Making a List

No house is perfect. We’ve all got little things that need fixing. Some are piled on top of the vague aspirations that populate the “someday” pile. Someday we’ll replace that electrical outlet. Someday it’d be nice to have a brighter kitchen. Someday we really need to get around to repainting the front door. Other things go into the “if or when we sell the house” pile. Those are the things you’re willing to live with, but others may not have the same flexible perspective. Pretty soon, the little things make a pretty good-sized list.

A few months ago, we were inspired by a post Sandra Nickel wrote here on MML about home repairs. She talked about sellers who finish the things on their list and then wish they’d made the repairs earlier, so they could have enjoyed the fruits of their labor. And we thought: Why not? We’re not looking to sell any time soon, but why not go ahead and fix what’s left? So we called in an expert. In between appointments showing me some of Midtown’s coolest houses, the Hat Team’s Lauren Layfield agreed to come and walk through our place with a critical eye. I told her to pretend that we were selling and not hold back on criticism. It was interesting to see our beloved home through her professional eyes. Sometimes you really do need the independent opinion of a third party. Here are some of the highlights of her visit.

P10603641. The approach. You always hear folks talking about “curb appeal.” Lauren said this is a real phenomenon, and she pointed out a few things on approach to our house that could use some work. First, our azaleas are totally out of control. They need to be organized to let light shine on the front and side of the house. She explained that light is a big seller for houses, and she encouraged us to ditch our old drapes and let the light in. She encouraged us to make the landscape more welcoming, and noted that the house could probably stand a pressure washing. We may not spring for a washing right now, but totally take her point about the azaleas. On my list for the week: Cut those bushes back.

2. The kitchen. We’ve always known that it could use a facelift. It was built in 1930. Barring removing a wall, it’ll never be featured in Gourmet. But it’s perfectly fine for cooking three meals a day, as we often do. It just needs to be modernized – the cabinets are dated and dark, and the countertop is a super old yellow laminate. Plus, the faucet leaks. I watch HGTV. I know that kitchens sell houses. Ours is functional and well-loved, but not attractive to strangers. We decided to get a price on this, and we remembered that we published a great Heather Coleman piece on MML a while back about kitchen countertops.

3. The cracks. God, the cracks. Everyone who lives in Midtown has them – old house, new house, plaster, sheet rock, anything. We’ve all got them. Because our soil moves. When we first bought this house, we frankly thought the people advising us to “water the foundation” were crazy. Because who does that? We’re believers now, and even have a soaker hose running around the foundation with a timer. Between that and shoring things up a bit, the house doesn’t move nearly as much as it used to. But still, we’ve got some cracks. Lauren pointed out that you’ve got to view the cracks with an appropriate perspective. You could drive yourself insane if you tried to fix them all. But we have some that are a little more noticeable than others, and she said the smart play was to get those patched up. We agreed. Plus, we’ve been meaning to paint the inside of the house something other than the yellow-beige that must have looked distinguished at the time it was painted. We decided to price this too, with a focus on a few key offenders.

P1060368

We’re not proud of this storage disaster.

4. The closets. Lauren helpfully pointed out that our closets were stuffed to the rafters and not exactly appealing to a potential buyer. I answered that they weren’t really working for us either. Jamming as many clothes as possible into a closet may not be the ideal strategy. A good reminder to do some spring cleaning there too.

5. The outside. We’ve got a massive yard with a 150-year-old oak tree in it. We also have a bathroom in our yard. Well, really, it’s a room with a toilet in it. Why the “rear toilet?” Segregation. It was a toilet for the yard workers to use. We certainly never use it, and my fear of creepy-crawlies means that I don’t even open the door. So why not take out the toilet, fix the rotten door frame, and use it for storage? Good idea. That made the list. Anyone in our yard that needs to use the restroom is welcome to come inside to use our facilities.

Here’s the thing – you can watch all the television shows about staging and decoration you want, but when it comes to your own home, and your own clutter, sometimes it’s hard to see with a neutral eye. As Lauren walked through the house, she noticed stacks that I’d just learned not to see. There are some things that we won’t change until we decide to sell – we have maybe too many books in the front rooms to make an optimal impression on a potential home buyer. Duly noted, but we kind of like living in a library. But the other things? The weird phone jack in the middle of the back room? Our lack of a proper backsplash? Our strategy of hiding cracks by hanging art on them? We’ve decided not to wait. We want to live in a finished (or at least updated) house.

So we called our favorite contractors, Aspinwall & Associates. Bryant came through and looked at all the items, pricing them for our approval. Some things we will do ourselves. Others will require outside help. But our mission is to get into summer with a house that’s finished. We’ll post some “after” pictures here as the work is completed. And we’re excited. Life’s short. Better to live in the ideal version of our current house than settling for less and kicking the can down the road for some unknown future day.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, ten fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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  1. Heather says:

    I need to have Lauren come and walk through my house I think! ūüôā

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