Trying to sell a place while you’re still living in it is like living in a hotel and being the housekeeping staff at the same time. Every time we get a message from our realtor that someone has requested a showing, we are driven into a frenzy of cleaning and decluttering. Usually we get a 12-24 hour window, but sometimes, it’s a matter of hours. We get a text and we feel like we can’t say no. We look at the clock and contemplate how long it will take us to get the place ready.
We had already done the hard work of packing up and clearing out a bunch of stuff, rearranging some of the furniture, and getting repairs and some painting done to prep our condo for the real estate photos, which came out better than we could have imagined. Our condo’s “dating profile,” my husband called it: the wide-angle lens made the rooms look much bigger, accompanied by descriptors like “gorgeous, sun-filled,” “prime location,” “elegant moldings.” We had been advised to remove all the tchotchkes from the shelves, clear the kitchen countertops, put away personal photos, etc. to “stage” the place. The impression you want to give is of a showroom, a blank canvas onto which potential buyers can project their own lives. “I could live here,” you want them to say. You want the place to look livable, but not lived in.
But the fact is, we still live here. We’ve packed most of the kids’ toys away, and yet, books, stuffed animals, cards, clothes still migrate into the living room. The lovely granite countertops are usually home to dirty lunch dishes, snacks, a mug of cold coffee. Crumbs, dust, stray hairs accumulate and settle on their usual surfaces. The hamster flings poop and bedding outside her cage on a regular basis. These signs of life must be erased. We’ve gotten more efficient with each showing—I make the beds and shine the faucets, while my husband hides the food and cleans the kitchen and dining table; I wipe the finger prints off the stainless steel, while he packs our getaway bag of water, snacks, and reading material. We have to remember to empty the garbage cans and compost bin every time.
The pandemic complicates things. There are booties by the door for people to wear over their shoes, plenty of hand sanitizer on the entry table, along with disposable masks and a covid disclosure form for visitors to sign. We have to find a suitable outdoor place to spend our time, and hope that no one needs to go to the bathroom, and when we get back, we wipe down all the door handles and light switches. Strangers in one’s home takes on a new sense of risk.
On the one hand, it’s pleasant to live in a regularly cleaned and vacuumed home, and of course we want as many showings as possible. On the other hand, a day without a showing is something of a relief and a reprieve. These showings would be less disruptive, of course, if we weren’t all stuck at home. It’d be a lot easier to keep the place clean and have people come through if we were at work and school all day. Please, someone make an offer, says the voice in my head. And then I worry that our condo’s online profile oversells it, and that the reality can only be a letdown to potential buyers.
So, why are we moving in a pandemic, you ask? Well, because of the pandemic. Although we’d been saving and contemplating buying a house for years, for one reason or another, we’d not made any serious moves to actually leave our condo. The location was hard to beat: across from the kids’ elementary school, walkable to campus, close to public transportation and mere blocks from the lake. We valued walkability, the proximity to shops and restaurants. But the many beautiful historic houses in our area were beyond our budget, and moving farther west would mean a second car, possibly changing schools for the kids, no more walks to the lake whenever the mood struck. It didn’t seem worth it. But during the lock down, it became clear we needed more space. More physical space that could help create more mental space. More places to hold Zoom calls without having to shush the kids for being kids. A little private outdoor space we could call our own. Our oldest turned 12 this summer; we have just a handful more years before he leaves for college. If we were ever going to move, this seemed the time.
So, here we are, living in a spruced up version of our condo and waiting for someone to love it enough to buy it. Because of circumstances outside our control, we are in this limbo state for a few more weeks than we expected. With that extra time before the move, I’m going to try to soak up this place, all the good in it. When we moved here from New Jersey thirteen years ago, we had boxes of books, some Ikea furniture, two new jobs, and not much else. Then we had our babies here, watched them grow, celebrated holidays and milestones, bought real furniture, and accumulated more books. It’s the longest my husband and I have lived anywhere; the only home our kids have known. The idea that in a matter of days we will never see the inside of these walls again is a bit shocking to contemplate.
I suppose the pandemic has imposed its own limbo state on all of us, with nearly all aspects of life in either stasis or flux in unpredictable combination. And apparently, we’re not the only ones who have decided to act in this time of waiting. According to our realtor, it’s a seller’s market out there, with low inventory and the pent-up demand of people who, like us, are reassessing the places in which they must shelter, and work and learn. For now, we live here and don’t live here, as we slowly fill up boxes. And while I can’t entirely stop myself from looking at the condo through a buyer’s eyes (is the kitchen too worn? will they notice how creaky the floors are?), I will also try to appreciate the lived-in-ness for what it is: signs of life, family, home.