Selling a House in a Pandemic by
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Selling our home of 45 years four years ago was like shedding bits of myself. It was painful to depersonalize the home that reflected many happy years, first raising our family and being a gathering place to celebrate life cycle events and later welcoming grandchildren. The process of preparing our house to go on the market felt like peeling an onion – layer by layer, my life there disappeared.

My kids at a wedding that took place in our living room

The process of preparing our house to go on the market felt like peeling an onion – layer by layer, my life there disappeared.

 

So many birthday celebrations

Staging a house is just what the name implies. The house puts on a show for prospective buyers who want to see it as a blank canvas. This meant removing every precious framed photo I had on display. Packing away so many of my knickknacks. De-cluttering so my house looked like the ones on Property Brothers, so it was no longer my home. And hearing from my realtor that the place we loved and enjoyed for 45 years would still come up short in the eyes of today’s buyers.

In a house built in 1911, things like first floor bedrooms and bathrooms didn’t exist. A powder room was the enough for us, but apparently not so much for folks who wanted modern amenities inside the shell of a cool-looking old house. A primary bedroom with an en-suite bathroom and walk-in closet were a must. Our bathroom was directly across the hall from our bedroom, a mere few steps away. We remodeled it about ten years before we put our house on the market and loved it, but we did need to leave our bedroom to access it. And speaking of closets, while our house had lots of them, they were not what folks on HGTV wanted. Then there was our kitchen. The cabinets were old but well-made and painted white, so that was something. But the counter top was Corian, not granite. The appliances were relatively new but white, not stainless steel. Well, at least we added an island when we opened up the wall between the kitchen and dining room. That should have counted for something, right?

When I think back to 1975, the year we bought our house, it was such a different era. I found the listing in our local newspaper’s real estate column and asked our agent to bring us to see it. We were attracted to it because of its location, which would not require us to change neighborhoods, schools, or the friends we made in our apartment, which was three blocks away. We could walk to the beach on Lake Michigan, less than a block away, and my kids could walk to school. I will also confess that I thought the house number, 1010, was lucky because our son was born at 10:10 on June 10.

Despite its lack of the most modern amenities, we fell in love with it, warts and all. No one staged houses in those days. In fact, when we came to see it, the current owners were there and actually helped our realtor show us around their home. That’s exactly what it felt like — a home. The dog ran freely, their personal pictures and knickknacks were displayed everywhere, and it had a happy vibe. Instead of being horrified not to see the staged homes preferred by today’s HGTV generation of home buyers, we were struck by how it would be a great place to raise a family. Inspections were not a thing in those days, so we didn’t see some of the problems we would have to address down the line. We didn’t really have a list of “must-haves.” The house just felt right to us.

In 2020, it was finally time to move on. We bought a move-in-ready condo in January with an April closing date, and we proceeded to put our home on the market. Our timing couldn’t have been worse. The pandemic hit and we had no showings for many months. Then disaster struck. Perhaps the house decided to express its anger toward us for abandoning it by bursting a pipe and ruining our ceilings and floors. As we lived through the chaos of fixing this mess, the noise of the drying mats and fans followed by floor, wall, and ceiling repairs, we took our house off the market. After the repairs were done, we reassessed how our house looked in a bad housing market and made even more improvements.

The flood

Feeling better about how great our house looked, we went back on the pandemic market. Even though showings were few and far between, surely someone would bid on our beloved home. When that didn’t happen, we moved into the condo, thinking that buyers would be less fearful to look at an unoccupied house. What we didn’t grasp was how much people’s expectations for a house had changed since 1974. Thanks to shows like Property Brothers, in a buyer’s market people expected our house to look like a newly built home in a 110-year-old shell.

What I really wished as we prepared to sell our house is that we would find buyers who didn’t need to see it as a staged neutral palette devoid of any personality. I know. It was 2020, not 1975. But my dream was to have a young couple like we were walk into this house that held so many precious memories for us and love our home for it was, a wonderful place to raise a family and fill with their own memories.

We had tons of celebrations

 

And hosted many Thanksgivings

The people who ended up buying our old house have been working on their vision for the perfect home since fall of 2020. According to our former next-door neighbors, our newly refinished floors, office, deck, bathroom fixtures, light fixtures, landscaping, and lots of walls filled multiple dumpsters. I’m not sure if what they did is what we thought of as making repairs and improvements during our 45-year tenure there. One thing’s for sure. It is definitely not our house anymore.

Grandkids running in front of the house

 

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Oh Laurie, I well-remember when you went through all of this during the pandemic – the staging, the flood, the misery of all. And I empathize entirely, though I am not at your point yet. We have lived in our home for 37 years. We’ve done massive amounts of renovation (our house was built in 1948). Lots of it was custom done during two bursts of renovation, the first a few months after purchase, the second about 22 years ago, but none looks like what HGTV is preaching now. We do have an en-suite bathroom (though, through another door, it is shared with another bedroom). It has a lovely Jacuzzi tub, which I still enjoy, but not one of those free-standing soaker tubs, which I just don’t understand. The shape of our kitchen doesn’t lend itself to an island, which I know is all the rage. We still have a separate dining room that is rarely used. I’ve done some de-cluttering (though the closets are overflowing and I do have lots of family pictures on the walls). But I am in no hurry to downsize.

    I know what you went through was painful, but I hope in the end, it was worth it. Now you are free of many of those hassles of homeownership. But it is true. That lovely old house is certainly no longer the home you knew.

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    I love the pictures! Glad you were ultimately able to sell the house, and maybe the subsequent changes just remind you that you have moved on. But so many wonderful memories you have! You are right about how selling houses has really changed from back when, and the market is fickle. We were thrilled to sell our last house to the tenants—didn’t have to do a thing! Hope the smaller and simpler new place is working out for you.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      We are definitely glad we downsized and enjoy our condo. As much as I loved our old house, it was just too big for 2 people, in my opinion. Ironically, the people who bought it (2 people) think they need that much space. Go figure!

  3. Laurie, I remember you writing before about the flood and your work to repair and ready the house for sale – in the midst of a pandemic no less!

    But this story is really about the loving home you and Fred had for all those years, and the cherished memories you have now!

  4. I choked on that paragraph about tossing your carefully chosen and well designed fixtures, etc., into dumpsters! Oy gevalt.
    I can only imagine the difficulty of selling our 1875 house, which we expect to do within a couple of years. It lacks any bedroom with its own bathroom and the appliances don’t match each other. There isn’t an island–or room for one–in the kitchen. The steps down to the basement are creaky and dangerous. The basement ceiling is only 5 feet seven inches high. There may even be lead under the more recent paint jobs. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

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