Having returned from our trip to Portland where we met what will be our first new friends in Malaysia, Diane went back to work and I resumed House Husband Duties. Unlike all of 2014, there’s a lot to do before selling a house, trying to liquidate all your possessions and being home to accommodate the throngs of vendors that the real estate agent schedules. Creating a “Marketing Calendar” to keep track of it all, our real estate agent’s administrator’s job is booking vendors to get the house inspected, painted, cleaned, washed and staged. Almost wishing I was the one working, selling a house in the Land of The Overpriced is turning out to be an enormous pain in the ass.
Uniquely different from selling a house built six years earlier and occupied only by us, homes older than me usually come with pages and pages of recommendations for minor repairs, statutory code upgrades, cosmetic fixes and disclosures up to Wazoo. (Built in 1964, our house is almost new compared to many homes in suburban Contra Costa County). Needless to say, none of this comes cheap. Along with bearing the unfortunate responsibility of paying broker’s commissions, the seller of a home in Northern California spends more on vendor’s fees, title company bullshit and miscellaneous regulatory fees than most men spend on an engagement ring. Spending upwards of $10,000 is “normal” even though our real estate agent conveniently “underestimated” all these costs by at least a few thousand.
Reviewing what’s taken place so far, let’s rewind back a bit. Starting as far as six months before going to market, our landscaper (Oscar) began ringing up the cash register. Performing an initial clean up of the jungle that comprises our little 1/4 acre piece of land, Oscar gutted, trimmed, cut, planted and raked everything on a warm sunny day in November. Kaching!! That was the first thousand bucks leaving the asset base. During this first phase, the “stager” brought in 35 new plants to be scattered across the property.
Fleeing California for one last holiday trip to Diane’s hometown in Canada, we returned to find that the annual cold snap killed almost half the plants anyway. Seeing my frustration, our realtor agreed to pay for replacements. No doubt a tax write off anyway, that was only the first annoying issue with the home selling process. With a ten month growing season, the crab apple tree and wisteria that surrounds our entryway finally finished dropping their leaves two weeks after winter started which brought Oscar back for the second time. Desperately needing a trim, part two was a bargain at only a few hundred bucks. Kaching !!
Wondering how normal working people accommodate this long list of stay-at-home tasks, the calendar of events kept growing until almost every day filled up with something between now and March 17th , the day we finally list the house. And since I’ve lost my vehicular transportation thanks to a freak event that ended with an insurance payment for totaling my car (injury-free, luckily), it’s become inherently difficult to plan errands like shopping. Breaking down all the expenses into an itemized list, here’s the play by-play:
If you think living without snow and ice keeps houses cleaner, you’d be incorrect. Never ending growing seasons means more dirt, dust, soot, leaves and grime that simply accumulates unless properly removed. Although my neighbor owns such a device he’s already gone above and beyond by volunteering to drive our storage locker of personal stuff to the dock for shipping once we’re settled in Penang. Instead, we overpaid a vendor who brought a worker that looked like a day laborer you find standing on the side of highways looking for work.
Hanging art and decorating your new house is wonderful. Noticing the holes, scuffs, and marks left when removing them is not. Needing a handyman to do minor tasks,
we paid a “jack of all trades” guy to handle issues like wall touch-ups, broken weather-stripping, replacing backyard latches, removing pot holder and curtain rod hooks and various other things. Unfortunately, the realtor sent over an obnoxious and incompetent amateur who insulted and almost threatened me when I complained about him. Chalk up another freebie from the realtor along with an apology for using unqualified vendors.
Taking only about 45 minutes, California law requires roof inspections for all homeowners that sell. Noting various issues that should probably be attended to, we will be fixing none of them and simply disclosing them to potential buyers since Utopia is a “seller’s market”. This is what you do in The Land of The Overpriced.
Proving how most recommendations are simply suggestions, the chimney inspector found a “safety issue” and sent the report to referral for a proposed fireplace repair. Having something to do with “rebuilding the back wall of the firebox to fix the voids between the chimney flue tiles”, the same diagnosis was found on the property in 2007 when we purchased the house. Cheaper than spending $500, we simply never turned on the fireplace thus eliminating the “safety issue”. Of course the repair estimate in 2015 has increased to $1,400. What are we doing about it? Nothing; we simply “disclose it”.
Pest Control Inspection
Living in the county with the most park space per capita in America, there are lots of rodents, insects and other potentially annoying pests living among us homeowners. Fortunately, none of them chose to come inside during our residency. Regardless, the pest inspector’s report came up with $965 worth of “recommended work”. Unclear who would fix something that ain’t broke, I began to understand that the entire industry of real estate collaborates with various other sectors in the name of profit. Sadly, nobody can afford to pay for any of this after shelling out five times the national average for the privilege of owning a house in the San Francisco Bay Area.
As the most expensive inspection, this report takes up 17 pages and covers everything from the technical to the ridiculous: Citing an example, page 12 noted “the updated cabinetry is worn in places” while page 15 stated “The substructure soil was dry at the time of inspection. It is always very important to maintain proper drainage and ventilation“. Earning his pay, the home inspector dons a uniform akin to a nuclear decontamination suit and actually squeezes into the “crawl space”, a subterranean structure designed to allow access to otherwise inaccessible underground areas. (There are no basements in California homes for earthquake protection). Complete with enough recommendations to bankrupt the wealthiest homeowner, we’re told the report is “very clean” and of course we will make no repairs but rather “simply disclose everything“.
Regular readers may recall an earlier post detailing damage to the side of our house thanks to excessive ivy growth. Believe it or not, the real estate agent told us to leave the side in its current disgusting state because “in this market it won’t matter”. (Are you beginning to see a pattern despite the fact that America’s housing market almost destroyed the world’s economy seven short years ago?) Unwilling to pay vendors so much money and leave such an unsightly blemish, I asked the painter if he could clean even some of it for an extra $200 beyond his bid to paint the front door, baseboards and pocket door and surprisingly enough he made it look shiny and new. Score one minor victory for us.
You may question why we simply can’t clean our own windows. So did I. Answer: Because all sellers hire a professional. They come on Thursday
Although most of our house is hardwood (and beautifully maintained), the main living room and the family room are burlap carpet and therefore need to be “professionally cleaned”. Yes, you can rent one of those machines from the supermarket but naturally the real estate agent advised against the easy way out. Big surprise there.
Having lived at or below our means to help make early retirement possible, we have no clue what a house cleaner does but I assume they’re supposed to thoroughly scrub, scour, dust, vacuüm and clean toilets. Considering we’re unlike most of our neighbors who pay people to clean their house, I have no idea what to expect and this person arrives just before the staging next weekend. (No, we don’t live among the One Percent; Many Americans think they’re too busy to keep a clean house so they simply add on to their debt load). However, I do think I’d like to pay for house cleaning in Malaysia since it’s considerably less expensive and not offensive or snobby.
The last vendor of this process has the world’s hardest task in my estimation. Insisting on separate bathrooms since the day we got married, Diane never steps foot in the hall bathroom (mine) and I have no clue what the shower feels like in the master bathroom (hers) since I’ve never taken one there. Clearly dirtier than a bathroom occupied by a Chinese woman (Asian readers know what I mean), my bathroom accumulates more hair than a gorilla despite none of it coming from my head, needs a major scrubbing and gets dirty the second I walk into it. Unclear how I can keep it this way during the showing period, I may resort to showering in the gym even though it would mean waking up at 5 AM and driving Diane to her carpool. Thankfully, my bathroom is not as bad as the picture or Diane would divorce me.
By far the biggest ripoff and most ridiculous waste of money, almost all sellers in the area remove or sell their furniture in favor of “staging the house”. Industry-speak for renting furniture that an “expert” determines is right for your house and places according to whatever she thinks looks appealing, most of these people are not professional interior decorators (If they were, nobody except the uber-rich could afford them). Ours is a pain in the ass to work with artsy type that rarely answers emails and she recently sent me a long-winded explanation of why “clients should be gone while she is working”. Charging an amount Diane will not let me reveal, my thoughts on this “profession” are somewhere between scam artist and overpaid (This is not even her full-time occupation). But at this point, I just want it to be over. Stay tuned for pictures of this glorious undertaking. (the picture below is NOT our home)
Never imagining it would cost two months salary to sell a house that everyone keeps telling us “will sell in a heartbeat”, we’re thankful for the ridiculous American tax system that rewarded us for having one non-working household member with a refund that covers more than all the crap listed above. Absolutely convinced this is the last time we go through this, I’m more anxious than ever to sell this place, file the MM2H Visa paperwork and finally get on with the business of Early Retirement in Malaysia. Somewhere in Penang there’s a rental waiting for The Experimental Expats. In 46 days, the long wait for my 50th birthday ends and hopefully so does the stress of selling a house.
Hoping seller’s remorse doesn’t set in, I’m told the many people love the house so much after it’s staged they hate to sell. While we do get to live with the rented furniture for 30 days even after entering escrow, nothing could ever convince me to stay here and I look already forward to the emptiness and another memory of a house we once lived in.
Cheers and thanks for staying with us during transition !!! 46 days to go until MM2H Filing date .
I’m curious if anyone spent tons less and still got a great price to sell their house. Please share !!
Coming next week:
Pictures and descriptions of our Staged House