Adventures in Real Estate

During the dozen or so years that Bob and I have been together, we’ve sold three homes. So, on average, if I’m doing the math right, that’s one house every four years. Is that a lot? I’m not sure. We moved a few times while I was growing up so it doesn’t seem too unusual to me but Bob thinks I have ants in my pants. I think it just took us awhile to find the perfect place.

The first home we sold, Bob’s bachelor pad, was a cinch to sell, from what I remember. (We were wedding planning and new-house hunting all around the same time so things get a bit fuzzy.) I distinctly recall my parents helping us get the house ready by removing wallpaper and painting and aiding with general clean-up. We listed the property during the real estate frenzy of 2004 so buyers were circling in no time.

The sale of our second home, in Alexandria, was a bit more anxious. The bubble had burst and though our neighborhood was still in high demand, the pressure to perfectly prepare, market and time our listing was intense. We sidelined our move for a year when we found out we were expecting Millie. It didn’t make sense to move away from doctors we knew and helpful friends that were good with newborns. However, at that point, we had already been in touch with our neighbor, a real estate agent, about listing our house. She knew we would be putting it on the market after Millie’s October arrival. So, when she had a client looking to buy in our neighborhood that summer and they could not find the right property amongst the available inventory, she called asking if her buyers could preview our house even though it wasn’t technically for sale. Without thinking twice, I exclaimed, “Of course!” I thought it would be a great chance to get some feedback from actual purchasers prior to officially listing the house. I think I remember casually mentioning it to Bob on the phone but he was traveling heavily for work that year and the overall impression I held was that the showing was not really a big deal. I mean, what were the chances that they would like our house enough to want to buy it, right? Pretty slim.

The two things I hadn’t considered when I jumped at the chance to open our front door to prospective purchasers were 1.) deep cleaning my entire house while six months pregnant would be harder than I thought and, 2.) they might want to actually buy our house.

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When our realtor called to say that the buyers wanted to tour our home a second time with their parents, I panicked. Everyone knows that getting your parent’s opinion is, like, Step 3 in the official About-to-Buy-Anything-of-Significance process. I had never really imagined even once that they would take more than a quick glance at our place and then rattle off the things they liked and didn’t like. To know there was actual consideration and number crunching going on kind of spelled trouble. It meant I had to tell Bob, who had been at work during most of the preparation, staging and showing, that it might be time to come up with A Plan.

Bob was… not amused that my prior promise of this exercise being “just for feedback” had become something so much bigger. It was bad. So bad. A sale meant we’d be moving before the baby was born and Bob was adamant that that was a bad idea (he was right). We spent a frantic weekend driving around looking at any rental homes we could find in a commutable neighborhood with half-way decent elementary schools while I chanted, “everything is going to be FINE,” over and over again as I rubbed my belly. And, everything did end up being just fine. Those prospective buyers chose the other house they showed their parents that weekend and my marriage was saved. Millie arrived and we sold our house a few months later, when everyone (Bob) was ready.

However, ever since that close call, Bob has been a little leery of my trigger-happy willingness to sell our residence to the first interested party that wants to take a peek inside. So, when the process of selling our home in Richmond appeared to be headed down a similar path, I knew better than to greet him after he arrived home from work with boxes and packing tape.

The funny thing is, for all of my grumbling about Facebook, Facebook is exactly how I sold our third home. Our Richmond neighborhood had a pretty active Facebook group that kept neighbors apprised of happenings, offered suggestions for contractors and babysitters and, as it turns out, ended up putting me in touch with someone looking for a home in the community.

We happened to be house-hunting in Northern Virginia when I saw a new post on our neighborhood’s Facebook page from a resident looking for a property for a family member. Their relative was trying to get into the development and if anyone was selling soon, they were to get in touch. I read it aloud to Bob in the parking lot of the restaurant where we had stopped for a break and asked, “Should we call? Are we ready for this? Are you going to be mad if I sell our house?” He agreed that it looked promising and even though we had not planned on listing for a few months, the idea of selling without having to formally market our home was enticing. I mean, what were the chances that they would like our house enough to want to buy it, right? Pretty slim.

The two things I hadn’t considered when I jumped at the chance to open our front door to prospective purchasers were 1.) deep cleaning my entire house with three kids underfoot would be harder than I thought and, 2.) they might want to actually buy our house.

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We knew things were moving fast when they came back with their parents the same day.

Just like that, we had a buyer for our home. A fair amount of panic ensued which involved about ten hours of me Googling, “how to sell your house without a realtor.” It’s interesting because after going through the selling process without representation, I totally get why realtors are a thing. While it was really great to not have to live through open houses, short-notice showings and pay high commissions, there were times throughout our escrow that I wished longingly for a person to serve as a buffer between us and our buyers. It’s a lot different negotiating a purchase price directly with the purchaser than it is through two agents playing a version of the telephone game. It’s a lot of (sometimes very awkward) hard work.

In the end, it all paid off. We staged our home, successfully sold it and I learned the valuable lesson that you definitely are supposed to hire your own real estate attorney to prepare your side of the sales transaction. Even if you just assumed you were going to use the same settlement attorney that your buyers are using, you have to actually tell them that. Also, you should tell them you want to hire them more than four days before the closing date. Otherwise, they will think you are working with a different attorney and will call and ask where all of your paperwork is. And, then you will cry and wish you had just hired a realtor. See how much I learned?

Every time someone asks us if we can see ourselves living in our new home for a long time to come, I say, “Definitely!” just as Bob exclaims, “Nooooooo!” He thinks I’m going to want to move again. But, the joke’s on him because if we never move again, I never have to deep clean my house again. I’m pretty sure that’s how it works.

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I’m Pretty Sure this is Facebook’s Fault

Most of my wildly unrealistic parental aspirations start as some random link on Facebook. A click here, a click there and all of a sudden, I’m down a rabbit hole reading about delayed vaccinations or unschooling or cloth diapering; browsing articles about what I should or shouldn’t be doing as a parent to create an early reader or a cello prodigy or a little tiny vegan.

Earlier this year, a friend posted to Facebook a link to a website that promotes the elimination of processed foods from one’s daily diet. I spent hours reading that website, studying the resources they offer and quoting horrible statistics to my husband about their assessment of Subway (his go-to sandwich stop). I arose from my too-long-on-the-internet stupor determined to make Big Changes! I was going to dump the pantry, clear the refrigerator, switch to all organic everything and maybe, possibly, look into buying half a cow. But only if it were grass-fed and I was offered reassurance that it had been happy – really, truly happy – when alive.

So, that’s what we did. We ate up all of the Cheetos (Henry’s favorite), finished the last of the fruit snacks (Charlie’s favorite) and cut back on Sweet Frog Saturday Nights (Millie’s favorite). Bob and I started purchasing all organic produce and scouring shelves for local items, like honey and jam. We stirred natural peanut butter until our arms went numb and choked down all-natural bread that was so dry, it made the children weep. I joined the masses of people at Whole Foods peering at labels, frowning over GMOs and pondering just how bad I could possibly smell if I switched to that all-natural Tom’s deodorant.

After a month, I felt confident our Big Changes were going to stick. I also felt tired. Making all of your meals from items you have to, essentially, process yourself, takes an awful lot of time. But, we had done it! The kids had survived (even though Fig Newmans taste TOTALLY different than Fig Newtons) and Bob and I were feeling pretty smug.

I knew the items we were purchasing were expensive (humanely harvested shrimp doesn’t grow on trees, you know), but I definitely didn’t have a true grasp on what we were spending. Then, I sat down to pay the bills. Our budget line item for groceries had nearly doubled in the previous few weeks. Our hippie food tally was beginning to make our mortgage look minor by comparison.

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This apple was organic. Possibly local. Also, $5.00.

I was honestly pretty surprised that feeding our family of five the healthiest foods available to us cost so much money. And, money wasn’t the real issue. Being a family of five was. There are just so many of us to feed and with kids that can run through a pound of strawberries, an entire box of crackers and half a loaf of bread in one day, the quantity was what was going to bankrupt us. (I can only imagine what it will be like in a few years when the boys are devouring their weight in cereal at one sitting.)

So, I am sorry to report that we kind of abandoned ship on the whole effort. I slowly started buying the giant milk carton-size of Goldfish crackers again. The fruit snacks made another appearance. The oranges and blueberries were no longer necessarily organic and probably came from some spot on the other side of the globe. The coffee was, alas, not fair trade.

In situations where I’ve failed to meet a goal, I like to try and find someone else to blame. Naturally, this is all my parents fault because when I was a kid, they actually GREW a lot of the food they fed us. My parents loved to garden and they fed our family with produce grown right in our own backyard. Fresh beans, tomatoes, corn, raspberries, squash, melons – the list is almost endless. Plus, my mom canned a lot of her produce, Little House on the Prairie-style, for use throughout the winter. (I am absolutely exhausted just thinking about this process.) My mom is also an excellent baker so she even made our breads from scratch. How can I compete with that when we have a Chik-fil-A with TWO drive-thru’s right down the street? Thanks for setting impossible standards, mom and dad.

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I would be surprised if there is even one natural thing about this chocolate-covered donut. Certainly not the sprinkles.

But, the truth is, the foods we purchased before our all-organic/no-processed effort were not that bad compared to a lot of the most horrific offerings found in today’s supermarket. Sure, we enjoyed the occasional party-size bag of Cheetos and slathered our birthday cupcakes in canned frosting but you know what, I don’t want to live in a world that doesn’t have Cheetos. Because, they’re delicious. And, cheesy.

Just when I had resigned myself to our old way of feeding the family, accepted the fact that I will never harvest my own crops like my parents and acquiesced on the role high fructose corn syrup has in our lives, a friend on Facebook posted a link to this video, which is a super clever advertisement for Chipotle Mexican Grill:

Then, I got the sads all over again – especially at the cow eyes. I can’t handle those pitiful (completely animated) cow eyes!

I have come to the conclusion that finding a middle ground is the only way to proceed. Otherwise, I’m just going to continue to start and stop our efforts to eat more responsibly based on what fresh guilt-laden link shows up in my Facebook feed. Everything in moderation, as that adage goes.

My new goal is to buy organic when it comes to the “Dirty Dozen,” fruits and vegetables containing the most pesticide residue. I am also going to try and go all organic with our dairy products. We were already buying chicken of good repute and I plan to carry that over to any other meats we may purchase for particular recipes. I’m placing a lower priority on the snack category. We just burn through so many chips, pretzels, trail mix and granola bars, especially with school back in session.

I’m feeling optimistic with my new hybrid plan. I’m also secretly hoping that people will just go back to posting pictures of their cats on Facebook. Is that too much to ask?