My name is Lori Fulk, and it should be said up-front: I used to have very big plans. I was in my 30's and happily ensconced in a Neuroscience Research career when I met a funny, smart guy, and married him. We could have stopped there, and stuck with our "very big plans", but God has some plans of his own. We now have 2 gifted daughters, 1 who is "twice-gifted", which is a fancy way of saying some gifted kids are born with Special Needs. It makes for one crazy game of Poker, I assure you. And because humor is my first-line drug of choice, I started writing (and laughing) about our family's journey 8 years ago. Parenting has taught me many things, but the most important being we all have ideas about being parents, until the actual birth of our children. Wisdom in parenting doesn't come quickly, and it certainly doesn't come easily. Wisdom Comes Suddenly.
March 03, 2014 | 07:50 PM
We are moving for the first time in 9 years, and now knee-deep in the selling process, I realize HGTV has ruined the housing market. What?! How could I say such a thing? You love HGTV. Hey, agreed, I love HGTV too. They are the perfect wind-down, kids have finally gone to bed, 30 minute TV-fix while avoiding my craving for chips and a beer, kind of shows. BUT, while the American Housing Market was once defined as pre-and-post Recession, it is now defined as pre-and-post HGTV. Follow me...
Much like you, I laugh at people who spend $800,000 on a trash heap, and then cough up another $150,000 to remodel the first floor. Oh "Property Brothers", I'd find 150K to touch your wavy hair too. We tsk-tsk-tsk and shake our heads at the "Property Virgins" who whine they want granite and stainless steel at the $120,000 price point. We wait patiently for them to acquiesce and buy the condo. And we cringe as time after time, "Love It Or List It" goes over budget. Really? Really. You thought you could finish a basement and add a 2nd floor bathroom for $25,000. Do you OWN a calculator? But what truly ruined America is "House Hunters". This show should be held responsible.
Knowing America knows as much about "the perfectly staged home" as they do the side effects of Cialis (don't take while bathing next to your wife overlooking a cliff, don't operate heavy machinery...), I hired Professional Stagers to prep my home. It was a very "Father of the Bride" Franck and Howard Weinstein moment as they walked through my house: "OH MY GOD! IT'S PERFECT! IT'S ADORABLE! We love it. We change everything." Change everything they did, and by witnessing this process, some Wisdom Came Suddenly. In case you're taking the real estate plunge, I've noted some ground rules:
(1) Ban all Rainbow Looms from your house. They are the cancer of the cleaning world.
(2) Buy a commercial-sized bottle of floor cleaner. Floors should GLEAM, at all times. No one buys ungleaming floors, and you will get this feedback after a showing, "I witnessed a crumb on an ungleamed surface! I'm blind! Blind, I say!" Putting your house on the market in the Information Age is a city-wide referendum on your ability to clean and decorate. If you are uncomfortable with receiving feedback on either of these fronts, don't sell. Trust me.
(3) All rooms must be painted in serene, coordinating colors, but you must add an element of POP! Neutral walls with a POP of color. Putting actual color on your walls is like removing the 4th wall in the theater (so personal! TMI seller!), but a plum candlestick holder is just flat out interesting. Remember, calm, serene, and then POP! Buyers heads should snap back as they walk into each room, and then they should be overcome by Zen, while smelling pie. If this contradiction angers you, I just ask that you don't shoot the messenger. I come in peace. And would you care for pie?
(4) NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE is allowed to poop in a house once showings begin. If this sounds extreme, you've clearly never prepped for a weekend showing on a Sunday morning with a spouse drinking coffee and children gulping down syrup. Designate one toilet for onesies, and for twosies, the entire family must hold it until they get the YMCA. No WAY did I spend an hour baking a pie, for you people to stank it up with your business. I'm certain Vern Yip doesn't poop, EVER. I learned this rule early, as after serious begging from the least stinky child, I let her run in right before a showing, and in her confusion about the designated family toilet, she used the wrong one. And broke it. Anything with running water is being watched by Karma while your house is on the market. Go ahead, tempt Fate. It will add to the adventure.
(5) Again, this might sound harsh, but you're going to have to humanely let go of your pets. Dealer's Choice on how you do it, and I'm not here to judge. I only know if you fill a house with fake plants, your cats are going to sample them for dinner, and puke all over your house during a showing. This is data I have collected, cleaned up, and scrubbed away. If you think it's hard to sell a house with children, try selling one occupied by cats with bellies full of artificial hydrangeas.
(6) You'll need an endless supply of vignettes made up of books you are not reading and plants you are not growing. These must be artistically displayed across every horizontal surface in your house. Sea shells are fine, but only in bathrooms. Speaking of bathroom vignettes, toilets MUST be disguised with orchids, creating the illusion your bathrooms remain untouched by human butts. Hide the toilet scrubbers and any handy replacement rolls of toilet paper. In fact, hide all toiletries. Your home is a model home now...no one lives there, showers, or brushes their teeth. To prove this point, stick a plant in the shower. You can shower next quarter.
(7) Buy many, many pillows. Jaunty pillows in baskets. Pillows on couches. Pillows on beds. Think you have enough? You don't. Buyers want to feel like they can walk in your house and turn all horizontal surfaces into some kind of giant bed. I've put some thought into America's obsession with throw pillows and I've come to this conclusion: America is sleep-deprived, and because we have no time to sleep, we like to surround ourselves with reminders that at any moment, we might get some shut-eye. I'm going to grab a saucy basket of pillows and pass out in front of the first beautifully showcased fireplace I see. This is the PERFECT house for me!
(8) Leave all of your lights on, all of the time. Just do it; 24 hours per day, you're living in a Disco until that bad boy sells. While you won't sleep soundly, you can imagine napping on one of your hundreds of pillows. That being said, never move the pillows. If your family sees you moving pillows, it will give them license to both move and use the pillows. This will turn into a pillow-moving/using-mayhem, the likes of which even Pottery Barn Managers cannot undo. You can thank me later.
(9) Don't make any food which produces crumbs. In fact, just stop cooking. Wipe your kitchen down and shrink wrap it. While you've got the shrink wrap out, cover the kids. Better yet, ship them to the Grandparents. Tuck in $20 and a cat, and wish them well. If you have nowhere to ship your Rainbow Loom-spewing spawn, move to Plan B: clean and sequester off parts of your home which are not necessary for daily survival. Lay Indiana Jones "Temple of Doom" style booby traps for anyone who dares to ignore your instructions. "Cover your heart Indy!" is more than fair notice the scorpions have been unleashed in the guest bedroom.
(10) Is your house lacking texture? Does that question sound odd? If your house is textureless...wait, is that a word? Sans le texture. Texture-free? Add BALLS. Balls made out of twine, out of twigs, out of glass, out of unicorn nail clippings. Place them on shiny little plates, and scatter them about the house. You can stack them on your new collection of condensed Reader's Digest Books, or tuck them under some romantically drooping orchids. My point here is this: no one wants to buy a smooth house. Where will your eyes land if you have no LAYERS? This is a problem, folks...we are in the middle of a smooth house epidemic, and it can only be cured with BALLS.
(11) You just read about pillows, texture, and vignettes, and I know what you're thinking: America doesn't want to buy a home, they want to browse a Pier 1 and then fall asleep on a Papasan. True, but therein lies a deadly error: do not BUY the Papasan. They are the black hole of decorating. Buy it, and Sabrina Soto will smack you across the face. Does that sound violent? You just bought a Papasan. What did you expect?
(12) Hang coordinating abstract art EVERYWHERE. If you don't own any, you can paint some on canvases, right in your backyard. While you're out there, grab some scrap wood and build a farmhouse table. Do you want to add urban appeal? Rip the downspout off your yard barn and turn it into edging. You have to tear the shed down anyway. HGTV ALWAYS tears down the shed. It's the Kenny of home improvement projects. If this seems like a lot of work, just imagine the buyers seeing a farmhouse table with metal edges. "Look at the dichotomy in this table! It's so visually intriguing! Where do we sign? I suddenly feel the need to take a cozy nap."
(13) Declutter, right? The buzz word in all home-selling ventures is "declutter". You might think it means, "clean out your closets", but that's outdated. Declutter in 2014 means "Throw your stuff away. You never needed it, and it kind of sucks. Or sell it and use the money on things that POP. Nothing you own POPS! Someone give me a piece of pie, STAT! What do you mean it's just a candle?! I could have sworn I smelled PIE!" Think about it: do you want to be the one person who has no pie and a cluttered kitchen when David Bromstad stops by?
(14) Quit your job. If you have any luck at all, your house will actually get showings. Hours upon hours each day must be spent regleaming floors and sterilizing bathrooms. On a positive note, you'll realize years of bellyaching about a dirty house were for naught. You never had a hope in the world of keeping a house this clean with a family inside of it. A team of professional cleaners can't get it spotless enough for today's home buyers. You can thank HGTV for that.
(15) And finally, whatever you can't get picked up before a showing, just throw in your car. Right now in my front seat, I have a cowboy hat, a bucket, and 4 winter coats. There is a load of clean towels balanced between the booster seats, and my entire garage is in the hatch of my minivan. When your car is full, move to your purse. My purse contains last week's mail, an empty Dunkin' Donuts coffee cup, a mixed tape I made in 1988, and a dookie. Don't judge me. I don't make the rules.
Now if you'll excuse me, I received feedback that my garage was "dirty", which is just stellar, because I've always wanted to mop out a garage in subzero weather with snow on the ground. I disagree somewhat with the choice of wording. We're surviving one of the most brutal winters in Indiana's history, so my garage was "dirty" 2 months ago. In its current state, it's the foyer to hell. Just add a Papasan chair, and we've opened HGTV's idea of Pandora's Box. Godspeed my fellow home sellers. Godspeed.