, 100) color boards and is an officer with the local staging association.

My husband looked up over his glasses. "You're kidding, right?"

Not by a long shot. Said stager arrived the next morning, looked around and immediately told us that while our apartment was lovely, it was "taste specific." That's code for "your chintz fabric, puddled draperies and rose medallion are positively nauseating".

Suggestions including painting the entire condo white, even the wallpaper and kitchen backsplash tile. But not just any white. While the stager's meter ticked, we pondered together the various properties of "Grecian White" vs. "Dove White" vs. "Museum White." We went Grecian White, all the way. Duh.

Another sticking point was our Oriental rugs, which are being rolled up as we speak, in order to show off the hardwood floors. Ditto the draperies, er, "window treatments", which take away from the view of the trees outside. My husband commented that if we didn't sell the place by winter the view would be brown stick trees, but by now, no one was listening to him and he knew it.

I mentioned earlier that family photographs are anathema to a good showing as they stamp the property with a personality. It turns out the same philosophy applies to one's library. If we weren't willing to remove all the books from the built-in bookshelves, to better emphasize the fine bones of our home, we should turn them around, so that one only sees the pages of the books. I couldn't make this up, but perhaps if a particular library demonstrates a strong political bent, or a hankering for erotica, it gets the prospective buyer off course. Personally, I could never own a place with a lot of Richard Evans on the shelves, but that's just me.

We have also been advised to change a few "taste specific" light fixtures, eliminate the chrome borders around our shower door and load up on fluffy white towels to give the bathroom the feel of a spa.

I would be less than honest if I didn't say that all these requirements provoked a certain amount of the gnashing of teeth. But we are nothing now, if not resigned. We want to sell. We want to simplify. And it seems we can't do either without yielding and following our agent's direction.

The next 30 days will be interesting. We're told that if we have no offer it will be time to drop the price. But, wait a minute, couldn't we just have dropped the price and skipped over the reinvention of our home? We're trusting the pros that the answer is no.

My greatest fear is that a little old lady, carrying cash, will walk into our home and declare it too cold and stark for her tastes. Her hipster son would try to dissuade her, but she would hang tough.

Oh, how she would have died for the floral valence that got away!

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