Friday, June 28, 2013

Hospitality in Absentia: Staging Your House for Showings When It's on the Market

(Hey there! If you are just now popping by, this is the third installment of a sort of series I've written on preparing to sell your house. You might want to read the first two, "Getting Your House Ready to Put on the Market" and "Consider Inexpensive Updates Before Your Put You House on the Market," as well.)

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You've deep cleaned and done some updating, and now it's time to think about more refined touches, the little graces and niceties that will elevate your home above the also-rans. Think about these things: comfort, order, cleanliness, warmth. This is the overall sense you want to evoke from the moment prospective buyers walk in your door.

Honestly, most of these touches will appeal to the women buyers more than the husbands. Think about it: wives generally hold more sway in house-buying decisions. Yes, husbands can have strong feelings about yards, drainage, wood rot, termite contracts, roof ages, and the like (which wives are interested in, too), but it's most often the women who have a "feel" for a home. And you want your home to feel right.

You want your house to extend hospitality even when you aren't there.

So, now that you've stored or eliminated a lot of your stuff, you can set the stage in your rooms. And, provided you've done your deep clean, each room will need only a cursory swipe to keep things tidy. Let's take a look at each room type individually and then at a more general checklist.


Clear off and straighten all dresser/chest of drawer/nightstand tops. Straighten closets (if you haven't already) and close closet doors. Pick up everything off the floor. Make the bed neatly and attractively. (The girls and I hide our sleeping pillows behind our decorative pillow shams and tuck in sheet edges so they don't hang below the coverlets. I allow the girls to set out a few chosen stuffed animals.) Take out the trash. Open any shades, blinds, or curtains. Turn on a lamp or two and set the ceiling fan on low.


Wipe down counters and shine faucets and mirrors. A microfiber cloth works wonders for this task. Swish the toilets and wipe down. Close toilet lids. Refill the tissue paper roll, if necessary. Check the floors and sweep or wipe if you need to. Clear off counters. If you have special lighting, you may want to leave it on. I tend not to leave bathroom lights on for showings because they have a tendency to heat up the bathrooms. Remove all used linens and trash.


Buyers will give your kitchen a lot of attention, so be extra careful here. Put all dishes away. Either hand wash any dirty dishes or put them in the dishwasher and run it. I do this immediately after cooking or eating just to keep on top of things. Clear off the counter tops and wipe. Do the floors need a quick sweep? Turn on any accent lights buyers may not notice on their own, such as under-cabinet lighting. Set the table with pretty placemats and perhaps a centerpiece if you have one. I have a lovely piece of crockery in the center of our breakfast table. Consider a vase of flowers if you're expecting several showings within a day or two. If not, skip it. Droopy flowers that have been out too long don't set the right mood, do they?

Family Room/Living Room

If you have pets, roll the furniture with an adhesive roller to get rid of pet hair. Or use sheets to cover the upholstery for everyday use, which you can whisk off and hide away for showings. Clear any clutter, and dust and vacuum as needed. We keep all remotes in a bowl on the coffee table. We also close the armoire doors to hide the TV. Leave on one or two lamps and set any ceiling fans to low.

Dining Room

Cover your table with a nice table cloth to protect its finish. Dust, vacuum, and/or sweep as necessary. If your dining room is near the front door, this is a good place to set out all flyers and house information. Set out small bottles of water and treats for prospective buyers and agents. My go-to treat: Dove chocolates. Think small and individually wrapped.


Our study can be a real mess, and I worked hard to get it organized and tidy. Before every showing, I put all papers away in my desk drawers. I file items immediately so they don't pile up. I make sure the desktop is clear and dust-free. I turn off the computer monitor, too.

Here are more tips for all around the house:

  • Leave some lights on, like lamps and accent lights. If a showing is after dark, leave on more lights.
  • Turn the AC down a bit in summer and the heat up a bit in winter, so your home feels comfortable. 
  • Burn a couple of nice scented candles for an hour or so before the showing. Just remember to blow them out before you leave! We use citrus-scented ones. Bath & Body Works room spray is good, too. Just go easy. And select scents like lemon or spice; avoid like the plague flowery, perfume-y scents; they are headaches waiting to happen.
  • Make sure to hide all dirty laundry. I just put everything in the washer. If there's enough for a load, I run it. Which brings me to...
  • Wash clothes and fold every day. I wash in the evenings and toss in the dryer before bedtime. In the morning, I fold everything and put it all away before I even go downstairs.
  • Take out all trash, especially bathroom and kitchen garbage.
  • When you leave, take pets with you, if at all possible. I've looked at houses where the sellers put notes on doors: "Please don't let cat out!" Talk about too much responsibility. As for dogs, as a last resort, crate your pooch; however, it's always best to take him with you. What if he barks inhospitably during the entire showing? That will most definitely create a negative impression. Jasper and Georgette have gone on a lot of car rides lately, which they love to do.
  • Create a take-home flyer about your house and neighborhood. Yes, your agent will create a flyer with photos and information, but your flyer will be more personal. One I saw recently was titled, "Why We Love Our House." I created a flyer for our house and uploaded an example of it to Scribd; feel free to use it as a template or just to glean a few ideas.

Before each showing, check each room to make sure it conveys order, cleanliness, warmth, and comfort.

When your house is on the market, prospective buyers walk through your house and imagine living there with their own family. Your house becomes more of a stage setting than a home where people actually live. No one wants to view a house that has dog hair on the furniture, crumbs on the kitchen counters, trash in the garbage cans, or hair in the bathroom sink. Blech.

Having your home on the market is stressful, so take some time in the beginning to do your prep work, and make things easier on yourself when your house is active. Yes, this is a lot of work. I know it is; I've done it three times now. But it is SO worth it. In the two and a half weeks our house was active, we received several offers and are now under contract. And we got great feedback from all the agents who showed our house.

If you follow the same steps I did, your house will stand out from the rest -- in a good way.

Let me know how it goes!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

BirdSleuth: A Great Resource for Birdwatching and Nature Study

As you may already know, we are dedicated backyard birders. As a form of nature study, birdwatching is easy and inexpensive and fun. You can even take the leap into the field of citizen science with the Great Backyard Bird Count and Project FeederWatch, both programs from Cornell's Lab of Ornithology.

I recently came upon another Cornell resource called BirdSleuth. This is wonderful! Read my full review over at Curriculum Choice. . . .

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Consider Inexpensive Updates Before You Put Your House on the Market

If you run a Google search looking for tips on getting your house ready to sell, you just might get overwhelmed. Many articles' tips are pretty expensive. Repaint the entire house? Install hardwoods? I think not.

Really, you don't need to spend gobs of money. Nor do you need to hire a staging professional with a professional fee. Good news, right?

In my last post, I talked about getting your house ready to show. These were the practical matters: clearing out, storing away, spiffing up, and cleaning everywhere. Once you've done that, look around to see what little things you could do to give your home an updated look or a warmer, cozier feel.

Here are some ideas that won't break the bank:

Hardware. If your cabinet and drawer pulls are outdated, think about replacing them. And, although you can spend a lot of money here if you want to, you don't have to. There are plenty of inexpensive options. The same goes for switch plates and electrical outlet plates.

Bathmats and hand towels. You can easily freshen up the look of your bathrooms by changing out the bathmats and hand towels. I have "show towels" that no one is allowed to use. They only make an appearance when we have showings, and they always look plush and fresh.

Welcome mats. I really liked my old welcome mat. It featured the London Underground symbol and the warning, "Mind the Gap." But I'd had it for a few years, and it was looking drab and worn. A quick trip to Target and I had a new cheerful welcome mat.

Dishtowels. I bought a set of pretty green and cream dishtowels at TJ Maxx that hang on the oven door. I do NOT use them on my dishes; they are for looks only. You may opt for a decorative dish towel that's more of an accessory than a utilitarian item.

Accent pillows. These can cozy up a room as well as kick things up a notch. In real life, I'm not an accent pillow kind of girl. They just get in the way. But they look good. If you like the idea, hit stores like Tuesday Morning, TJ Maxx, or Target for a few inexpensive pillows for your bedrooms, family room, or living room. Or all three.

Throw rugs. See above. Indoor/outdoor rugs are not very expensive at all. I bought one several years ago to use in our foyer, but recently I had the inspiration to move it into the kitchen. It fits perfectly and looks fabulous. You can also put one on your deck or patio to liven things up.

Houseplants. There's just something about houseplants. I have three golden pothos plants: one is on a plant stand in the master bath, the other is on a table in the hall, and the third is just clippings from the other two in a vase of water, which sits on my desk in the family room. I also have two small orchids on my kitchen window sill. If you have pets, be careful with houseplants; many are toxic to dogs and cats, even my pothos. I am vigilant about keeping my plants out of my dogs' reach.

New bedding. You can find comforter sets at great prices at some of the discount stores, like Tuesday Morning, Old Time Pottery, TJ Maxx, Marshall's, and even Wal-Mart and Target. Another option is to invest in a new quilt or throw to fold across the bottom of the bed.

Placemats. These add oomph without a high price tag. You can also splurge and buy coordinating cloth napkins. Fan them out with a napkin ring and lay atop the placemats.

Accessory mix-up. Maybe you don't need to spend any money; you simply need to look at your possessions in a new light. Just because my cut crystal vase has lived in my china cabinet for years doesn't mean it can't find a new address. I can fill it with flowers (hydrangeas from my yard?) and set it on top of my piano for a fresh look.

Light fixtures. We replaced the light fixtures above our bathroom sinks in the master bath with inexpensive fixtures from Home Depot. If replacement isn't in your budget or your inclination, consider paint. In our second house, I painted the breakfast room chandelier black. In this house, I painted the brassy powder room fixture black and replaced the sconces. It looks great!

Bathroom grout. Honestly, I scrubbed and Tilexed the grout in the master bath shower a multitude of times, but it stayed dingy and gray in places. Turns out it's stained. If this is the case in your bathrooms, get yourself some grout paint pens. They come in a variety of colors, so you can pick the one that matches your grout. Or pick another color and redo the whole thing. I was dreading this project because I thought it would be tedious and time-consuming. While it wasn't the funnest thing I've ever done, the pens are easy to use and make quick work of it. And the grout looks so much better!

These are just a few quick and easy ideas to help you freshen up the look of your home before you list it for sale. In my next post, I'll talk about staging your home for an actual showing.

What little things have you done to your house before selling it? Leave a comment to spread the word!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Getting Your House Ready to Put on the Market

Since I've done this very thing recently (and also in the past), I thought I'd share some of my thoughts and tips on getting your house ready to sell.

Have no illusions: this is a big job. But it's also crucial. How your house looks to prospective buyers has a major impact on how quickly it will sell. Why? Because, frankly, most buyers have no imagination. They lack the power to see around your stuff to what the house actually looks like or might look like with a little spiffing up.

Essentially, you need to make your house look like no one lives there while all the time living there with your family and pets. This is no small feat but it's not impossible, either. Use these tips to help you plan your strategy.

Examine your house with a critical eye.

What are its high points? Emphasize those. What are its detriments? Eliminate or downplay those. For example, our deck was in awful shape, and we knew it'd be a big black mark against our house. So we bit the bullet and had a new, larger deck built. It looks fantastic. We also had some landscaping done to make our backyard more useful and attractive. And we hired a handyman to make some repairs.

Start with a major clean out.

This takes the most time and energy. The object is to clear out as much as possible by donating or trashing non-essentials and boxing up other things you can do without for a few weeks. Moving boxes aren't cheap, so look around for used ones if you can. I found free moving boxes on Craigslist and made the drive to pick them up.

Pick a place to start and hop to it. It will seem like an insurmountable task -- at least it did to me -- but I lived through it and so can you.

We started with our bedrooms and the playroom. The girls and I went through all their clothes and possessions and sorted them into three types: keep, donate, trash. As we sorted, we bagged up all trash and donate items. The donation bags we loaded into our minivan. We boxed up as much of the keepers as we could: winter clothes, toys, knickknacks, special possessions, books.

In the bathrooms, clean out all cabinets, drawers, and linen closets. Put down new shelf liner. Box up extra towels, sheets, and blankets. Get rid of old toiletries and medications. (I was amazed at how many hair products languished in my cabinet! Now that I'm on my new curly girl routine, I don't need these any more.) Then neatly rearrange what remains.

In the kitchen, ruthlessly edit the pantry and cabinets. I boxed up some things, threw away others, and recycled hundreds of plastic food storage containers. (Okay, maybe not hundreds, but it seemed like it.) Consider boxing or hiding away small appliances, like toaster ovens, slow cookers, blenders, etc. Keep your countertops clear. In my kitchen, the Red Steel Beauty still enjoys pride of place on my counter, of course, as does the coffee maker.

Minimize your personal decorative items, including framed photos and even books. You don't want your rooms to look vacated and naked, but you don't want your personal tastes to overwhelm unimaginative prospective buyers, either.

Put things in storage.

What do you do with all these boxes?  Rent a storage compartment at a nearby facility. You do not want to leave heaps of boxes all over the place while you're house is on the market. Not even in the garage.

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Store extra furniture so your rooms will look uncluttered and spacious. We removed a rocker and ottoman and a chest of drawers from Tiny Girls' room, and a bookshelf and desk from Miss Priss's room. We took out a leaf from our dining room table and stored two of the eight chairs.

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Deep clean.

After you've cleared out, it's time to really clean. Polish all doors and baseboards. Clean the top of the fridge. Wash the walls where it's needed. Magic Erasers will be your new best friend. Clean the windows. Vacuum thoroughly and consider cleaning the carpets. Scrub tile floors til they're sparkling. Clean out the fireplace. Eliminate all cobwebs. Dust light fixtures. Sweep. Mop.

Clean the carpets. You can easily rent a machine to do this yourself. Or you can buy your own for a decent price these days. To make it even more affordable, see if a friend or two would like to share in the purchase. Most people would only use a carpet cleaning machine once a year, so sharing one is a viable option.

Once you get everything just so, it's easy to keep the place clean. Sweep regularly, wipe down counters, shine faucets and mirrors with a microfiber cloth. Swish the toilets. Spray a cloth with furniture polish and dust quickly every day. That way, you're good to go when an agent calls and asks, "Can I show your home in the next hour?"

Spiff up.

Do you baseboards need a little touch-up painting? Ours did. I used a small sponge "brush" for that. What about wall dings? A little spackle, some sandpaper, and a touch of paint will do the trick. Could you replace any outdated light fixtures? We did in our master bathroom.

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Think about curb appeal.

How does your house look from the street? Aim for an inviting and welcoming entrance. I bought two ferns and set them on our front stoop. I also potted some petunias and set the pot on an old ladderback chair. I pruned all our Knock-Out rosebushes and ruthlessly weeded our flowerbeds. Plant some colorful annuals. The lantana and verbena from last year came back, so I didn't have to plant anything new. Wash and re-caulk (if necessary) your front door and its surrounds. Our red door looked good after a cleaning, but we decided to re-paint its surrounding woodwork. Buy a new welcome mat and hang a pretty wreath on the front door.

In my next post, I'll talk about inexpensive touches you can add to update or warm up your home. Really, you don't have to spend a lot to make a big impact. There are several things you can do to show your home in the best possible light and make a favorable impression on prospective buyers. Think about it: even in a fast market, you are competing against other homes on the market, so start strong and stay strong.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

One of My Earliest Memories

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My very early memories are like still photographs. I'm told this is true for a lot of people.

When I was three years old, my daddy took me on a date. First we ate supper at Alfie's Fish and Chips, a restaurant long gone. I have a memory of sitting at the booth and admiring the bottles of malt vinegar. After that we went to see Song of the South at the fabulous Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta. I can recall sitting in the plush upholstered seat next to my dad, trying my hardest, I suppose, to take it all in.

My dad remembers this outing much better than I. His short-term memory has been tricky for several years now and sometimes his long-term memory is faulty, but he firmly holds on to a storehouse of moments like these.

My dad and I look alike; I don't look anything like my mother (who was a contestant in the Miss Georgia beauty pageant in 1964, so it's sort of a shame I didn't take after her). My reddish curly hair and blue-green eyes are courtesy of my father's side of the family, although his hair was dark blond. So is my keen sense of the ridiculous. I missed out on his mathematical genius and strong strategy skills. I wish I'd gotten those as well. (Did I mention he was a nuclear health physicist?)

In late May of 2004, his aorta tore and he underwent emergency heart surgery, during which he suffered two strokes. He was in and out of the hospital that summer, with one health issue leading to another, the most upsetting of which was his lungs filling with fluid on a regular basis. We were stressed, anxious, and worried that he'd never be the same again.

And he wasn't. The lung issue was diagnosed as congestive heart failure, a condition from which he'll never recover but for which there are meds to keep it under control. The strokes caused some minor brain damage: memory loss, short-term memory issues, trouble balancing, and unsteadiness on his feet. He also has diabetes and blood pressure problems. He sleeps quite a bit and gets weary easily.

In March, he had surgery for a cancerous tumor in the lining of his stomach. The surgery was successful and no chemo or radiation were necessary. But he, who got great pleasure out of eating good food, now eats small meals and often has very little appetite.

We are all so keenly aware of the blessing of more years with my dad. We've always been a loving family, but now Dad goes out of the way to let each of us know how much we mean to him, how precious we are to him, and how much he loves us. He is joy-filled, and loves to laugh as much as he always did -- maybe more. And he's just as witty as ever. He has a gift for making everyone feel comfortable -- the pinnacle of graciousness.

And he loves a mean Scrabble game. We have the best time when we play. One day I'll tell you about the time I beat him with the word "quark" on a triple word score.

That's a brief sketch of my dad: always supportive, always loving, always loyal. I love him more every day.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

My Absence, My Silence, My Misplaced Sanity

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In April, Himself and I decided it was time to put our house on the market. With all of our homeschooling materials and his penchant for working from home now and again, we need some more square footage.

Thus began a frantic and stressful time called "Getting the House Ready to List." Activities include:

  • A massive clean-out of all rooms, shelves, closets, and storage areas, requiring many trips to Goodwill and other donation facilities. And a LOT of giant trash bags.
  • Packing up extraneous possessions.
  • Renting a storage unit and making MANY trips to store boxes of items and not-strictly-necessary-for-daily-living furniture.
  • A wild flurry of home improvement projects we'd put off for the future, such as a brand new deck and new landscaping, new lighting in our bathroom, and the like.
  • Repairs and touch-ups, especially paint.

A few weeks ago, this seemed like an insurmountable mission. But we did it and the house is now on the market.

Our current challenge is to keep our house looking like a photo-shoot-ready showplace where no one actually lives while all the time living here with one husband, two active adolescents, and two dogs.

Fortunately, the girls are old enough to get with the program to keep the house "show ready" at (almost) all times. I have only had to yell, "Did you FLUSH the TOILET?!" once or twice. They get it now.

(Aside in case you think we are non-toilet flushers: Back when our area was in the throes of a horrid drought, we began the practice of selectively flushing, and the girls have maintained that practice. I'm sure you understand.)

Also, I'm looking at prospective houses with a real estate broker. This sounds like fun, but it is not. It is fraught with disappointment.

Case in point: the girls and I fell in love with a house but before we could make an offer, it went under contract. I think Tiny Girl will never forgive us for moving too slowly on that one.

But most of the time, houses look promising on the outside, only to reveal a total deal-breaker once you're in the door. Another case in point: yesterday, we looked at a really lovely house, and I was slightly swayed until we noticed that the laundry room was in the basement. And not just in the basement, but through the basement and around the corner behind the stairs. Visions of schlepping clothes up and down two flights of stairs danced through my head. Hmmm.

Then there was the gorgeous large house in a lovely neighborhood overlooking a lake. I pictured myself sipping a cup of coffee on the deck and gazing at the lake in the morning light. Yes, the house needed some work, but still. Then we ventured into the unfinished basement, which featured its own lake. The standing water was almost an inch deep in places!


Himself and I have been the teensiest bit snippy with each other. He said the other night,"I think the stress is getting to both of us." It's probably a good thing he's in Boston for a few days.

It's probably not a good thing I made homemade chocolate chip cookies two days ago and then ate most of them myself.

What do you think?