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Selling My Kids’ Childhood Home

It’s time to sell my house: my three kids are off to college or working and the house is way too big for just me. So, what’s it like to get it off my hands? In this blog, I talk about the drama of working with realtors, staging my home to appeal to as many buyers as possible, and finally transferring the house into what my kids and I would call a hotel, no longer a home.

Hiring a Realtor

I really needed to sell my house. It was getting on my nerves how much time and money I was spending on it. Besides, as an empty nester, it was way too big for me to live there alone. I’d resorted to sleeping in my son’s average-sized bedroom, after finding my master suite way too spooky with the smoke detector projecting weird images on the ceiling when cars with bright light drove by.

Yet, after seven months on the market with a realtor and no serious offers, I questioned what it would take to get this suburban house off my hands.

Fortunately, I met a realtor who gave me confidence she’d get the job done.

One afternoon after Thanksgiving, Christiana Pastore arrived at my house in her red car. She was tall, slim with ringlets of brown curls gracing her shoulder. She smiled at me, exuding a youthful spirit. She wore work trousers, a fitted blazer, and high heels. I seemed underdressed in my sweat pants, red Shippensburg sweatshirt, and tennis shoes. But, did I need to impress anyone?

“Well, I’ll show you around the yard,” I said. “We only have a half hour before it’s dark.”

We then proceeded to tour my half-acre lot. She surveyed the majestic fruit trees bordering the brick walk way, as I mentioned how I was fed up with weeding, pruning, and mowing the lawn, as well as keeping clean the interior of a 3,000-square-foot house. But, I hastily added, this would be a perfect house for a young family, one who didn’t mind the upkeep and maintenance of a spacious home. Besides, children loved the neighborhood. Kids could walk to the elementary school a block away and safely play ball at the cul-de-sac. They could trick-or-treat without worrying about creeps lurking in the shadows. Kids loved the town’s annual Harvest Festival, Memorial Day Parade, and Live Nativity Christmas pageant. For adults, the town had become a culinary hot spot with half a dozen new restaurants opening up in the past few years. But as a divorcee on a budget, I didn’t sample often enough the delicacies cooked in Hopewell’s eateries.

No, I needed to sell the house so I’d have more money to enjoy life—and here was hip, 34-year-old Christiana to make it happened.

Inside, Christiana and I walked around the first floor with its family room, dining room, living room, and kitchen. She peered at the black leather sofa, and two rust-colored armchairs where I sat to eat dinner in front of TV. She ventured back to the kitchen with its 42-inch white cabinets, and recessed lighting. I was sure she’d noticed the dark blue carpet, mismatched chairs, and autumn-themed tablecloth—and the fact I hadn’t thrown out newspapers and mail on the black countertop.

“I’ll straighten up the papers later,” I said. “I vacuumed and mopped the kitchen last night after the kids went back to Rutgers.”

“Don’t worry about that,” she said. “I just want to see what we can do to make an 18-year old home look modern, not dated.”

She explained how Millenials had no imagination or creativity: they wanted their homes to be picture perfect before buying them. For my home, that meant updating furnishings, lighting up rooms, and de-cluttering even more. In general, the kitchen was in good shape—even if it didn’t boast granite countertops—and the hardwood floors looked lovely. I mentioned how I’d replaced within the last year the hot water heater, an air conditioning unit, and the fridge.

“In fact, the only appliance original to the house is the cooktop,” I said. “I’ve been saving up money so I can get a new one.”

I explained how the burners sometimes ticked when turned on. Something was wrong with the igniter. A technician had recommended I replace the cooktop. Besides, the burners looked worn, the gray paint scraped off or burned black in places. But I’d hesitated to buy a new one since it would cost at least $1,500 and new owners might decide to upgrade the kitchen and replacing the island housing the cooktop.

“Why don’t you hold off on getting a new cooktop?” she said. “We can always give them a credit if they decide not to modernize the kitchen.”

Certainly, that would help my finances. I could afford to buy more elaborate Christmas presents, and maybe even fly to San Francisco and Milwaukee to visit my mother and niece.

Then, it was on to inspecting the family and living room. Again, she scrutinized the rooms, as if she were gauging their appeal to a fastidious clientele who expected everything in tip-top shape.

“We need to brighten up these rooms,” she said. “You’ve got to get some new light bulbs. Buy the LED ones, not Halogen. That will help a lot.”

So, I’d head to Home Depot to buy high-wattage, white light bulbs. That was an easy fix.

“There isn’t much recessed lighting in these rooms,” Christiana added.

“I prefer lamps to overhead lights,” I said. “I guess nowadays most rooms have recessed lighting.”

She nodded. “Even bedrooms.”

Also, the black lampshades in the family room didn’t dissipate enough light. Could I buy new, white ones with a wider brim? New lampshades, really? I’d gotten used to the dim, romantic nature of that room. Couldn’t buyers see the charm in that? But, I too had to admit the room wasn’t welcoming enough.

“I’ll see if TJ Maxx or Ross has some,” I said. “If not, Tuesday Morning might.”

What else would she recommend for me to do upstairs? Certainly, the children’s bedrooms and mine would pass muster—or were they also too old-fashioned? My former realtor hadn’t suggested changes to the bathrooms. Would Christiana?

She gazed silently at the kids’ bathroom with its pastel green walls, flowered shower curtain, and white bamboo shelf. “This needs to go,” she said about the shower curtain. “It makes the room look old.”

She fingered the shelf. “This doesn’t really belong here, yet if we take it down, it might leave a nail mark.”

“Let’s see,” I said, taking off the sculpture of a mother and baby, a Russian jar with a lid, and a tiny painted Swedish basket—all mementos of my days living abroad.

I didn’t remove the nail, saying that maybe I could find a picture to hang there.

“You should look for a light colored shower curtain,” she said. “Definitely no flowers.”

The master bath also was dated with inadequate lighting, dated shower curtain, and too dark bath mats.

“Get another shower curtain for this bathroom too,” she said. “You don’t need to spend a lot of money to find ones that lighten up the room.”

Part of me resisted the change she was suggesting: I’d grown used to the dark blue décor that contrasted with the white cabinet, sink and tub. It made me think of royalty with its richness and lushness. But both bathrooms hadn’t had an upgrade in eighteen years. Certainly, it was time for a change. Why should I wait for a new place to buy home furnishings? And she was assuring me these changes wouldn’t get me in debt.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll see what I can find.”

Needless to say, the kids’ bedrooms all needed new light comforters. Emily’s Roxy comforter with matching decorative pillows, pink and turquoise back pillow rests, and red lobster from Maine would all have to go. Patrick’s stripped, Queen-sized comforter was too bright with its blue and gold stripes. Nicholas’ comforter with its sports theme could stay, though I thought it was way too old and used to stay.

“Emily won’t approve of getting rid of these things,” I said. “But she’s hardly ever here, so she really can’t object too much.”

My bedroom was also problematic. “The comforter makes the room look old,” she said. “Would you mind getting a new one?”

“But I like this one,” I said. “It’s only a few years old. I don’t know if I want to change it.”

She sensed it wasn’t worth persuading me to buy another comforter. “Let’s see what else we can do here. Something is off.”

Together, we placed a small dresser with jewelry boxes next to a big, mirrored dresser. A small table found a new home on an adjoining wall. Next Christiana instructed me to take off the placemats from the dresser and bedside tables, the ones I’d bought in a boutique in Angers, France. I’d loved them. They all matched. They had red poppies on off-white, satiny cotton that gave the room a feeling of sophistication. Also, the red, embroidered Egyptian wedding dress should be in the room’s corner, and my grandmother’s chair didn’t fit in with the décor. It would have to be removed.

Hesitantly, I whisked off the placemats from the furniture, questioning if the room would look better. Magically, the mahogany dresser and bedside tables shone richly with a reddish hue that softened the room. It actually looked good. The bedroom could now belong to a princess, instead of an American teacher. I took down a Valentine’s Day picture of hearts and flowers my son Patrick had drawn in elementary school, and a picture of a woman kissing a man. The room opened up, the de-cluttering had begun—and it had only taken us a couple of hours.

That evening, I signed a six-month contract with her to sell my house. She had a vision on what to do with my home to make it modern again. She’d get me to update rooms to make the home look like a hotel, an impersonal place, pristine, spotless, and open for all types of guests.

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