by Tracy Gulliver, Becketwood Member
In June of 2016, Todd and I asked Maura to put us on the “Ready to Buy” list, since we planned to sell our house the following year. We had no idea that we’d be ready to buy within weeks.
We met with Amy—a realtor and good friend of my sister’s—on Sunday evening to see what we needed to do before putting our house on the market. Her list seemed overwhelming: install new carpet; paint all walls a neutral color; update the kitchen faucet; and replace one bathroom vanity.
We thanked her and said we’d call her in the spring.
She left at eight o’clock that night. Less than an hour later, she called to say that one of her clients wanted to look at our house the next day.
“But we’re not ready! It will take me a day just to find the vacuum cleaner!”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “They understand how last minute this is.”
“Okay, but promise me you won’t open any closet doors.” I'd spent the entire spring parting with outdated clothes, so we had several empty drawers, shelves, and even space under the bed to stash clutter and treasures that no one but Todd and I could appreciate. Thankfully, I found Rosie the Rumba, dusted her off, and put her to work. Exhausted after hours of dashing and stashing, we sent Rosie to her charging station, then collapsed into bed sometime after two a.m.
Two days later we learned that the couple had decided our house wasn’t for them. The mosquitos had probably chased them away. I let out a sigh of relief. At least the house was clean.
“Maybe we should put the house on the market this year,” I said.
Todd touched my forehead with the back of his hand. “You don’t seem to have a fever.”
I shooed his hand away. “Think about it, property values have rebounded, and obviously there’s a demand for houses.” This was the first time I had heard the words, seller’s market. “Besides,” I added, “I’d hate for all our cleaning and decluttering efforts to have been in vain.”
“Have you considered we don’t have a place to move to?”
Normally, that would have been my line.
“Well, if the house actually sells this fall, we could house-sit for Mom and Dad over the winter,” I suggested. They lived less than a mile from us. My parents were happy to accommodate.
Moving so close would provide a good transition. I could say goodbye to the house I’d lived in for thirty years, but still be in the community where I grew up. In the meantime, Todd and I planned to visit every Becketwood open house and hold our breath each time we expressed interest in a unit.
According to Amy, if we wanted to try selling before the prime real estate season peaked, we had six weeks to prepare. Once we finished sprucing things up, we would contact her and draw up a contract. It didn’t concern me that we had no permanent housing, which is huge for a professional worrier.
We would have to downsize considerably. I posted furniture on a garage sale website. The woman who picked up mason jars and a canning kettle asked why we wanted to leave such a beautiful place. The couple who took the hutch my grandmother once used said it must be difficult to move after thirty years. I joked with each stranger who questioned our decision, saying they weren’t making this any easier. I only had to use one word to explain and they understood immediately: grandchildren. I loved our house and the land, but moving closer to the next generation of my family still felt right.
The following Saturday morning, Todd started hauling decades-old treasures from the garage to the highway. In the farming community, neighborhoods are measured in acres and miles. Our neighbor Val lived a mile away. She had been visiting her mother Ann, who lived across the road from us. Her parents and mine had known each other since childhood. Val crossed the highway to find out what was going on. As we sat on the log bench Todd had fashioned from a fallen tree in the back forty, we explained the whirlwind of events that had taken place.
Val said her niece Lindsay and husband BJ had been looking for a house. Earlier that week Ann had said the same thing, but I had dismissed her comment, chalking it up to Alzheimer’s.
We invited Val in and showed her the dining room table we were selling. We gave her a tour and I asked her to overlook the fact that it looked like a hurricane had hit.
“How much are you asking?”
Todd and I looked at each other and shrugged. I was having enough trouble trying to decide how much I should ask for two immigrant trunks and an extra living room set. I gave a price based on Amy’s estimate.
More people came to pick up not-so-gently used stuff on the side of the road. Ten minutes before Todd was supposed to take me to my class reunion, a man who had come for free stuff the previous week returned to pick up more free stuff. Todd wasn’t disappointed about having to miss being introduced to people he’d met for the first time only ten years ago. He gladly dropped me off, then went home to continue cleaning the garage.
When I left, the house still looked like the aftermath of a hurricane. I was grateful the sale was taking place in the garage and yard, and along the side of the road. While reconnecting with friends I hadn’t seen for ten years, I was blissfully unaware that Todd was conducting impromptu open houses.
The couple who had taken some canning jars off our hands on Monday returned for another item. An unidentified man was helping my father and a second unidentified man put bulky items onto Unidentified Man Number Two’s trailer. Todd took another load to the highway and talked to a man who was taking a pail full of hammers. Todd invited him to come up to the garage because he might be interested in some other tools.
As my class was gathering for a group photo, my phone rang. It was Val’s niece Lindsay asking if she and her husband BJ could look at our house that afternoon. I called Todd to let him know to expect a call.
“I’m a little busy right now. I’m showing two couples around the house and property.”
“Please tell me you made the bed first and threw everything in the closet!”
There was silence on the other end of the phone.
“At least tell me you flushed the toilet and closed the lid,” I pleaded. “Just say yes or no. Don’t bother elaborating in front of strangers.”
“I’m not sure.”
I wondered what repercussions would result from Todd practicing without a realtor’s license. I returned to pose for the group photo, then told friends about my most recent embarrassing moment.
Meanwhile, I was unaware that one of the couples—Todd thought it might have been the hammer man—asked when we planned to move. Todd told him that it ranged somewhere between two days to two years and that I would call him the morning, since I’d be handling the details. I had no idea there were any details to handle.
I called Todd to let him know I was going to a classmate’s house after the reunion. “I can’t talk right now,” he said. “I’m showing the house to Lindsay and BJ.”
I didn’t bother asking if he’d done any last minute cleaning before they had come. I didn’t want to know.
After the reunion, my friends wanted to see the outdoor bread oven Todd and I had built. Then they asked to see the inside of our clutter-infested house. Since Todd had shown it to total strangers, I could hardly turn down my friends’ requests. I asked them to wait on the deck while I raced inside to flush the toilet and close the lid. I would have to show the rest of the house as is.
The bedroom was in the same condition I had left it. My friends admired our dusty log railings and told me to stop apologizing for the mess. Everyone agreed we shouldn’t have any trouble selling. One suggested we post it on Craig's List. I was sure that anyone who walked through our house that day had no intention of returning.
The five of us continued to a friend’s house only two miles away. As we spent the next two hours talking, I ignored the annoying tunes coming from my cell phone before finally turning it off.
When I arrived home late that evening, Todd greeted me with, “You’d better sit down. You’re not going to believe this.”
The canning kettle couple had left their contact information. Her sister was returning to the area and might be interested. Hammer Man left his phone number. Lindsay had called to say she and BJ were interested, and asked if they could look at it again the next day. We performed another frenzied cleaning Sunday morning.
That afternoon Lindsay’s father Mark, whom we also know well, joined them as they walked through the house. We assured the young couple that we planned to repaint, re-carpet, replace fixtures and repair a few things before we even thought about selling.
“Don’t bother,” Lindsay said. “We’ll replace them anyway.”
If you decide to buy, I thought.
As we stood in the driveway, Todd, BJ, and Mark talked about tools and landscaping while Lindsay and I talked about how her grandmother Ann was doing.
“I hope you two can buy the house,” I said. “It would be like selling to family.” Besides knowing her extended family, her great-grandparents’ farmstead had butted up against my great-grandparents’ farmstead for generations.
“We want it,” Lindsay said. “How much are you asking?”
I named the price Todd and I had come up with the day before, expecting she would say “thank you” and leave. On the off chance that they really wanted to buy, I at least expected her to negotiate.
“When can we close?”
I sucked in my breath, then reminded myself to exhale. “How soon do you think your house will sell?” I asked her.
“We don’t have a contingency. We’re going to use our current house as rental property.”
Selling our house couldn’t be this easy.
“How long do you think it will take to get a loan?”
“We were pre-approved when we started looking two years ago.”
I focused on unscrambling my thoughts. We didn’t have to paint, re-carpet or replace a vanity. We didn’t even have to resuscitate the flower gardens. The couple agreed to take the living room couch set and the back-breaking buffet: One series of chiropractic visits avoided.
All Todd and I had to do was find a place to live after our house-sitting gig would be over the following spring. Where we would land after that was anybody’s guess.
I took a crash course on drawing up a purchase agreement, then had our attorney inspect and revise it. Our house passed the safety inspection. The young couple had only one stipulation. We would need to show them how to use the bread oven.
Two months after our impromptu showing—and twelve loaves of bread later—the four of us sat at the closing office and talked about our families. We signed documents while sharing stories about the land, then gave Lindsay and BJ the keys to their new home.
I’ve had many garage sales over the years, but never expected to sell our garage, much less the house attached to it.
I couldn’t imagine changing our mailing address four times in six months either, but we would.