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Selling your house? Here’s your homework assignment

By Karen Sackowitz
Globe Correspondent / October 9, 2011

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We hatched the plan sitting on a park bench in April. After talking for years about moving closer to family in Connecticut, my husband and I had decided the time was right to sell the house and make a go of it.

So began a two-month blur.

Eric and I had lived in our Haverhill home (inset) for 11 years, first as a couple and gradually adding two kids, a dog, and a heck of a lot of . . . accumulation. Our realtor, Amy Sebell, put it simply: “You guys have a lot of stuff.’’

From the catch-all attic down to the basement playroom and overpacked workshop, it was endless. Don’t even get me started on the garage and shed.

Sebell issued her first assignment: De-clutter. We jumped in enthusiastically, renting a storage unit for less critical items. In one day, it was filled with camping gear, sports equipment, a full drum set, a few extra chairs, several labeled bins, and a random futon.

Next came the Big Purge, which was highlighted by the arrival of a bright red, 15-yard rented dumpster in our driveway.

Filling it was another issue. Ironically, in our quest to move closer to family, we found ourselves needing family more than ever. Who else would give up a weekend to schlep heaps of junk out of our attic and basement?

A quick Internet search led to a crew of laborers up for the task. They came, they saw, they chucked - literally out the attic windows at one point. When the dust settled, the dumpster was beyond full.

In late April, we checked in with Sebell. Despite our herculean efforts, we came away with another long list of task items: Neaten up the landscaping, reduce knickknacks to three per shelf, touch up chipped wall paint, clear the refrigerator of all pictures. My kids’ Little League photos? Now it was getting personal.

Enthusiasm slipping, we began writing checks to anyone who came through our door: the handyman who tackled a fix-it list, the landscaper who whipped the overgrown shrubs into shape, the driveway sealer. The butcher, the baker, the - well, you get the idea.

Two weeks later, our progress report was not much sunnier. Although the larger projects had been tackled, Sebell took issue with the dust accumulation on my baseboards. Short on sleep and long on sore muscles, I was getting grumpy. When she suggested we replace all the carpeting on the second floor, I snapped. I will save you the details of that meltdown; suffice to say that when my head stopped spinning, I opted instead for a whole-house steam clean, which spruced up the carpets just fine.

As Memorial Day approached, what was to be our first house-hunting trip to Connecticut was scrapped in favor of yet another task-filled weekend. Past grumpy and on to miserable, I felt like my home was a labor camp.

As if riding in on white horses, that’s when my in-laws arrived. Together we rolled up our sleeves and got to work cleaning every window, repainting every door frame, staining the front porch . . . it was a beehive of activity. Momentum rolling, Eric and our next-door neighbor worked the following week to patch every tiny crumble of cement in the garage and walkway. A painter came in to do some final touchup work, and it all came together.

The house went on the market on a Thursday in mid-June and we breathed a sigh of relief, ready to sit back, relax, and start looking for a new home while ours simmered on the market for the summer. Satisfied, we left for a weekend of house-hunting in Connecticut.

My cellphone rang for the first time the very next morning. Could they show the house? Of course, I said. A repeat call came a few hours later. Then two more the next day. By Saturday night, we had an offer, and Eric and I felt the first pangs of panic. This was really happening! Gambling, we turned it down, opting to see what Sunday’s open house brought. By Sunday night we drove back to Massachusetts mulling over three full-price offers, and by Monday morning we were back in our kitchen, signing on the dotted line.

People are shocked when I tell them our house sold in just three days, but those three days followed a heck of a lot of work. My advice to sellers? First, price well. Today’s numbers aren’t pretty, but it’s important to work within the market you’ve been dealt. Second, listen to your realtor and do the work. Believe me, when we started house-hunting, we walked into plenty of “love it or leave it’’ homes - and walked right back out. Third, hang on to your hat. Even in this economy, if the right buyer shows up on your doorstep, you may just have a deal faster than you thought.

Karen Sackowitz can be reached at ksackowitz@gmail.com.

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