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I’m Scared. Hold me.

We’ve been wanting to sell our house for a year now. For a lot of reasons. Let me give them to you.

  • We bought this house optimistically thinking we’d need the space for any more children we might have. HA. Funny joke on my shitty uterus.
  • We used our free time renovating our old house, so buying a house that needed updating to be our “forever” home seemed fine.
  • Now we use our free time running/cycling/swimming and therefore have NO time for updating/renovating.
  • We also have no free time for cleaning, so managing a 4,000 square foot house is just a joke.
  • We no longer care about the walls around us. We used to be homebodies so those walls were important. Now they’re not, so we don’t want to waste time or money on them.
  • We need to downsize. Our entire family hangs out/uses barely half of the house.

The problem is – there are a few kinda-major things that would need to be done before we sell the house. We haven’t done those yet because we haven’t had the time. So, now we’re at the point where we think we should get a real estate agent to tell us: “This is what you could sell the house for AS IS. This is what you could sell the house for if you put this effort into these projects.” I mean, I know it’s not an exact science, but just some guidance would be nice. Donnie and I have different opinions about what’s important to buyers.

The other problem is – I’m kinda embarrassed. I haven’t “deep” cleaned in years and don’t really have time to do it now. So I don’t want a real estate agent to come over until I’ve cleaned. Which I need to admit, is never going to happen.

The other problem is – I’m scared of the “selling” process. We didn’t live in our old house when it was on the market so we never had to deal with “showing” it. That part TERRIFIES ME. A good friend tried to ease my nerves by recommending we go to an independent home buyer like We Buy Houses that apparently make selling an easier process, but I’m still petrified of the whole idea of it!

SO! Can you give me some stories to ease my mind? This is what I’m looking for:

  • Stories telling me how houses that haven’t been updated DO sell. We know we can’t get top dollar for it, because it has old cabinetry and old counters and popcorn ceilings. But can you reassure me that, if it’s priced reasonably enough, that someone will still buy it? Did your house with popcorn ceilings sell?
  • Stories about how you managed to keep a house “showable” with pets and kids. I can’t pack up my cats whenever people come to see the house. I guess we can pack up the dog, but not the cats. Did you leave your cats in your house when it was being shown?
  • Stories telling me that when you first called your real estate agent over, they didn’t judge you. Tell me they’ve seen worse. We’re going to pay to have someone deep clean it to give us a fresh start, but not yet. We’re going to wait until closer to market date. Will she judge me now? With dirty windows and baseboards?

I can’t even bring myself to call a real estate agent because the anxiety is so great. YES. I WANT OUT OF THIS HOUSE. But the anxiety keeps me from making the call. Can you help a girl out? I know selling houses is AWFUL, but maybe you can reassure me that it’s survivable. Also thinking about buying a new house and dealing with a quit claim deed form is pretty exciting though!! I can’t wait for a home which fits us all in and doesn’t need any renovations. Although selling a house can be pretty stressful, I’m really excited to see what’s to come.

27 thoughts on “I’m Scared. Hold me.”

  1. My mom is a realtor (for about 25yrs now), so I’ve heard a lot of these …

    You don’t NEED to update everything, it will still sell … but for less. Clean and less cluttered go a long way in a buyer’s mind (which is why there are Staging businesses now). Talk to a realtor to determine what people are looking for … can you get away with just buying new appliances or updating a bathroom, or is that even worth it. They’re highly paid professionals that know your area better than you do. That said, find somebody with experience … they’ve been around a while for a reason. Finally, if you don’t have time (or willpower … I HEAR YA) to clean, hire somebody.

    Just my two cents. We’ll be looking at selling in a few years, and I’m kind of dreading it. There are things I know we’ll have to fix or update that we’re OK with, but buyers won’t be. Good luck!

  2. We sold two houses in three years, once with 3 kids and once with 4. I’m not going to lie, keeping the house “show ready” was tough, but once we got into a routine it was manageable. Both houses we sold were updated, but if it makes you feel any better, the house we bought hadn’t been updated since the 1960s! We loved it so much, so even though we knew it was going to be a huge project house, we bought it. There are so many intangibles and things beyond your control when it comes to selling a house, so don’t stress too much. And paying someone else to deep clean my house was one of the happiest days of my life! 🙂

  3. We sold earlier this summer and our realtor was great at telling us what was worth fixing/leaving to get top dollar. Under his instruction we updated the old fuse box to a breaker panel and slapped some paint in the living room walls. And then I bought a groupon for home cleaning, packed up most of our clutter, and we left the rest. We got exactly our asking price in 6 days.

    We have a toddler, so when the realtor listed the house he asked for an hour warning before showings in the evening (the only time we’re home, really). Only one realtor/buyer popped by without warning and I was in the middle of making dinner, so I was all “have a look around, but I’m not ruining $30 worth of food to leave while you do it,” and it was fine. They were the ones who ended up buying.

    We have a dog and we did our best to have him out of the house for showings, but it wasn’t always possible, so the realtor suggested keeping him in one room and putting a sign on the door – “dog in here” – so buyers could open the door if they wanted, but if they were allergic/scared, they didn’t have to. It wasn’t an issue at all. In some if the comments people left, they told us what a sweet dog he is.

    I was terrified before listing our house – all the what ifs about people and our stuff and exposing my terrible housekeeping, and and and…. It was fine. easy. A good realtor will help prioritize tasks and let you know what’s worth worrying about. And no matter how messy your house, they won’t judge. They’ll just say, gently, “I can recommend a great carpet cleaner, if you’d like.”

  4. Have you considered hiring a one-time maid for the cleaning issue? From what I understand they’re not terribly expensive. If it seemed reasonable, you could continue using a maid service through all of the showings so you only had tidying to do once in awhile. Spending extra money isn’t a stress relief for some people, but it does seem like it would solve a certain anxiety for you!

  5. We sold our house this past year, while living in it with a 75-pound dog and two kids under 3. We put a clause in the listing noting that we have pets and kids and please try to give 24 hours notice for showings, which served the dual purpose of giving us time to clean beforehand and also to let people know to not expect an HGTV-level of cleanliness and decor. The dog we crated during showings when we couldn’t take him with us, although we saw lots of houses that had cats at home–often they were stuck in a room with a note that there was a cat inside and please try not to let him out when you peek inside, or just a note on the front door asking that we be careful not to let the cat out when we entered or left the house.

    All this to say, it’s totally doable! People are generally very understanding about pets and things like that.

    Oh, and I’m sure the need for updating won’t work against you. We actually WANTED a house that needed some renovations because we enjoy that sort of thing. I’m willing to bet a lot of other people feel the same way.

  6. My boss is a mortgage broker and I do data entry for him. I live in the FL panhandle and generally, houses are selling! The days on market average less than 90 days. I’d bet your house would go just as fast. Bonus if you aren’t upside down. However, all disclaimers apply as I am not a realtor, and you are in a different area than I am.

    I second the cleaning service.

    I have no idea on staging. My husband is retiring from active duty in February and we are not staying here. But we can’t sell because we are upside down and not candidates for refinancing. (Which feels like being financially raped.) I’m making little improvements where I can, and going through and touching up paint to make it attractive to renters.

  7. I agree on all of the above. My 2 cents is you DON’T need to be ready for your own realtor. We did it by accident but out crazy house of kids was nowhere near even company clean and we went to SEE a house and my DH invited our realtor to look at our house right then! I was mortified but he said he can see past the mess and clutter. So, just call the realtor and get started!

  8. I know it would be stressful, but if you interview a few different realtors to find one you are happy to work with you might be better off. Finding someone you like who can make recommendations that don’t make you feel attacked/belittled/etc. will make the whole process so much nicer. It’s a big bonus if you can find one who has recently been selling/buying in your neighborhood, but honestly having someone who you’re comfortable working with is such a huge improvement on a process that is stressful no matter what.

  9. My boys were 3 and 6 when we were selling. If we got notice of a showing, I used to throw everything that was lying around into laundry baskets as I ran out the door and put them in the car. Don’t hide dirty dishes in the oven (they always open it!).

    You’ll find once it’s clean, it’s easier to keep clean.

    Put a couple of cinnamon sticks, orange slices and cloves in water on the stove to make a house smell good (I baked cookies before an open house).

    We offered a cash bonus to the realtor if it sold within 30 days of listing (it sold on the 30th day!). I ended up making the sale myself – the buyer was driving by to look at another house down the street; saw the realtor’s sign and knocked on our door.

  10. Kim,
    Our house is on the market right now (2 months–ugh!) in South Florida. We have 2 kids (8 and 6 1/2) and a 75 pound chocolate lab. Last year we updated our flooring, kitchen, and pool, as those are the most “bang” areas. We elected not to do the bathrooms–while they need updating, they are not the original to the house and are still fine (double sinks, etc.).

    To get ready to list, we did a HUGE cleaning and de-cluttering. Now, most of the clutter ended up in the garage, but honestly I think people expect that. We straighten up daily, especially bathrooms and kitchen. I vacuum every other day for the dog hair, and we do a more thorough cleaning on the weekends. I admit, it is time consuming. We have very busy lives, but we all want to move to a bigger lot, so we have to work together. The dog (13 months) is crated during the day anyway, so that isn’t different. Our agent is at every showing, and the dog knows him, so it is easier. I am very conscious of animal smells in a home, and I don’t want anyone turned off because of that, so I spray the rugs and upholstered furniture every other day with Nature’s Miracle to get rid of any smells. I definitely think what everyone else has said about the initial deep cleaning is key. It will likely cost you $200, but it will make things SO MUCH easier for you in the long run.

    The comment we get most often from people who come to see the house is how clean it is (seriously, if you knew me, you would die laughing). The issue that is keeping people from making an offer is that the backyard is not completely private (we agree!). The houses we’ve looked at have run the gamut–some completely empty, others completely full of clutter and dirty as all hell. A good buyer can look beyond all that (knowing that once the current owner moves out and you clean it you have a clean slate) and look at layout, space, etc.

    Maybe go into a few houses that are similar to yours in size and age to see how they do things before listing? That way you make sure you are competitive in how you price and present. Definitely get a seasoned real estate agent who will be completely honest (and realistic) with you. It’s a pain in the a$$ to do it, but the payoff will be so much greater for you all once it’s done. Good luck!

  11. Realtors will definitely have seen worse, and they are not looking at the baseboards or windows, they’re looking at the bones of the house, and its potential. Also, knowing how anxiety works, I BET YOU the dreading is way worse than the doing. So, the good thing is, once you’ve taken that first step, you don’t have to dread it anymore!

    Also, houses with “some work” definitely sell. Houses with popcorn ceilings definitely sell. Houses that smell like old lady perfume, and have filthy carpets that are beyond discoloured and have destroyed doorjambs also sell.

    (I am someone who is buying a place that needs “some work” and the place is gorgeous and what do I care if they didn’t tile the kitchen properly, I can fix it and make it MINE)

    (admittedly, I didn’t buy the old lady smelling house, but someone did a week after I saw it)

  12. This is unrelated to the post (sorry Kim!!) …..

    I want to say I’ve never met another Amy Jo! HI! I was Amy Jo for half my life until I moved to another town and the Jo didn’t stick around (it’s a shortened version of my middle name). It makes me happy & think maybe I should go back to being Amy Jo! Anyway…cool name!

  13. Haha! I was always just ‘Amy’ until I relocated, and then the ‘Jo’ stuck around. It’s funny now because I can date my relationships with people based on what they call me!

  14. Lots of good advice here that I’d echo. We have friends who were very serious about selling their house themselves. More power to them (it keeps all that commission in your pocket), but I really appreciated the services of our Realtor. She provided a top-notch photographer (there was 1 photo of the garage/back yard we didn’t like & the photographer re-shot it) AND a consultation appointment with a stager all as part of her Realtor services (and her commission $). She was also the #1 realtor for our neighborhood, so she knew exactly what price to list our house at – we were interested in getting out pretty quickly so we set the price at exactly what we wanted, not higher with the option to come down…we knew we were not really interested in a negotiation process.

    We completely rearranged the living room & dining room on the recommendation of the stager (and after wondered why we hadn’t gone with that arrangement 10 years earlier). The stager also recommended that closets and shelves were only 3/4 full & that they have NOTHING on the floor of the closet (agony! This was super hard). This meant we rented a storage space for staging/showing the house, which frankly sucked. And it sucked more after we moved into our new house & realized that we didn’t actually want at least half of what we’d been storing! So declutter, declutter, declutter. It will help you in the end anyway if you’re downsizing to a smaller house.

    Our Realtor & stager didn’t have us go overboard on depersonalizing the house (we still had some family photos out, but only a few), but basically every visible flat surface was EMPTY (kitchen counters, bathroom counters, bookshelves) or only had something decorative on it – that was hard for me because I’m a paper stacker/clutterer (and I work at home!). I did a ton of repainting myself, mostly with the existing colors but getting rid of all the scuffs & wear on the walls due to kid wear-and-tear, we got the carpets deep cleaned, and cleaned the entire house within an inch of its life (after decluttering). After you do it once, it’s pretty easy to maintain, especially if you get into a routine of immediately dealing with any mess/clutter (mail, kids’ toys, etc.). I would not even bother with a deep clean until *after* you’ve done the declutter/paint process.

    Honestly, we did not put any money into the house except for the paint & carpet cleaning service (and the storage space rental) – we did have a couple of fixes we did after the inspection, but they were fairly low dollar. We have 2 cats, so we just made sure that the Realtor warned people in advance. The people who bought our house (after 1 week on the market at our asking price!) had 2 cats themselves & loved the hidden litterbox (in a closet with a cat door on it).

  15. Oh – and we bought a house that had some updates done, but 2 of the 3 bathrooms are original 1966 & the kitchen cabinets & counters were old (we’ve since replaced the counters, but still have the old cabinets) and there are popcorn ceilings everywhere. But the layout was what we wanted, the yard is fantastic, the location is good, and it was super clean & super decluttered when we looked at it. We walked in and immediately felt like we could make a home here – that was what I was going with for our old house & I think we achieved that too with our buyers. Even if your paint colors aren’t exactly what they want, if it’s neat and clean & decluttered, those things recede and the good points of your house shine through.

  16. We hired someone to deep clean our house, they cleaned things I have never even thought about cleaning. Our realtor flat out told us a clean and decluttered house would sell for at least a couple of thousand dollars more. (My neighbor didn’t declutter, we have the exact same floor plan and closed within days of each other. We sold for $10k more.)
    Once they deep cleaned it was a hell of a lot easier to keep clean. Clorox wipes were my best friend. We had a check list of things that had to be done before we left each day before we left the house. We ate a lot of take out on our back deck to prevent food smells.
    In some places, having a non-updated House is a good thing because people want to spend their money on putting their own style on the house instead of buying someone else’s.
    Ask around for realtor recommendations. If they are judgmental, don’t use them, you are paying far too much to deal with anyone that isn’t a complete professional. They may tell you it is worth spending $x to paint because you will make back $xx in the sell.

  17. I’m the same way!! Only my childhood friends & close family call me Amy Jo. It makes me feel like a kid when I hear it! Like I should be sitting at the little table. This is so interesting & made my day!

  18. We sold our house in southern Florida last year six days after putting it on the market. It was an older house – a 1960’s one – and some rooms still had some of the original work (e.g., bathroom cabinet in the second bathroom, kitchen shelves). It IS very likely buyers will prefer that so they can do the updating themselves. I know I do – we’re looking at houses here in Saint Paul and some of the house show hastily updated kitchens and/or bathrooms that aren’t … very good. Of course, the asking price as a result is way overinflated and those houses tend to sit on the market for a lot longer.

    You’ll be okay – just get that deep clean out of the way and then it’s a matter of maintaining it. Use copious amount of baking soda and a couple drops of essential oils on the carpets the night before a showing and vacuum in the morning – it helps with pet smells (I say this as someone who owns two dogs!). Make a game out of it with the kids. Hide toys, declutter and whipe down every so often and you’ll be good to go!

    Good luck with the sale – it’s such a stressful ordeal but once you sign those closing papers and downsize, it’ll be so, so worth it.

  19. 100% seconding the one-time maid service to get your house back to baseline so you don’t have to be embarrassed.

  20. We sold, bought, and moved 1600 miles in the past three months. With three kids under 8 and a 100 pound dog. (why yes, I do drink ALOT!) The bottom line is to get rid of a third of your stuff and put another third in storage. As a buyer, it’s really hard to look past the “stuff” on every horizontal surface but an untrimmed yard or spots on the mirror are no big deal. I would probably skip updates–as a buyer, if I hate the countertop you picked I’m going to rip it out even if it’s brand new. The exception to the rule is stained/smelly carpet–we rejected a house on the stained carpet alone. The cat smell was vomit inducing.

    Declutter and pay someone to do a deep clean (including the windows!) it will be totally worth it. Make a “pre-show” checklist ….open all curtains, turn on all lights, hide laundry, turn down AC, etc.

    BTW, we required two hours notice to view our house. Everyone understands the last minute clean and that you have kids. Someone with kids is going to buy your house in the end. They know how it is. We took the dog with us during a showing but we looked at many houses that had cats wandering about.

  21. I think you have gotten some great advice. If you are willing to have family over or host book club or have a party, you should be able to have a real estate agent too. They are there to evaluate the house but not to judge you. I’ve had houses sell quickly and one not so quickly. 38 showings with no offers and every freaking one during a mealtime. I didn’t stipulate advance notice because it was more important for us to get it sold but it was a hassle for sure. We did not have a good agent (personal friend of husband’s) but we also didn’t pay him as much. De-cluttering is way more important than updates. In one of our houses we painted because it really needed it and the new owners painted again day after closing. As far as finding an agent ask your local friends, make an appointment for an evaluation maybe with even 2 or 3 to get a feel for them and get more than one opinion. You can do this!

  22. We had a dog and 2 babies when selling. We requested notice before showing by saying there were pets. That gave us ample time to tidy up, wipe up a few dirty areas on the floor and get out. We did sell our house quickly. I wouldn’t say our house was clean clean but it picked up and vacuumed before showings. If you have swap or mom groups on facebook in your area, go there and ask for suggestions. I bet you would get a lot of the same answers for a good realtor. I would also look online and find someone that has professional pictures. Our realtor paid someone for this plus a youtube video and it sold in 3 days.

  23. Will write more on computer but YES we bought our house in a rather dusty state w water problems. We offered about 30000 less than selling price and Got it. It was meant for us. Yours will be too for someone! More when I’m not phone typing 😉

  24. Much of the process is actually dependent on what the houses around you are selling for! I would get a cleaner and an agent and they will give you good advice. There are actually people who want to buy a house that needs work so that they can put their own touch on everything. Depend on the professionals and don’t worry!

  25. We sold our previous house when we had a 2 and 4 year old plus an evil cat. Our realtor was great! She suggested small updates – replacing the living room carpet which was pretty gross (we used Rock bottom carpets), changing out a couple of light fixtures, and painting over the baby moon and stars in one bedroom. We packed up a lot of our stuff to de clutter at her suggestion. The realtor’s photographer took spectacular photos and our house was only shown once! It sold right away! The cabinets weren’t updated, although the appliances were pretty new and we’d put in a silestone countertop in the kitchen. We did nothing to the bathrooms. We did have a maid, which definitely helped!

  26. Don’t do anything until you talk to a realtor. I like the idea of interviewing a few to find one you (a) like and (b) has a demonstrable record of selling in your area. I was amazed when we sold our house at what the realtor told us *not* to do – for example, the 20 year old rose carpet stayed. He said people like the option of picking and installing their own when they buy an older home. We had two solid offers in the first two weeks, and sold to the first one. A good realtor can see past the superficial, tell you the minimum you need to do, and then get it sold.

  27. My husband (then fiancé) put his house on the market with a small-town realtor. Two people looked at it the whole time it was on the market. No bites. We rented it for 2 years, then put it on the market again with a better-known realtor in a nearby city who was referred to us. It was sold in 11 days. Realtors make a huge difference – ask your buddies and post for recommendations on facebook!
    The house I’m referring to was old, needed a new roof, the siding & windows had seen better days, the driveway was a mess…in other words, there is NO WAY I would have bought the house, personally. But, everything had a fresh coat of paint, the carpets were professionally cleaned, and the house was picked up as well as it could be considering the renter was still living in the home and had a full time job, 3 kids, and a dog.
    There are a lot of little things that help sell houses. Fresh paint, clean floors, and lack of clutter go a long way. I would have a realtor look at your house before doing anything … he or she will guide you on what is important/kinda important/not important. Be honest with the realtor on what you are willing to do/kinda willing to do/not willing to do. GOOD LUCK!

    Oh, P.S. When searching for a home, I went into a house that had human skulls in their living room, which was painted black. I mean, seriously! You may have a fake hip on your bookshelf, but that’s nothin compared to that mess! 😀

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