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At Home: When everything must go, whatever's left needs help

Marni Jameson's “Ground Zero-Part Six” of her saga about clearing out and selling her parents' home of 50 years as they move to a retirement community.
By Marni Jameson, For The Oklahoman Modified: April 6, 2013 at 10:01 pm •  Published: April 8, 2013

Everything must go. That thought drove me as I cleared out my parents' home of 50 years. Little did I know, once everything was gone, the real work would begin.

The ultimate goal was to get the 1,700-square-foot California ranch house empty, fixed up and on the market by the end of March. I had a lot to do in four weeks.

Empty, the old homestead looked even more tired than before. The furnishings had buffered the facts that the carpet had seen more miles than a foot army, and the wallpaper was more dated than Betty Crocker's hairdo.

I looked around the home I grew up in, and instead of seeing a refuge of memories, I tried to see it through a buyer's eyes.

Boy, did that change my perspective.

Besides the carpet and wallpaper, the cottage-cheese ceilings, dowdy drapes, and worn out cabinets also had to go.

I called my good friend Bill Wood, who not only owns a couple dozen rental houses so can fix places up in his sleep, but also has his real estate license.

Unlike other Realtors who encouraged me to sell the property “as is,” Bill said if we updated the place and didn't overspend we'd net more and sell faster.

“What would it take?” I asked.

“One month and $15,000.”

“How much more would we get?”

“Probably $50,000 more than if you sold it as is.”

“A fourth grader can do that math.”

“Plus,” he said, “when a home looks new and move-in ready, buyers are less likely to ask you to drop your price for paint or carpet allowance.”

I pushed up my sleeves. “Let's go,” I said.

“No way” came the chorus from friends, family and those in real estate. You can't bring this place into the 21st Century that fast for that price!

Oh yeah? Watch.

Bill's contacts and my ability to make quick design decisions on a budget made us a formidable pair.

In the one week I was in town, I cleared the house, had an estate sale, and selected paint colors, carpet, engineered-wood flooring, tile, hardware and window coverings. (Proof that a task will expand or contract to fill the amount of time you have.) The rest I did by puppet string from Florida.

Bill lined up painters, flooring crews, and a handyman to do tile, electric and plumbing work. Crews began the last week in February. One month later, we were ready for market.

Here's what we did and what we spent:

•Goodbye wallpaper. The flowered wallpaper throughout was cozy, quaint and just right for its time; that is, when Doris Day was hot and Elvis was cool. But today's buyers want a fresh, neutral, but not-boring palette to build on. We stripped the paper, retextured the walls and painted them Sherwin Williams Boutique Beige, and painted doors and trim Whisper white.

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