Update, declutter, depersonalize, or not?

What’s the first thing you think when you look at this picture knowing this house is going up for sale? I’m guessing you’d say what the folks around the table told the owner. You’ll have to update, declutter, and take down all the personal stuff so buyers can picture themselves in this house. Buyers don’t want to have to update. Buyers get turned off by clutter. Buyers need stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.

This is a picture of my mother-in-law’s kitchen. Her former kitchen. Her kitchen in the house she put up for sale in July. The one she just closed on and was only on the market for NINE days. Contrary to most advice, most home hunting and selling shows on TV, and publications dedicated to selling a home, the house sold in nine days, and for above asking price. You read that correctly, ABOVE asking price.

The family got together in July and talked through the options and expectations with my mother-in-law, preparing her for what typically is a long haul when selling a house these days. We optimistically thought a timeline might be to be sold and out of the house by December. We pictured and sketched out the work ahead to clean up and pack what 33 years of living had accumulated. We thought we had time to spare.

Instead, in the time it took to accept the offer until closing day, the relatives and friends that live close by managed to help my widowed mother-in-law get packed up and moved into a lovely senior community apartment complex close to her church. It was a massive operation that involved dumpsters, and yard sales, and inspection repairs. I’m in awe of what the family accomplished, and grateful for their work. And, just as I suspected, a weight has been lifted, the burden of old house maintenance is no longer a worry for my husband’s mom, and the family that cares about her.

Having been involved in a couple of home sales and purchases, this experience confirms my thinking. Don’t get caught up in the “shoulds” of popular thinking of the moment. This house was immaculately clean, and pretty well maintained. And by that I mean, it was obvious when my father-in-law was alive, they did the best they could, and when they could do better, they did. That’s more important than what color the appliances are, or whether the windows have ruffled valances or pleated shades.

For anyone who owns a house, a recent figure to use for yearly maintenance and upgrades is 3-5% of the home’s value. For do-it-yourselfers that’s a pretty good budget. In our house that’s the budget that routine things come from like furnace filters, plumbing fixes, but also new paint for the front door, and a new back door. Yes, this means you have to plan out big projects like a new roof, or new landscaping, and have a vision for the years ahead. The purchase of a home, upgraded or not, doesn’t freeze its condition for all time. Age happens. Needs and taste change. Spending money on your home is an investment in better living.

Why did this house sell so fast? It’s probably several reasons. It was priced well. There was a motivated buyer, and realtors who nurtured their clients through the sale. And there was an entire team of people praying over the home’s sale and the transition for the owner from one place to the next. I talked to my mother-in-law last week and she sounds happy to be making a new home and she’s making new friends and getting situated in new surroundings. We’re all happy she’s happy!


More thoughts and lessons learned from this experience in the next few weeks. Do you have a parent you’ve helped through the sale of their house and downsizing?


About Robin Arnold

Reader, writer, gardener, geek, maker of homes in several states, now settled in Virginia with husband Bob, and Hazel and Wilson the tabby cats.
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