Misadventures in Real Estate: Part 6-In Spite Of Misadventures, We Have Much To Be Thankful For

Misadventures in Real Estate: Part 6-In Spite Of Misadventures, We Have Much To Be Thankful For

Misadventures in Real Estate is a multi-part series about selling our home. In case you missed them, here are Part 1: Nature Abhors A VacuumPart 2: Don’t Bet On The WeatherPart 3: Selling Your House Is EmotionalPart 4: The Realtor Cam-Oh Yes I Did!, and Part 5 – Deal or No Deal 

Part 6 – In Spite Of Misadventures, We Have Much To Be Thankful For

I’ve talked with lots of realtors through the years, two of which I call friends. In addition to the realtor we chose to list the house, we spoke with a half dozen more. Realtors tend to impart their wisdom with a cache of axioms that, when selling your house, you wish weren’t true.

“The first offer is the best offer.” Following our realtor’s recommendation for pricing, we fantasized about getting over asking price. The first offer, at 93% of the original asking price was withdrawn. The second offer, at 91%, fell through. The offer which we accepted and finally closed was at 88% of the original pricing proving the sad but true adage that the first offer is the best offer.

“Every house will sell…for a price.” When you first meet with realtors, this saying is meant to sound encouraging. The subtext is “as long as you price it the way I recommend, I can sell your house for you”. As time goes on and you drop the price because your house hasn’t sold, the subtext changes to “the price will be so low that buyers won’t be able to resist!”

“Location, location, location.” Our house didn’t have a lake or mountain view, but I thought some aspects of our location were advantageous; trees for privacy, wildlife, quiet street, access to main roads for commuting, nice neighborhood and a good school district to name a few. The truth in the cliché was that buyers wanted a flat lot big enough for a swing set and didn’t want to pay high property taxes on woodlands.


After the second deal fell through, we re-evaluated if we should take the house off the market and do some home improvements. But now that the main bone of contention for our potential buyers is the high property taxes, renovating may cost us money that we won’t recoup. Also, it would leave us with the dreaded prospect of trying to sell the house in the dead of winter again. Five months into our 6-month listing, we agree with the realtor to go for a drastic price drop. Selling at this price will make us the cheapest house in the neighborhood by far, a distinction that we are surely not worthy of. But at this point, we just need to get the job done.

We got offers from two buyers who bid against each other, resulting in a full (much reduced) price offer. Finally, things seem to be going our way. During negotiations we agreed that we would repair or provide credit to fix our driveway which had some cracks and a pothole, made worse by the heavy moving trucks. We sent their lawyer a detailed written estimate from an asphalt company. It seems to be standard operating procedure for lawyers that whatever you offer, they ask for double. This is where I put my “answer a question with a question” technique to use. Why are you entitled to twice the amount shown on the written estimate? His answer was to accept the credit amount and move on.

The home inspection was uneventful with one exception. We failed the radon test with a result of 4 pCi/L. If you’re not familiar with radon, it’s a naturally occurring radioactive gas that emanates from the ground and in some areas gets into homes and buildings. Our home was built with a radon mitigation system installed so I didn’t assume for one minute that their test result was correct. At our own expense, we had a professional radon contractor re-test. Results showed a .4 pCi/L, with the decimal point determining the difference between safe and unsafe. I guess you could say it cost us $185 to prove a point.Ba_dum_tss

With the house closing looming in just a few weeks, we set our sights on the final cleanout. Everything we used on a regular basis and all the furniture that could fit had been moved to the new house. The remaining effort was divided with me dealing with closets and cupboards full of household effluvia and my husband processing the basement and garage. Leaving behind a bed, sofa, and kitchen set made the days we worked there more comfortable.

Items packed in boxes and plastic bags were placed in the garage as a staging area for loading the car. The Amazon roof bag performed like a champ for increasing capacity. Each trip we thought would be the next to last, but somehow more crap kept appearing as if were breeding in the closets while we were away. We were wrong in thinking that phase two of the crap removal project would be easier than phase one.

One trip to the old house was focused on removing electronic equipment that, for environmental reasons, can’t be disposed of in the trash. Staples will recycle computers, monitors, printers, fax machines, and all kinds of electronic stuff for free. We filled a large shopping cart from the carload we brought, then realized we needed a second shopping cart, and filled it to the brim. We enter the automatic doors, each pushing a fully-loaded cart, thinking that someone is going to tell us we brought too much stuff and we’ll have to load it back in the car. So far, we’re not on the employee radar. I wait with the carts as my husband inquires as to where to drop off recyclables and is directed to the left side of the customer service desk. While the employee is distracted with a customer, we stealthily wheel the carts to the drop off location and make a quick getaway. As we fast-walked out the sliding doors I yelled, “Start the car” to no one in particular.  

Start the car

Ikea “Start the car” commercial

The final days of the crap removal project turned out to be a Herculean effort. I counted roughly 200 trips up and down the stairs carrying boxes, bags, and trash over a 2-day period. If I was wearing a fitness tracker, it would have exploded. My legs ached so bad that on the second day I decided to take an Advil after breakfast, not only for existing discomfort but also in anticipation of another grueling day of hard labor. I reluctantly made yet another trip upstairs to the bedroom where I had my suitcase and OTC drugs. I grabbed a pill out of the pill-box and quickly gulped it down with a mouthful of water. As the pill glided down my gullet, I realized I had just swallowed a sleeping pill.

In the final hours, Craig’s List, College Hunks Hauling Junk, and U-Haul saved the day. A large sectional sofa, entertainment unit, bookshelves, desk, and the kitchen set were quickly spoken for when listed for “free” on Craig’s List. It’s funny how people say they would like to have your furniture but don’t have a clue about how they will move it. After a few blowouts over logistics, I begin to question the ad responders more carefully. Do you have a truck? Do you have someone to help you carry it? A college kid tells me he wants the sectional, desk, and bookshelves and is coming to pick it up with an SUV.

After trying unsuccessfully to put the sofa in or on top of the SUV, college kid calls his mom. Upon surveying the situation, his very nice and resourceful mom tells him to rent a U-Haul. My husband spent the better part of the day disassembling the bookshelves and desk for them and they fit most of the free furniture in the U-Haul, saving us some expense on junk removal. Plus, we got the satisfaction of knowing that our furniture will be the envy of student apartment dwellers throughout Hoboken.

Next, we scheduled a professional junk hauling company called College Hunks Hauling Junk for the remaining items that were too large for curbside trash pickup. Not to be too snide, but they are “college hunks” in name only. They muscled a forsaken entertainment tower upstairs from the basement, the king-size bed downstairs, and a few other heavy objects out to the dump truck to be carted away.

After leaving a mound of trash on the curb, we’re left with a pile of crap stragglers consolidated in the garage for packing. It’s more than will fit in our SUV, so it’s off to rent a U-Haul of our own. Once everything is packed in the car and U-Haul, we do a final house check. After weeks of having crap strewn about in evolving stages of disposal, the house looks really great. It’s an emotional moment; proud of what we accomplished, relieved that it’s over, and yes, I’ll admit, sad to be seeing it for the last time. We say good-bye and begin our 3-hour drive home.

The buyer’s walk-through takes place in the late afternoon two days later, with closing scheduled for the following morning. Just as cocktail hour is starting, I receive a text from our realtor accompanied by a photo. There is a water stain on the ceiling of the master bedroom. We had been through the house with a fine-toothed comb less than 48 hours ago and there was no water stain on the ceiling. Needless to say, the issue created fun and games at the closing the next morning. We chose what was behind door number three, leaving behind a $3000 escrow to repair whatever caused the leak.


Stain photo courtesy of our realtor

For several weeks after the closing, I suffered from PTSD; but gradually I got back to my old self living my Boozy Lifestyle. It’s true that ours became the cheapest house in the neighborhood, selling about $120,000 under what the comps from last year had shown; but things could have been worse. We’re thankful that we didn’t have to maintain an empty house until next summer, since clearly the house was not a winter seller. We’re thankful that the house was not “underwater” (when the mortgage is higher than market value or sale price.) In spite of the price decreases, we still came out a little bit ahead. And with the proceeds from the sale, I splurged and treated myself to a new set of wheels.

Scroll down for a photo of my new wheels!









New wheels

Misadventures in Real Estate: Part 5 – Deal or No Deal

Misadventures in Real Estate: Part 5 – Deal or No Deal

Misadventures in Real Estate: A multi-part series about selling our home. In case you missed it, here are Part 1: Nature Abhors A Vacuum, Part 2: Don’t Bet On The WeatherPart 3: Selling Your House Is Emotional, and Part 4: The Realtor Cam-Oh Yes I Did!

Part 5: Deal or No Deal

After our first deal went down in flames, we began showing the house again and before long, we received another offer. When your house has been on the market for 4 months, buyers can smell desperation on you like bad cologne. The frenzied twirl of the counteroffer dance was interrupted by my annual doctor appointment. I tried to ignore the texts from our realtor but as I sat half-naked on the exam table, my curiosity got the best of me. The buyers responded to our counteroffer with a slight increase and “this is our final offer” caveat. I burst into tears. As if on cue, the doctor walked in.

The good news is, I’ll live. Even my blood pressure, that I thought ought to be through the roof, was okay. Although the offer was $75k less than our original asking price, the grim possibility of not selling the house this year made accepting it the lesser of two evils. The unhappiness over the price soon gave way to relief that chaos would soon end.

The contract went through attorney review with much ado, but was finally signed, allowing the buyers to move forward with the home inspection. The inspector spent three hours examining every nook and cranny, scrutinizing all appliances and mechanicals, and asking lots of questions. It would have been nice if he reset the GFI’s that he popped.

If you recall from Part 2 of this series, I don’t like to waste food. We’re careful to use food before it expires and freeze it for a snowy day. When you live a Boozy Lifestyle as we do, cooking becomes a hobby out of necessity. You need good food to accompany your wine, beer, and cocktails.

We keep an extra freezer in the garage for food overflow, like the free holiday turkey from Acme, or the buy-one-get-one free sale on baby back ribs. Several days after the inspection, I opened the freezer door and was knocked over by a horrific odor. Everything had defrosted, and spoiled meats lay on the bottom of the freezer in a pool of bloody mess. It was so disgusting I almost became a vegetarian (again).

Further investigation revealed that the GFI on the outlet where the freezer was plugged in had been tripped. Although we couldn’t prove it, we were pretty sure this was the home inspectors doing. I had thought it overkill at the time, but now I understand why our southern relations and friends had to throw away their refrigerators and freezers after Hurricane Katrina.

Construction on our new house had been completed a few months prior and we spent our weekends there setting up internet and Fios, buying appliances, painting, mounting blinds, installing light fixtures, and all manner of DIY projects. We slept on air mattresses, watched TV in lawn chairs, and ate at a card table on folding chairs. I think they call this “glamping”.

With the sale of our old house is in progress, we decided to move our furniture to the new house. As noted in Part 1, we have a lot of stuff. To keep the move within a reasonable budget, we had the moving company handle the furniture and heavy items, leaving the small stuff for us to retrieve in the weeks before closing. Moving in the beginning of June allowed us to take full advantage of the beaches and summer events that Cape May County is known for.

Meanwhile, the result of the home inspection produces a list of ten major “repairs” and is, at first, cause for alarm. Our lawyer seems confident to negotiate a credit and home warranty in lieu of their “inspection demands”. The horse-trading continues for several days as we prepare for moving day.

Armed with two large trucks and six movers, the company made quick work of carrying heavy, bulky furniture up and down stairs and loading it into the vans. At the end of a long, exhausting day, we hop in the car to make the three-hour drive to the new house. About halfway there, our realtor calls. At this point in the house selling process, I’ve come to equate calls from our agent with bad news, but this call exceeded my expectations. The deal is off.

It’s evening now and our lawyer has gone home for the day. We spend a sleepless night wondering what went wrong. Can they call off the sale after the contract is signed? Why don’t they want the house suddenly? Can our realtor save the deal?

At about 10 a.m. the moving company arrives to unload the trucks and the pandemonium begins again with six guys jostling furniture and asking, “Where do you want it, lady?” By the time our lawyer has spoken to their lawyer, it’s midday and the only quiet place I can find for a phone call is the master walk-in closet. The official response to backing out of the sale is the inability to find agreement on inspection items. Eventually the truth is revealed that they had changed their minds about two weeks earlier; but their attorney advised them to go through with the home inspection and use it as a legitimate reason to kill the deal. (This strategy wasn’t unfamiliar to us, but we had never been on the receiving end of it.) We’re back to square one.

I drag my sad, depressed self out of the closet and encounter one of the movers saying he needs to show me something. They had broken a leg off our Chinese black lacquer desk. Although it probably appeared to the moving guys that I took the news in stride, I felt too defeated to go ballistic, muttering, “Don’t worry about it. My husband will fix it.”

Several days after the move when things began to settle down, we took a closer look at the broken desk. There had been a botched attempt to fix it with Gorilla glue (I suppose the movers planned to hide the fact that they broke it) that needed to be scraped away before the real repair could begin. Amazingly, my husband made it look as good as new.


Misadventures in Real Estate: Part 4 – The Realtor Cam, Oh Yes I Did!

Misadventures in Real Estate: Part 4 – The Realtor Cam, Oh Yes I Did!

Misadventures in Real Estate is a multi-part series about selling our home. In case you missed it, here is Part 1: Nature Abhors A VacuumPart 2: Don’t Bet On The Weather, and Part 3: Selling Your House Is Emotional

Part 4: The Realtor Cam-Oh Yes I Did!

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that potential buyers want to look in your pantry and kitchen cabinets. Maybe I was a little curious as to why they looked in the refrigerator. Open houses are the best for observing what happens when the cage door springs open, and little creatures are set loose upon your home. Toddlers with sippy cups and fidgety sprogs run rampant, sliding over shiny clean floors, finally flinging themselves onto furniture and climbing all over it as if it were monkey bars at the playground. One little boy sprawled luxuriously on our chaise lounge proclaiming, “this is the most comfortable chair”. At least our realtor asked for shoe removal during open house mayhem.

One evening a buyer’s realtor showed the house to a mom accompanied by her eight-year-old daughter. While mom and realtor were busy talking, Child was unattended and explored the kitchen perimeter, touching every appliance as she went. She stalled out at the toaster oven where she appeared to be turning it on. As I watched on the Realtor Cam, I made a mental note to turn if off when we got home.

The showing concluded and as we pulled into the driveway, I got a panicked call from our realtor. Child had an out-of-control melt-down in our house. I can tell that the realtor is preparing me for something bad as she takes a breath and finally gets to the point. Child drew on the wall with a pen.

We raced through the house, barely remembering to turn off the toaster oven on our way to the second-floor hallway where the alleged vandalism took place. There on the wall were remnants of two pen marks, each about a foot-long. Evidence of an overly enthusiastic, but unsuccessful attempt by the realtor to clean it left the outer paper layer of wallboard scraped off and devoid of paint.

Not every room of the house was covered by the Realtor Cam, so in this case, the following hours, days, and even weeks, were spent putting the pieces of the puzzle together like a true crime detective novel. Day one: Child’s ink drawing on computer printer paper is found on the desk in my husband’s basement office. Day two: printer not working. Investigation reveals the paper drawer left open and stack of paper askew. Conclusion: Realtor and/or clients helped themselves to paper and pen for Child to draw in (unsuccessful) attempt to avert meltdown. Same said pen was brought from basement to second floor for the purpose of marking the wall.

Day three: walking through the dining room, I step on something. A little blue stone. Next, I notice that my centerpiece for the dining room table, a simple bowl with little blue glass stones in it, has been pulled off-center. A few more steps around the table yields another stone underfoot, and so on, until I’m on my hands and knees picking up a dozen or more little blue stones.  We conclude that Child grabbed stones to play a game that involved throwing them all over the floor.

Dining Room: Scene of the Crime

Blue Stones

Later that day, the husband (who hasn’t actually seen the house yet) makes a low-ball offer. It seemed to me like a pity offer; as if to say, “Yeah, our kid wrecked your house but to make it up to you, we’ll to take it off your hands, for cheap.” We didn’t respond immediately and by the weekend, we had a second offer. Our realtor had the two offers bid against each other instead of counteroffering and we accepted the other (better) offer.

The family with the better offer seemed very enthusiastic about the house, writing an email that their two girls had already picked out their bedrooms and how much they all liked the house in general. Even though the offer was quite a bit lower than our starting point, I felt pleased that a new family was excited to call the place home. They planned to use the downstairs bedroom (that I had used as an office), as a bedroom for Mother-in-law and renovate the powder room into a full bath for her. They request a second showing for Mother-in-law a couple of days later.

Watching on the Realtor Cam, we can see that Mother-in-law uses a walker and we understand the importance of the first-floor bedroom and bath. Mother-in-law shuffles down the hallway to inspect her room while the rest of the family gathers around the kitchen island, smiling and looking animated and happy. A minute or two later, Mother-in-law comes back to the kitchen with a scowl on her face. Shortly afterward our agent called to tell us that the first-floor room was NOT up to par for Mother-in-law and the deal was off.

I asked our agent to contact the other buyer and Mr. Low-ball performed as expected by re-offering his original “pity” offer (which we didn’t accept).

Day 28: weeks later I was cleaning out the dining room sideboard in preparation for moving day and found some little blue stones in the drawer. Child’s mischief was the gift that kept on giving.

When you have a suspicion that a certain someone rummages through your personal belongings, did you ever fantasize about purposely planting a shocking or embarrassing item (use your imagination) to be found?



Misadventures in Real Estate: Part 3 – Selling Your House Is Emotional

Misadventures in Real Estate: Part 3 – Selling Your House Is Emotional

In case you missed it. Part 1: Nature Abhors A Vacuum and Part 2: Don’t Bet On The Weather

Part 3: Selling Your House Is Emotional

From the dozens of calls and emails from our FSBO, we chose to meet with five realtors. Their marketing plans and suggested pricing were similar, so the choice came down to who had the most sales in our area along with the lowest commission.

Sitting at our dining room table with the realtor we eventually picked, she told us that selling your home is “emotional”. At the time I wasn’t quite sure what she meant. Did she think we would feel sad and sentimental about leaving the place we called home for 17 years? At one point I may have felt that way, but now with the new house completed and an exciting new area to explore, I’m happy to be moving. As we went through the process of selling the house I came to realize that the emotions to which she was referring weren’t at all related to nostalgia.

When you first list your house, there’s usually a buzz of activity. The best scenario (which was our previous experience) is that the open house produces multiple offers to pit against each other and push the price over the listing price. Hopeful and optimistic are the emotions I start with, but the feeling only lasts about 15 seconds. The open house was well-attended, and the showings went gangbusters for a couple of weeks, followed by the disappointment of no offers.

Our realtor prided herself on following up with everyone who saw the house. The first few rounds of feedback were focused on “lack of upgrades” which initially surprised me because we spent $50,000 on “upgrades” from the builder in 2000. I came to realize that the interpretation of this critique means that buyers don’t notice hardwood flooring, upgraded trim and molding, a finished basement, twenty custom lighting fixtures, or a brick façade, unless you have granite countertops.

After about 3 weeks, our realtor suggested that we drop the price. Well, it started off as a suggestion but when I resisted, pleasant conversation turned to brow-beating. I got defensive over the bullying at which point she said that although a buyer doesn’t say it out loud, every criticism ends with “for the price”, such as “the house needs too many upgrades…for the price”. And contractual bliss ends in our first major fight.

We let the dust settle for a few weeks, waiting for signs of spring and hoping that the dismal swamp in the backyard would dry out. At the end of April, we relaunched with an open house and a lower price. This time “hopeful and optimistic” emotions are tempered by the fact that our starting point is now $25,000 lower.

The routine begins again, a text from a realtor triggers a flurry of clean-up activities culminating in leaving the house for an hour or two. Feedback from the showings over the next few weeks undergoes a major shift from “lack of upgrades” to “property taxes are too high”. Just a few weeks after the April 15th tax filing deadline, buyers have suddenly become painfully aware that they won’t be able to deduct the $21,000 a year in property taxes on their federal return. With limited expectations, I call an attorney to try to grieve the taxes, but miss the deadline by a few weeks, so nothing could be done until next year. I believe the emotion described here is something you feel when you’re forced to bend over and take it and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it.

After five months, we consider taking the house off the market and making some improvements (i.e. changing the countertops to granite as was the bane of many a buyer) but the timing of this renovation would leave us trying to sell the house in winter again. Maintaining a big empty house for an unknown amount of time is worse than the alternative of a drastic price decrease. And so we drop our pants, become the cheapest house in the neighborhood by far, a distinction that we are surely not worthy of. But at this point, we just need to get the job done.

With a total of four price drops and three accepted offers that didn’t pan out, my range of emotions included anger, frustration, bewilderment, annoyance, dissatisfaction, and finally just plain weariness. After closing day, I had a feeling of having survived a major trauma, with the post-traumatic stress lasting another couple of months.

Pricing (and re-pricing) the house wasn’t the only “emotional” trigger. Please stay seated for the emotional rollercoaster ride and more real estate hijinks in my next chapter.

Misadventures in Real Estate: Part 2-Don’t Bet On The Weather

Misadventures in Real Estate: Part 2-Don’t Bet On The Weather

Misadventures in Real Estate is a multi-part series about selling our home.

In case you missed it, here’s Part 1: Nature Abhors A Vacuum

Although our FSBO on Zillow didn’t unearth any interested buyers, it did yield a bevy of realtors from which to choose. By January we were worn down by their relentless affability and picked one to list our house. The idea of waiting until spring to list the house had occurred to us; however, our new-construction house was just completed, and we were eager to make the transition to full-time residents of Cape May County. Our previous experience (and persistent prodding by realtors) seemed to suggest it’s possible to find a motivated, serious buyer in winter and so we gambled on a mild one.

The assault of winter began on the day of the broker’s open house causing it to be postponed to the following day. Nervous about the liability of a trip-and-fall, we spent the entire morning frantically clearing the ice from the front stoop and walkway. Turn-outs for the broker’s open and the first open house were pretty good and our hopes were high even though our neighborhood spent the better part of February and March under thick cover of snow and ice.


Over the next few weeks we showed the house a dozen or more times. We went to great lengths to keep the house looking as though no one actually lived in it. We traded in big-mess home-cooked meals for quick and easy, take-out, or going out to eat to keep the kitchen spotless. Each time we got a call or text to show the house, beds were made, towels folded hotel-style, and all personal items were stowed in drawers and cabinets. Uninterested buyers voiced their criticisms (not having granite countertops being the most frequent complaint), but we always received a nice compliment on how well-kept the place appeared.

In the beginning of March, we had to postpone a house showing due to a Nor’easter that knocked out our electric. The storm dropped a foot and a half of heavy, wet snow, taking down trees and power lines with them. Our landscaping took a big hit with two toppled trees and a mess of broken branches. For 24 hours we rode it out with no power, leaving me damn near frozen to death.

Having been at this juncture many times before, we know that the 24-hour mark is the make-or-break moment for the contents of the refrigerator. In other words, if you haven’t opened the doors, the stuff in the refrigerator and freezer will last for 24 hours. At the end of one day, it’s time to eat it, move it, or throw it away. I can’t exactly pinpoint the origin of reasoning, but somewhere along the parental guilt trip between “waste not, want not” and “children are starving in Africa” I learned not to be wasteful of food. Since we had another house with a new refrigerator just a few hours away, we decided to pack the food into several coolers and run.

I like bread. But I try not to eat too much of it. I particularly like the right bread for the job. A burger needs a hamburger bun and a homemade egg McMuffin needs a Thomas’s English muffin. This preference leads to having a dozen different bread packages open at the same time. Lucky for me, bread freezes really well.

Having limited space in the coolers we were packing to bring to the new house, I chose to leave the bulky bread products behind. They may get a little stale, but they won’t spoil at room temperature (which was 47 degrees without heat anyhow). At the end of the refrigerator clean-out, the kitchen countertops were covered from end to end with white bread, rye bread, hot dog rolls, hamburger buns, small wraps, large wraps, muffins, pita pockets, bagels, and a baguette.

The ice in the freezer had started to melt forming a puddle on the kitchen floor around the refrigerator. After soaking it up, we left a bunch of rags on the floor in case of additional defrosting. With no electric and the kitchen in such a sorry state, I didn’t bother to make the bed and refold the towels either. What realtor in her right mind would show the house in winter with no heat and electricity and without the owner’s permission?

A short time after we arrived at the new house, I got a text that the house had been shown by the realtor that I had declined. My utter annoyance was tempered by picturing the buyer’s bewilderment over the bread bedlam. Do they live by bread alone? What’s with all this bread? There’s enough bread here to feed an army. They must really like bread. Needless to say, the showing didn’t produce an offer to buy.

As the snow finally began to melt, the forecast of warmer temperatures had us hoping for an early springtime house sale. But the combination of snow-melt and unusually rainy weather left the backyard looking like the Dead Marshes from Lord of the Rings. We debated taking the house off the market for a short while but instead I printed an 8×10 photo of the backyard in summer and taped it to the sliding glass doors that open onto the deck.


A visual aid for buyers who lack imagination:


Property damage via stormy weather continued into the spring when a wild thunderstorm uprooted a large tree and broke another in half.


Seventeen years of weather was barely a blip as compared to the months that the house was on the market. Our landscaping blow included three large trees uprooted, the top half of several more snapped off, and lots of breakage on the ornamental trees and shrubs. Due to snow melt followed by torrential rains, the woods in the back were transformed into a dismal swamp. When we needed our property to look its shiny best, it looked the worst it ever had. We lost the bet on a mild winter; killing our chances of a sale until summer.

Misadventures in Real Estate: Part 1 – Nature Abhors A Vacuum

Misadventures in Real Estate: Part 1 – Nature Abhors A Vacuum

Misadventures in Real Estate is a multi-part series about selling our home.

Part 1: Nature Abhors A Vacuum

The fog that clouded my ability to see the funny in any given situation is beginning to lift. In the throes of my real estate debacle, I wasn’t able to laugh at the absurd. Weeks after the closing, I was still suffering from post-traumatic stress; but with the passage of time, my perception of the ridiculousness of events morphs from nightmarish to dark comedy as I feel my old self returning.

I had good reason to be optimistic about selling our house. We’d been down this road in the late 1990’s with a quick and profitable outcome. As avid HGTV watchers, we learned the tricks of the trade; removing personal items, decluttering, freshening up paint, and cleaning…and cleaning…and cleaning again. Many hours of prep work paid off with an over asking price offer at the end of a two-hour open house. After our second go-around, I realize just how spoiled we were by the first.

Our second house was large and roomy, with a basement, attic, and 10 closets. Over the 17 years that we lived in it, our collection of stuff grew proportionately to fill any empty space, proving the old adage that nature abhors a vacuum. I recently found an old invoice from my husband’s computer business that had printed on the bottom, “Save all shipping boxes.” He certainly practiced what he preached. In many cases the item that came in the box was long gone, but the box was dutifully stored in the attic.

The crap removal and organization project began in 2016 and continued until 3 days before the closing. It’s an arduous task to go through decades of accumulated crap, especially when you’ve attached sentimentality to objects. Deciding what to keep, what to dispose of, and figuring out how to get rid of things isn’t as simple as it seems. But there were a couple of bright sides to the decluttering effort.

As I sorted through the music-related stuff, I decided to preserve some old recordings as described in my blog post, Converting My Analog Past to the Digital Present. I took a fun trip down memory lane with old familiar faces, listening to recordings of bands I played in and songs I wrote and recorded in my home studio. When I discovered an old bandmate on Facebook that I hadn’t seen for decades, I was shocked by the old person who had taken the place of the young one that was frozen in memory time. This internet sighting was followed by the rush of awareness of my own aging as it steamrolled over my self-esteem. Ouch!

In the post, Weekend In Review, I talked about reducing the amount of wine and liquor bottles to be moved to the new house. Open bottles of cordials, brandy, whisky, tequila, vodka, and a dozen different rums used in drink lab experiments all needed to be emptied. Most went down the hatch, not down the drain. Reducing the bottle count gave us a pleasurable opportunity to revisit and revise some of our favorite drink lab concoctions.

Armed with Zillow and motivated by frugality, we thought we’d try putting the house on the market as “For Sale By Owner” or FSBO (pronounced fizz-bo) to avoid paying a hefty realtor commission. And after all, our first house did practically sell itself, so why not give FSBO a try? In the next few weeks we were bombarded by calls, emails and visits from realtors but not a single interested buyer. Realtors have a move where they will tell you they’ll show your FSBO, but never actually bring a potential buyer. In reality, they are waiting you out because they know if you are serious about selling, you’ll eventually sign up with a realtor. The vultures circle the prey waiting for it to die so they can feast on the carcass.

Listing as a FSBO wasn’t a complete waste of time. In preparation for our Zillow listing, I studied similar listings in our area; comparable houses that realtors refer to as “comps”. Finding homes of equivalent size and condition not only helps with pricing, but if you’re creating your own listing as I was, comps are a guide to staging, photographing and writing your sales description.

Photographing each room was where the real work began, and the first set of pictures told the true story. We had become blind to too much clutter, too much furniture, and stray objects that never found a real home. Taking preliminary photos helped me “see” all the stuff that shouldn’t be there. In the interest of getting the job done quickly, I didn’t take the time to sort, dispose of, or pack for moving. Books, music, knick-knacks, mementos, electronics, and life’s assorted paraphernalia was tossed in boxes and moved elsewhere so the room could be staged for my listing photo.

Before and after:

Now on to the second bedroom. Which is where I put the boxes, exercise equipment and extra furniture from the first bedroom. And so I find myself moving a pile of crap from one room to the next in order to make each well-used bedroom look like a hotel room. Eventually, homeless artifacts found their way to our spacious foyer, to which our puzzled guests asked, “Why is there a TV in here?” Doesn’t everyone have a large flat-screen TV sitting on a rolling cart in the middle of the entryway? (I love answering a question with a question.)

When we posted the listing on Zillow, the house was show-ready with the exception of my husband’s basement domain. At least he had carved pathways through the mounds of junk for interested parties to see the furnace, hot water heater, and electrical panel and so we deemed phase one of the crap removal and organization project complete.

A real-life Upstairs, Downstairs:

Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum Cocktail Lab


In our previous drink lab, Apple Cider Cocktail Lab Revisited, we had much success mixing Sailor Jerry, a spiced Caribbean rum with flavors of vanilla, cinnamon, and molasses. Since the bottle contents is down to the last few inches, we’ll finish off Sailor Jerry so that he can become part of the Weekend in Review.

Jerry1 (2)

Tropical Jerry

Lots of cocktails pair rum with fruit juices. We’ll go with the orange and pineapple that we have on hand.


  • 1.5 oz. Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum
  • .5 oz. triple sec
  • 1 oz. orange juice
  • 1 oz. pineapple juice

Shake in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and strain into a glass.

Result: As expected, fruity, sweet and refreshingly delicious.


Jerry’s Apple Pie with Whipped Cream

We experimented with several brands of whipped cream vodka when it was a fad a few years ago. Smirnoff Whipped Cream with equal parts of triple sec and orange juice tastes just like those orange creamsicle bars that we used to get from the ice cream truck as kids. Let’s see how it tastes with Jerry and apple juice.


  • 1.5 oz. Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum
  • .5 oz. triple sec
  • 3 oz. apple juice

Shake in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and strain into a glass.

Result: Totally yummy. Well-balanced flavors of apple, whipped cream, vanilla and cinnamon spice. We’re pleasantly surprised that the apple juice doesn’t dominate.


Jerry Variation on the Shark Bite

The Shark Bite recipe on Drinks Mixer calls for equal parts of light rum and spiced rum. Since our goal is to mix with Sailor Jerry, we’re substituting him for the light rum.


  • 1.5 oz. Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum
  • .5 oz. Blue Curacao
  • .5 oz. lemon mix
  • A few drops of Grenadine

Shake the first 3 ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and strain into a glass. Add the grenadine to the glass.

Result: The Shark Bite recipe calls for 1.5 oz. of lemon mix which we found to be way too much.  We adjusted it to a half ounce and the drink was still just o.k. The red grenadine is intended to look like blood on blue water, but I missed on the slow pour technique (oops). Our lack of excitement over the taste of this cocktail didn’t inspire me to try again.