So James and I are looking to buy a house in the next few months; sell Deb’s house, buy a house for ourselves. Today we met with our real estate agent, Jenniffer, who is going to help us with both of those. We showed up right on time; I made sure to wear a professional-looking dress and did my makeup, to try to look respectable. James showed up jean shorts and a t-shirt, to show what sort of person he is.
Our real estate agent is a mother of three, with a nice haircut. She was wearing a lovely sleeveless blouse with the ruffled collar. The first thing she did was sit down with us in the conference room and explain what exactly a commission is for, how it gets split up, and what exactly she is legally able to do. We explained that we had divvied up the responsibilities: since selling the house ties in so much with the will, James is the person to talk to about selling the house. Since I have no particular connection to the will beyond being married to James, I was in charge of buying the new house, just to take some of the pressure off of James.
So James and Jenniffer talked about the legal deadlines about selling the house and how it would go on the market and all that. Then it was time to talk about the house we are going to buy.
“First of all,” she said, “Why Apex?”
It was because of our work locations. Apex is halfway between Durham and Fuquay-Varina, and along the 55 corridor. Really, anywhere on the 55 corridor is good.
“We’re looking for a starter house,” I said.
Jenniffer looked immensely relieved. “Especially with you two starting a family — people always tell me that they’re going to live in this house forever, but you would be surprised how much your needs change in just a few years.”
“We’re planning on moving North in the next few years or so. My family lives in Virginia and I want to live closer to them.”
“What part of Virginia?”
“Northern Virginia,” I said.
“That’s where we met,” said James.
She was amazed. “I lived in Reston,” she said.
“He used to live in Alexandria,” I said. “I grew up in Loudoun and lived in Fairfax for a while.”
Jenniffer thought for a moment. “North Carolina is a much better market,” she said. “It’s more slow-growing and much more affordable.”
“We’ll be moving to the Richmond area, probably,” I said.
“That’s getting to be a pretty expensive area,” said Jenniffer.
“Well, Roanoke or Winchester or something. As long as we’re closer to my family.”
Jenniffer nodded in understanding. Then she said, “What sort of kitchen cabinets do you like?”
“Oh, dark wood cabinets for sure,” I said. “And then on medium-dark hardwood floors.”
“So not matching the floors?”
“Oh definitely not.”
“What about you?”
“I’m the same,” James shrugged.
“Master bedroom upstairs or downstairs?”
We had never really thought about it. We didn’t have a strong preference, but a second-floor master bedroom made more sense.
“Where should the laundry room be?”
We explained that we wanted a second-floor laundry room but that it wasn’t a deal-breaker.
“In the 90s, it was a trend to put the laundry room on the second floor, right next to the garage. I can tell you that I hate it. You walk in from your garage and you’re immediately surrounded by all the laundry from three kids and a husband.”
We agreed that a second-floor laundry was very sensible.
She pointed out that I had said something about a ranch-style house, James seemed to want more of a cookie-cutter house.
I said that since I had grown up in DC, I had grown up surrounded by 50s-style ranch houses that were just adorable, which was the only reason I had said that. I also explained that I hadn’t grown up very rich. We were comfortable, but our houses had always been small and that was what I was used to. James, I explained, had grown up the only child of a corporate executive, and so had grown up in larger houses.
“I don’t want a cookie-cutter house,” said James. “I want a house with fewer, larger rooms, rather than lots of smaller rooms. I want a sensible layout.”
“We want the formal area and the family area to be separated,” I said.
“So you don’t want an open floor plan,” said Jenniffer, looking relieved. “People don’t realize how noisy those houses are.”
“Oh, yes,” I said. “I want us to be able to leave our mess in the family room but still be comfortable having people over anytime.”
“Separate entertaining spaces,” said Jenniffer.
“Exactly,” said James.
She mentioned that since we were planning on moving (“in about 5 or 7 years” said James), she would try to show us houses that were likely to sell again in a few years.
We talked about working with contractors, to sell Deb’s house and possibly do work on our future house. I mentioned that since I have experience working with contractors at Home Depot, I felt comfortable around them. “Not as clients, but I’ve definitely worked with them,” I said.
Jenniffer shook her head. “This is how it starts,” she said. “You do realize she’s a future real estate agent, don’t you?” she asked James.
The next step was to drive to Deb’s house and take a look. She took pictures and commented on different things that needed to be done to stage the house. The table in the breakfast nook was too dated. Get rid of the green sofa and green rug; replace it with the nice blue rug under the dining room table, and the blue sofa in the sunroom. Get rid of all the knick-knacks and the valuables; store them, sell them, whatever. “Those are easy to walk off with,” she told us.
I showed her around the kitchen. I indicated the corner of the counter, which has an extra shelf built in. “She added that herself,” I said. “It was a more sensible use of space.”
“That is good,” she said. She snapped pictures of the “breadbox” as she called it, and pictures of the stainless-steel appliances. “This fridge is LG, but everything else is GE,” she said. “Do you want to keep it?”
“Honestly, that would probably depend on the house we buy, if we need it and if it would fit.”
“It would be hard to move without damaging the floor and the walls,” she said. “It might be easier to just convey it.”
Fortunately I had done prior research and understood what she meant by “convey”: sell the appliances as part of the house.
I showed her the master bedroom.
“She made the blinds herself,” I said. “And the headboard too, I think.”
“It’s red,” said Jenniffer.
Well I couldn’t argue with that. It was red. Bright red blinds, bright red area rugs, bright red chair, bright red accent wall, bright red headboard, bright red quilt.
“We’re going to need to get rid of that.”
“I can paint it.”
“Yes, paint it the same gold as the rest of the room. Why didn’t she keep that gold? We’ll have to get rid of all the red. Replace it with neutrals. Red doesn’t photograph well. No one buys red.”
“I probably have neutral bedstuff at home,” I said. “A ton of throw pillows at least.”
“I have an inventory of age-appropriate staging materials,” she said. “But if you can paint it…and we’ll have to get rid of the curtains…these are lovely curtains, you said she made them herself? That’s amazing. But we’ll have to take them down. People will be able to see in, but we can’t have red. This is amazing stitchwork, I can’t believe she made them herself.”
“She made the headboard too,” said James, who had just come from picking up the mail from the next-door neighbor.
“We’ll have to take that down,” she said.
“Okay,” said James, who had also always hated that headboard.
So that was our homework: paint away the red and pack away the knick-knacks (including those “horrifying” headless children statues that Deb liked to have around the house)
I’m not joking about how creepy those headless children are. Deb thought they were cute. No one — no one — could convince her otherwise.
Jenniffer was amazed at everything Deb could do and had done. Deb had traveled to Africa and lived in Taiwan. She was an amazing seamstress and had tastefully appointed her house (except for that red). The built-ins she had designed and had installed were amazing. The outside needed to be weeded and pressure-washed and the red needed to go away, but other than that, the house looked amazing.
She left, and James and I started packing away all the various Hummels and creepy nutcrackers. We went out for pizza and then went home. James felt tired. I felt sad. We always do, after taking care of Deb’s house.