By Sally Barnes
The day will come when it’s time to sell our house and I will become known in the real estate trade as the client from hell.
Over the years, I have resisted many trends but I have also tried to adapt as the world moves on for better or worse.
Like a lot of people, I enjoy following the real estate market.
My husband and I have moved six times over our many years together. Each move took its toll but was worth it because we ended up where we are today in a lovely house in a great neighbourhood in a wonderful community. We will stay here as long as various circumstances permit.
When the day comes for us to move on, I will welcome new marketing techniques. For example, drones present potential buyers with a bird’s eye view of the neighborhood and property and virtual tours of house interiors benefit both the buyer and seller.
But here’s where I draw the line. I will resist the process called staging. It’s when the professionals advise on how to make a maximum impression by changing your property and contents.
The stagers will tell you that many of your most prized possessions must go and in extreme cases recommend just about everything should be put in storage and replaced by new or rented furniture and accessories.
Clutter is a no-no. And personal items like family pictures, mementoes, toys, crafts, collectibles, and heirlooms are considered a distraction.
This is especially tough for those of us of a certain age. The longer we live, the more we collect and cherish. And let’s face it, much has changed.
The current fad is called the hotel look or minimalism. The plainer the better. Antiques are out. Vibrant colours are out. Anything suggesting real people actually live on the premises should be removed or hidden.
First impressions are everything. Some believe shoppers like or dislike a place based on the first few seconds after they walk through the door.
A brochure that landed in our mailbox recently contains the following advice by a local realtor:
“Depersonalize as much as possible. You want buyers to visualize themselves living there and family pictures on the fireplace mantel might make that difficult.”
Well, I guess that might be true if the family pictures show a bunch of pointy-headed weirdos with a pet pig in their beds, a bathtub full of snakes, and human remains in the basement.
In our house, family pictures are everywhere. To get to the small washroom off the kitchen you pass through a rogues’ gallery of five generations of reasonably presentable people—albeit in some instances making sillies of themselves.
But pictures are only half the problem. Join me in a virtual tour that provides a hint of the nightmare facing any realtor committed to staging our house:
As we approach this lovely property, we are greeted by two lifelike border collies—one at the entrance to the driveway and another at the front door. The former is made of iron and is unwell at the moment. The elements have amputated his tail, family jewels, and part of one leg. He is currently under repair.
If the dogs turn off any would-be buyers, well that’s too bad. They’ve been with us a long time and have helped countless wonderful visitors find their way to us. And every dog in the neighbourhood uses the driveway guy as a peeing post and we wouldn’t want to ruin their daily routine.
Once inside the main door, the visitor is confronted with a painting by the lady of the house. It’s an oil of the east wing of Queen’s Park where her ladyship worked for almost a decade during what were the happiest years of her life. A Picasso it ain’t. But it was created with great love and effort and it’s staying as long as we do.
In fact, we have a lot of so-called art that might prove not especially impressive to strangers. My husband, Fred, and I worked at the Toronto Star for many years and have some originals by Duncan Macpherson, who in our books was the greatest cartoonist ever.
Fred and Dunc frequented The Toronto Press Club and one night Fred literally lost his shirt at the pool table. In most private clubs mandating collar and tie, this would have required the bare-chested member to depart. But Dunc got out his pen and sketched a shirt and tie on Fred’s chest and the game and drinking resumed. That picture isn’t headed for the attic.
Over the fireplace in the TV room we have a giant painting of a cow, which Fred fell in love with (the painting that is) on a Mexican vacation. Our dear friend and artist, the late Ross Aylesworth, painted a loveable zebra that we’d never part with and how about the photo of Fred holding the five cards that won him a royal flush in a poker game on Feb 10, 1975?
Did I mention the giant photo of our border collie wearing eyeglasses while lying in bed reading a book I wrote a few years ago about our dog park?
Moving along to the kitchen, there’s no question that all the small appliances on counters would have to go into hiding along with my antique milk bottle collection from long-gone Napanee dairies and the cute little urn that contains my Metamucil.
We enjoy the large parrot on a perch hanging over the kitchen table but others might not.
In our bedroom we have paintings of all the many dogs that have shared and enriched our lives. And there’s a slightly tattered throw knitted for me many years ago by my good friend and neighbour Sylvia Ricketts. Ah, the winter nights when this has brought needed comfort as I curled up with a good book before bed. I will hold onto that for dear life.
One of the features of our living room is a large portrait of Sir John A. Macdonald. No question that the stagers would be anxious to give him the boot for fear of offending any members of the wingy cancel culture cult.
Ours is a house of many colours. That’s a nightmare in itself when all the ads for new homes boast a monotonous sea of grey, beige and white furniture, wall and floor coverings and only a begrudging dash of colour in the odd pillow.
Blah may excite today’s buyers but to me this tedious ambience is about as hospitable as an operating room.
One recent home seller says she was away for two days while her house was being staged and she hardly recognized it when she returned. Furniture and décor had been rearranged or removed and she got into bed to find a stack of books on her bedside table. These were books she had never seen before.
Pray tell, what kind of books impress would-be buyers? Dostoevsky? Travel? Sex Techniques for Dummies?
I’m sure there is sound research that if you want to get top buck for your house you should listen to the marketing professionals and take staging to your bosom.
But this stubborn old cuss will take her chances that would-be buyers will see beyond our clutter and eccentricity and realize that any house can be turned into a home if it’s filled with the love of family and friends.
That has always worked for us.
Sally Barnes has enjoyed a distinguished career as a writer, journalist and author. Her work has been recognized in a number of ways, including receiving a Southam Fellowship in Journalism at Massey College at the University of Toronto. A self-confessed political junkie, she has worked in the back-rooms for several Ontario premiers. In addition to a number of other community contributions, Sally Barnes served a term as president of the Ontario Council on the Status of Women. She is a former business colleague of Doppler’s Hugh Mackenzie and lives in Kingston, Ontario. You can find her online at sallybarnesauthor.com
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