Monday, February 15, 2010

What’s it worth?

For, I-can-no-longer-count-how-many weeks now, Brian and I have been demoing, painting, grouting, selecting, installing, sweating, cursing, and from time-to-time, arguing—all while getting ready to sell my house. It’s not an easy business this house selling; it’s emotional; it requires enormous patience, and far too much of it is beyond our control.

Despite some similarities, it really feels like the opposite end of the emotional spectrum from buying my house more than five years ago. After moving to Seattle in 1999 and discovering housing prices that seemed beyond absurd, I became resigned to the notion that I would never afford a house in Seattle. But sometime back in 03 or 04, a friend encouraged me to consult a mortgage broker. My friend said, “You’d be surprised what they’ll let you borrow.” Sounds awfully prophetic now that the big housing bubble has burst, but my friend’s urging motivated me to fully explore the possibility of actually owning a home.

Once pre-approved, the house hunting came next, which, like house selling, was emotional—and in my entry-level price range—was also downright comical. I’d see a listing and think, “Eureka! This is the one! I’d mentally paste myself into the online photos and imagine myself there—becoming adept at cooking in that kitchen or sunning (during Seattle’s scant summer) on that patio.” Then I’d drive by and realize that the house shared a driveway with a muffler repair shop, was directly under high-voltage power lines, and was within whispering distance of the high-school football field.

I even looked at one house that I now call the “hobbit house” because it was clearly built to a scale that would not accommodate normal-sized humans. The attic was billed as the “master suite,” and just getting up to it required a low fifth-class climbing move. Without removing a wall, there was no way anything other than a rolled up futon could have been shoved up there. Like in most attics, the slope of the roof was profound. I’m 5’4” and could stand up in the center of the so-called suite, but one large step to either side, and I was ducking; since those were my single days, I was probably thinking, “No tall boyfriends if I live here.”

When I first saw the house I did buy, there were so many pros and cons my brain was nearly doing flip-flops: While driving up, I thought, “It’s so close to the expensive neighborhoods I really like. But, it’s just one street back from the substantial intersection with the unsightly underage dance club. The neighboring house looks like a dump, but the house itself is so cute—almost like a real Seattle bungalow! But, the price is too high—can’t get my hopes up.” Walking in, “Kinda smells like dog. Strange layout, but the master bedroom has it’s own bathroom. It doesn’t have a basement, but it has a big closet that could hold my gear.” And then, “The back bedroom would be great for a housemate. The rooms are big. It has a garden. Everything is starting to bloom.”

Originally, the price was too high for me, but when it came down several times within a month, I thought, “hmmm, maybe now it has become a bargain I can afford.” Once I moved in, I learned to be highly suspicious of bargains. The smell of dog didn’t leave with the dog. Removed furniture revealed doggy (and potentially kitty) urine stains. The house was filthy, and all of this was before I discovered the fleas; or should I say, before the fleas discovered me.

I know now that when people and pets live in a house with fleas, the people may not be fully aware of the extent of the problem because the fleas prefer the pets. But, when you move into a house and are the only warm-blooded creature within, the fleas will make do. Dealing with a full-blown flea infestation is a trauma-inducing experience that I would only wish on serial killers, terrorists, and rats. And, if you ever find yourself in this hell I somehow survived, just call Flea Busters, and save yourself a lot of therapy.

However, despite the filthy, stinky, buggy start, over time, I reclaimed my house, and I turned it into my home. The carpets were ditched, the fleas finally poisoned, the walls painted, the lovely old-growth-fir flooring uncovered and refinished, the cabinets painted, and the bathroom tile re-grouted. From floor to ceiling, little improvements slowly made my little house cute, clean, and cozy. And, once Brian moved in, the real improvements started: new lights, new switches, new faucets, new thermostat, new master bathroom, and more. So, five plus years later, I will honestly be sad to say goodbye to a home that warmly welcomed friends and family (once I evicted all the fleas).

I think the main thing that differentiates the house buying from the house selling is that the buying is all about hope and possibility and what you can do to turn a sour hovel into a sweet little home. And so much of that is in your control. It may be hard and trying, and it may take way more time, talent, and money than anticipated, but, if you’re willing to peck away at it, you can make the difference. You can take that unloved, uncared for, so-called bargain and claim it for your own by seeing the potential.

With house selling, it feels like it’s all about judgment, fear, and worry that somehow all of that hard work and effort won’t measure up to someone else’s expectations. Once you’ve put your own sweat and tears into it, it’s no longer just an investment and a place to stay; it’s a piece of you, and someone is going to let you know just how much that is worth.

I’d like to tell them, it’s priceless.


  1. It was hard to sell the house because it was the house that I bought on my own with my first career job. Very emotional. Now...I don't think about it. - Livia

  2. I totally understand; that is my experience too. It has been such a big learning experience, and when you work hard to do something on your own, it means something to you.

    But, I'm also anxious to be on a boat, like you are. I'm inspired by your journey so far, and once the house is sold, we will be a little bit closer to a boat of our own. Hope all is well! Lisa

  3. I hear ya. When we sold our first house, the one my husband worked so hard on it was tough.Hopefully your realtor isn't letting you hang around while people walk through either. That is the worst.
    When you do sell it I would also caution against going back to see how the new owners are caring for it. In your case that shouldn't be a problem.


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