I have just sold my house! For the third time, in as many weeks. It looks like this offer will stick, and this long process may finally be coming to an end. There have been lots of ups and downs in recent weeks; and as with all such experiences, I am trying to milk it for life lessons. The biggest, by far, is the importance of not taking things personally.
Because it is an oddly personal process, selling a house. You invite the general public to quite literally come in and dig around in your underwear drawer—and you are asking them, implicitly, to pass judgement on what they see. We have lived in this house for 21 years. We raised our daughters here. We’ve poured 21 years of money and love into its maintenance and upkeep, planting gardens, coloring a life. While we are ready to move on, we love this place; and it is hard not to see it as an expression of who we are.
But it’s the house that people are choosing, or not. It’s not us as people. This is the critical point to remember.
The first thing that happens when you decide to sell is that the potential brokers tell you how much they love your house, and how excited they are about the opportunity to help the universe of potential buyers fall in love with it, too.
Once your agents are under contract, the next thing that happens is that they tell you all the things that are wrong with your house, and why it is thus worth less than you’d thought. This, in fact, is your first opportunity not to take things personally. In our case: the house is located on a busy street. (We have lived here for 21 years, and this fact has not exactly escaped our notice.) Also, the lot is small! Well, perhaps; but we have gardened intensively and lovingly.
Year after year, I have proven that my modest vegetable and herb garden can amply feed a family of four, as long as I also make frequent trips to the supermarket.
The biggest criticism: our bathrooms are, apparently, woefully out of date. This one, I must confess, mystifies me. My definition of an up-to-date bathroom involves three things:
- Hot and cold running water,
- The absence of mildew; and
- A working toilet.
Our bathrooms have all three! Plus they have lots of vintage charm.
The most funky and fun is the half-bath on the first floor, which is tucked under the stairs. When first-time guests ask where to find the bathroom, we explain that if they were Harry Potter and this were the Dursleys’ house, it would be their bedroom.
So why upgrade when you have all this vintage charm? The Dursleys certainly didn’t upgrade for Harry! And if it’s good enough for fictional characters on the other side of the pond….
Frankly, I haven’t thrown money at our bathrooms because they are not the part of the house where I imagined spending many happy hours with family and friends. But apparently, au courant bathrooms are a thing. A thing that our home does not have, and that the buying public wants these days. A thing I should not take personally. If people are focused on fabulous bathrooms it means that they are the ones who are shallow and vain; not me!
Likewise I did not take it at ALL personally when for the first three weeks our house was on the market there was nary a nibble, despite several robustly-attended open houses and a real estate market that was showing clear signs of spring awakening. If people chose to buy one of those new construction duplexes instead of our 1880’s vintage Victorian – well, that just shows that they are incapable of appreciating the gracious curving lines of Queen Anne architecture! It’s their lack of aesthetic sensibility. It’s not about us at all!
Eventually we lowered the price, and a bidding war promptly ensued; that’s when we accepted Offer #1. They were hot to go, those first buyers. No inspection! Closing in five weeks! So we called the movers and started to pack.
But those first would-be buyers, and the ones behind Offer #2 as well, ran into financing problems and pulled out of their respective deals. We stopped packing, put the toothbrushes back in the closet, and put the house back on the market.
And now, a couple of weeks later, we have accepted an offer from Buyer #3. All in all, the negotiation process was a lot more fun in the context of a bidding war between two insolvent parties. These last folks came in super-low and bargained hard over the course of several days. Their realtor’s main negotiating strategy was to justify the low price by regular recitation of all of the house’s shortcomings, to wit:
- It is on a busy street;
- The lot is small; and
- The bathrooms are out of date
The whole thing would have been deeply stressful, were it not for those relaxing, hot, mildew-free showers.
Finally, when the negotiations were complete, our realtor told us a bit about the buyers: a family with three young girls, all of whom are utterly enchanted with the Harry Potter bathroom under the staircase on the first floor. And this news makes me happy beyond words.
More than anything else, for me, this house is where my two girls blossomed into the marvelous young women they have become. Now that they are adults, my relationship with each of them is developing into something different than it was – equally precious, but different. No doubt the change in geography will nudge that evolution along. It is easy to fall into old patterns in old spaces. In new places we will continue to find new ways of being with each other – which is all good, all as it should be. But leaving this house means leaving the place where, for 21 years, I have been Mommy before I have been anything else. Leaving here will also mean finding new ways of being with myself.
Although what happens next in this house is not about me – not about me at all – imagining a new generation of growing girls playing hide and seek in the Harry Potter bathroom makes it so much easier to let go. So farewell, house! I wish your new occupants decades of growth, joy, and countless happy hours with family and friends in whatever room in the house they care to spend them.
And of course, I wish them freedom from mildew.