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.

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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.

Mordor

A visual aid for buyers who lack imagination:

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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.

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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

Jerry5

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.

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Tropical Jerry

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

Ingredients

  • 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.

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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.

Ingredients

  • 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.

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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.

Ingredients

  • 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.

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Apple Cider Cocktail Lab Revisited

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Spiced Rum and Apple Cider

Our next goal in the bottle reduction project is to finish off some of the dozen or so various rums we’ve collected. Sailor Jerry is a Caribbean rum infused with spices and flavors. In addition to making a delicious cocktail, Sailor Jerry is worthy of drinking neat with its fragrant vanilla nose and notes of cinnamon and molasses on the palate.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 oz. Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum
  • 2 oz. apple cider
  • Splash of butterscotch schnapps

Shake over ice, strain and pour into a glass.

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Raspberry Apple Cider

We bought Bacardi Black Razz raspberry flavored rum to make the Hard Rock’s Purple Haze cocktail at home. Although it’s not a rum we would drink on its own, it proved to be a utilitarian workhorse for any fruity cocktail concoction.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 oz. Bacardi Black Razz Rum
  • 2 oz. apple cider

Shake over ice, strain and pour into a glass.

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Variation on the Stone Wall

The original Stone Wall recipe calls for aged rum, apple cider, and ginger beer. Even though Sailor Jerry is a spiced rum, their website touts its compatibility with ginger so I take a chance that the substitution will work.

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum
  • 1 oz. apple cider
  • .25 oz. simple syrup
  • 1 oz. ginger beer

Shake the first 3 ingredients over ice, strain and pour into a glass. Top with ginger beer.

Sailor Jerry vs. Goslings Black Seal

Goslings Black Seal is our go-to rum for a Dark-n-Stormy cocktail also made with ginger beer. We’ll conclude drink lab with a Stone Wall Variation throwdown; one made with Sailor Jerry and one with Goslings Black Seal. The verdict: Goslings is smoky and sophisticated and, as usual, never disappoints. The Sailor Jerry version is lighter with lovely vanilla flavors popping through the apple and ginger. It’s another winner.

Related Blogs:

Bottle reduction (AKA Weekend in Review) https://wp.me/p4rcsv-jh

Apple Cider Lab 2015 https://wp.me/p4rcsv-5T

Dark-n-Stormy https://wp.me/p4rcsv-bq

From the Age of Innocence to the Age of Invisibility

Once upon a time, very long ago, there was a girl with moonlight in her eyes. The little child lived with her mother, father, sister and fairy grandmother in a suburban Cape Cod-style castle in a land called Long Island. The people of the village thought the girl was bright and pretty and thought of her as their little princess.

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She sang in a beautiful voice and the children of the hamlet would gather round and listen to her sing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” while they pretended to be in The Wizard of Oz. As she grew older, she learned to play the piano and her musical performances were applauded and complimented.

When she became a young woman, the beautiful princess turned heads with her long blond hair and slim figure. Handsome princes would gaze from afar and confident ones would approach her with offers of affection. Doors were easily opened and each day brought new opportunities and adventures. Her world was very sweet indeed.

Okay, so this is my exaggerated fairytale, but the point is that I didn’t appreciate the power of my youth until it was gone. Youth doesn’t disappear overnight, but in increments so small that you don’t even notice it’s leaving until someone else points it out. I’m carded at bars into my late twenties until one night, ID in hand, the bouncer looks at me and says he doesn’t need to see it, I can go right in. In my thirties, waiting at the cashier with my beer in hand, the clerk calls down the line to have my ID ready. When I get close enough for the young guy to get a good look at me, he says, “Oh, never mind.”

The age reminder incident in my forties was probably the most insulting. While driving to work one day, two dudes in a truck slow down, beep the horn, and wave, trying to get my attention. My first thought is that they’re signaling that something is wrong with my car. But the way they are ogling me, tells me they’ve noticed the long blond hair and the fact that I’m female. Now our vehicles are side by side as they come in for a closer look and I glance left in their direction. Their big dopey grins vanish as they realize I’m old enough to be their mother. Then, the one in the passenger seat motions a dismissive wave and mouths the word, “Sorry.” Yes, I’m officially over the hill and thank you very much for reminding me.

In my fifties, I’m travelling along the road to invisibility. But don’t feel sorry for me; I regard my invisibility as my superpower. I’m the cocktail ninja who can infiltrate a crowd of people in a bar with the stealth of a jaguar. What seems to be a casual night out is my covert mission is to gather intel for my next blog post. At this age, our hidden agendas are so different from the attempted guerilla pickups that assaulted my youth.

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At the bar, we meet our nonagenarian friend, Buddy, and wish him a belated happy birthday. He leans in and speaks quietly, letting us in on one of the pearls of wisdom only known by living to age 90. “You know, when you get to be my age, people give you things.” Buddy proceeds to tell us about his free helicopter excursion over the city and upcoming parasailing adventure, adding, “I asked them not to dip me, I would prefer to stay dry.”

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A perfectly-timed free drink is handed to Buddy, a gift from other bar patrons validating his claim that people give him things. He nods to them in thanks. The Age of Innocence may be lost, but there is still much to be gained in the Age of Invisibility.

Ponder aging and pair your cocktail with Angel From Montgomery by Susan Tedeschi (written by John Prine, first well-known version by Bonnie Raitt):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JrJ1MjPYBo

Apricot Brandy Drink Lab

Apricot Brandy Drink Lab

It’s time to empty another bottle; one more for Weekend In Review and one less in the liquor cabinet. A bottle of Hiram Walker Apricot Brandy was purchased a few years ago for the purpose of mixing up a party punch. Admittedly it’s the cheap stuff, but we figured there was no sense in diluting the good stuff with a bunch of fruit juices, rum, and seltzer. The one-third bottle that was leftover was put away where, over time, it relocated itself further and further into the nether regions of the liquor cabinet. Now a perfect candidate for the Weekend In Review, the apricot brandy finds its way to drink lab.

Weekend In Review:

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The Mr. Bartender app is helpful in finding drinks with a specific ingredient. You can search drinks by name or by ingredients. The first recipe we’re testing is the Apricot Lady (minus the egg white):

  • 1.5 oz light rum
  • 1 oz apricot brandy
  • 1 tsp triple sec
  • .5 oz lemon juice

Shake over ice and strain into a glass.

Although we’ve followed the recipe except for the egg white, this cocktail has too much tart lemon and not enough apricot flavor. In the second iteration, we swap out the lemon juice for our homemade lemon mixer, reduce the rum, and leave out the triple sec (1 tsp was inconsequential anyhow).

Apricot Lady Streamlined

  • 1 oz rum
  • 1 oz apricot brandy
  • .5 oz lemon mixer

Clean and simple and in our opinion, better.

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A few ounces of the apricot brandy were left for Day 2 of drink lab. This time I decided to try vodka in place of rum. A variety of suggestions from Mr. Bartender include pineapple, orange, and lime juices. I opt for my breakfast standard, OJ.

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A Drink With No Name

  • 1 oz apricot brandy
  • 1 oz vodka
  • .5 oz orange juice

I’ve been through the desert with a drink with no name. It felt good to be out of the rain. In the desert, you can remember your name. And something about feeling no pain.

La, la, la la la la, la la la, la la…La, la, la la la la, la la la, la la…

Horse at bar with martini and bartender

 

Evacuation

Jeff Parker / Florida Today

From this post’s title and the fact that I’ve already written about my colonoscopy you may be thinking I’m going there again. But this time I’m referring to the evacuation of Floridians due to Hurricane Irma. Having been victimized by New York area traffic jams since I first took the wheel in high school, the media coverage showing miles of traffic trying to move north, while the southbound lanes remain completely empty makes me wince.

My concern over Irma making landfall in Florida is more than simply as a compassionate observer. As sure as migrating birds flee from gray, snowy winters, my sister and her husband retired to the warm and sunny Gulf Coast a couple of years ago. Long before there was any specific weather-related threat, they fortified their new ‘nest’ with hurricane shutters and removed any tall trees that were within striking distance of the roof. As news of Irma in the Caribbean began to disseminate, they planned to “hunker down” (in quotes due to its nauseating overuse in storm coverage.)

Making plans during a hurricane is like trying hit a moving target. Plan A included ordering a camp stove from Amazon (with overnight delivery) and stocking up on Dinty Moore Hearty Meals. My sister and I both tend to be rule-followers, so when the recommendation to evacuate was given, the idea of riding it out was changed to Plan B, an impromptu trip to Atlanta. As my sister went online to book accommodations, options for hotel rooms were disappearing by the minute. But, being the resourceful one, she reserved a room for a somewhat reasonable rate.

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While all-day news coverage of Irma is creating panic over the intensity of the storm and destruction in the Caribbean, the station’s weather reporter stands in a street in Puerto Rico with torrents of rain soaking his waterproof suit and bracing against the wind to keep from being blown away. Scenes like this instill enough fear to develop Plan C: LEAVE NOW! A hotel room at a halfway point is hastily booked and car packed. It’s time to batten down the hatches (AKA hurricane shutters) and go.

What should have been an eight-hour trip, becomes a fifteen-hour ordeal. They arrive safely in Atlanta only to learn that Irma will be following them there in a few days’ time. Having never been to Atlanta, my optimistic sister considered taking in the sights, but worrying about the storm, stoked by media attention, put a damper on having fun. After several days, Irma, now a tropical storm, has passed and they are eager to return home. Wait, not so fast! You must endure the same torturous fifteen-hour traffic-congested road trip because the same million people that evacuated are now trying to get home too!

Tiny yet insidious germs lurk among the hundreds of hotel guests, trying to make you “it” in their game of tag. They sneak up on you, starting with an occasional cough and soreness in the throat. Before you know it, the nose faucet is running full blast accompanied by sneezing, aching, and general malaise. My poor sis brings home colds and infections the way some folks bring home souvenirs. In the throes of head cold misery, she swears that next time, if there is one, they will stay put. In her words, “I’d rather risk death than go through another evacuation.”