If you've ever had a house on the market, you can relate.
I've timed it. It takes me an hour and 15 minutes to get my house ready for a showing. It's an elaborate process that, after weeks of practice, I can't seem to shorten. The great thing about having a house on the market in a city with a hot real estate market: There are a ton of showings. The not-so-great thing: They're never on the same day. As soon as my two toddlers have had time to destroy our pristine house after a showing, we get a call scheduling the next.
A showing every other day is probably no big deal for someone who lives an orderly life. The type of person who makes her bed, sweeps the kitchen floor every night out of habit and never leaves a dish in the sink. When that person's realtor calls about a showing that's been scheduled in 20 minutes, she says, "Splendid! I'll just grab my newspaper and my chamomile tea -- the only two things out of place right now -- and get out of your way. I'll use the time to squeeze in an extra yoga class. And help yourself to the cookies I just baked. They're gluten free!"
When my realtor calls about a showing, I practically growl at the poor guy. Because no matter how hard I try, I'm never prepared. I work from home, so there are always papers everywhere. My children eat six meals a day including snacks and complete three outfit changes each. Actually, more for my girl, who gets her taste for dressing dramatically from her mom. (See #4.)
So every time I get a call, I have to frantically clean and re-stage the house from top to bottom. Did I mention the showings are never on the same day?
As the realtor steps through the front door, we dash out the back - usually I'm clutching a stray toy I noticed on the way out. We take a surreptitious lap around the block to spy on the potential buyers then go hide out at the park, where I alternately pray this family is "the one" so I never have to prepare for another showing, and try to imagine what the strangers touring our house are thinking:
1. See that antique quilt passed down for generations that's wrapped around my son's crib mattress? I know, so quaint. He doesn't actually sleep with that. It's a prop to add color to the room. Same goes for the pristine rabbit toy. In real life, my 2-year-old sleeps with a plain white pillow, a beach towel (he prefers it to a blanket -- weird) and a garish cartoon-merchandised toy I'm worried will make you hate our house. So I hide all that stuff in a closet, along with his changing pad. Because I don't want to visualize dirty diapers when you enter his room.
2. What's that? You don't see a single trashcan in the house? Very observant. I stopped using trashcans after about the fifth showing. It took too much time to empty them all. I simply take trash out to the garbage as we accumulate it. Or, find ways to avoid creating trash. I'm off Q-tips 'til the house sells.
3. I'm so convinced that white bowl of green apples on the table in our breakfast room (excuse me, our hearth room, according to the listing) is going to make you buy my house that I get a new bag every time I'm at the grocery store, even though no one in my family actually eats green apples. It's cheaper than buying fresh flowers week after week.
4. I merchandised the master closet before we listed the house. It doesn't normally look like that. My accessories shelf gleams like one at Nordstrom. Select pairs of shoes face backward to reveal a design detail, like a gold heel. They're all shelved according to brand. Handbags are lined up with important logos exposed. A cashmere robe I bought before I realized I was allergic to cashmere covers the ratty, coffee-stained terrycloth version I really wear. And that Gucci shoe box on the floor? I put it out to impress you. I sold those shoes a long time ago when I needed money. But I'm glad I saved the box because it's large enough to hide our pile of dirty laundry.
5. I've improved the house in other ways to make it seem we're more fabulous than we are. I borrowed expensive throw pillows from a friend that only come out of hiding for showings. I bought additional patio furniture from Ikea to make the porch look larger. (I kept the receipt; it's all going back the second the option period ends.) I stocked up on fancy, overpriced hand soap. And there are no products in the showers because I'm afraid you'll be turned off by our drug store brands.
6. All this fakery takes time. The piece of art above my daughter's bed is only hung for showings because it's a danger to have glass hanging directly above a toddler's bed. The jar of crayons on her desk that I hope will help you envision your children peacefully drawing while looking out the window at the spreading oaks below cannot be left there during the day. My little one's never sat at that antique desk much less colored on it -- a 4-year-old's coloring must be observed. Otherwise, what my realtor will be showing you is original 1930s baseboards covered in graffiti.
7. Another confession: I stuff her Elsa doll in a drawer before every showing because I'm afraid your daughter prefers Anna. I'm that crazy.
8. Just when I think I'm done with the cleaning ritual, I have to run back upstairs to fish the dolls out of the dollhouse's toilet where my son always puts them. Then I stage that house.
9. And the final flourish to try to make my house your home: After I belt the kids in their carseats and go back inside to Dustbust whatever stray lint they kicked up on their way out -- at this point I'm sweating -- I drag our heavy barstools out to the garage because we don't actually have a bar. We use them at the kitchen island where, curiously, the previous owners who made updates didn't add a lip of countertop to allow for barstools. So I hide them because I don't want to call attention to that weird construction detail because I don't want you to hate my house. I want you to buy it.
Someone please buy my house.
I have to go -- I have another showing.
Photo: TK Images; Photo Illustration: Cali Huffman