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Peggy Follis repairs old spaces, turning a tired bungalow into real estate star that sold in a flash for more than the asking price. How sweet is that?
Carrie Buchanan, The Ottawa Citizen
May 6, 2006
In a tough market, the best techniques for selling a house happen well before it goes on the market. No longer can you slap on a coat of paint and call it ready. Today's sellers are de-cluttering and staging their homes to get a better price and a quicker sale.
My husband and I figured six months was plenty of time to prepare our suburban Nepean home of 23 years for sale. Fresh paint indoors and out, serious clean-ups in the garage and basement, and we figured we'd be good to go. So we started in July, aiming to get on the market by February.
A couple of confessions: We are not slobs, but in 23 years we had accumulated a fair bit of stuff. We had not parked the car in the garage in years. And the basements shelves were filled with things we never touched, just in case we might urgently need that old macrame plant hanger or kid's Grade 3 project.
Second, our weekends did not, until recently, begin at Rona or Home Depot. Repairs we did as needed but home improvement projects were not our idea of fun. So our basement decor still featured mirror tiles, while the bathrooms and light fixtures were straight out of the 1970s.
Our preparations began outdoors: painting, realigning the front walk, cleaning up tangled gardens. By fall we were indoors, painting and ripping up old carpet.
That's when we came across a major surprise: mould was hiding in a bedroom closet under the rug. On the other side of the wall, in the bathroom, we noticed paint peeling and ripped it off to reveal more mould.
At this point we knew we needed serious help. Mould can be a liability issue: you must track it to its source and get rid of it. But we had no idea where to turn.
A friend told us about Peggy Follis, whose company, 1st Impression, specializes in getting houses ready to sell. This woman is no mere "fluffer," our friend said. She does major repairs. But she also de-clutters and decorates. And she's thrifty, doing only what you need to sell the house.
Ms. Follis is not the only such professional in town. My intent is to help you recognize when you need help, and what the process can be like.
For $150, Ms. Follis will prepare a plan along with estimates for the various projects. You can choose whether to hire her for all, some or none of the projects.
The first thing she did was to snap a lot of pictures, which she put into a booklet outlining her recommended fixes. Those photographs came as a shock, showing room after room of clutter and tacky decor. We realized just how much remained to do, and why Ms. Follis recommended an "extreme makeover."
After much agonizing, we hired her to manage the entire project, doing some parts ourselves. The estimated cost was $22,000. The total included (in round figures):
- 4,000 for de-cluttering and removal of junk;
- $6,000 for bathroom repairs and renovations;
- $3,000 for redecorating the basement family room;
- $3,500 for kitchen redecorating, including a new sink, counters and fancy trim on cupboard doors;
- $2,300 for painting.
The balance covered a myriad of small, fairly inexpensive touches that combined to make the house look spiffy: new light fixtures everywhere; peel-and-stick tiles in the front hallway and bathroom that look a heck of a lot like expensive stone; mini-blinds for all windows in the house; and finally, the decorating and cleaning that made the whole place sparkle.
A few items presented themselves along the way, driving our total up somewhat by mutual agreement. For example, our ancient refrigerator, when we got the kitchen done, looked perfectly awful. Follis found us a used replacement for $450.
Work started in mid-December, with an intense 10-day period from Dec. 13 to 22 and another from Jan. 16 to 24. In the intervening weeks, contractors were in and out of the house, but we could both work there. We arranged 10 days free over Christmas. And we agreed to vacate the house for four days in late January during the final all-out push. The first week's focus was de-cluttering. It is hard to describe what this process is like for a lifelong packrat like myself. A combination of grief, thrift and an ethic of waste reduction made it an overwhelming task to tackle on my own. So Ms. Follis stood beside me for a few hours each day exhorting me to choose, for each item, one of three categories: things to keep, things to throw out, and things to "re-gift" to charity.
Whenever I hesitated, she would ask, in a firm but understanding tone: "Would you pay to move this to California?" or "How long has it been since you've used this lovely item?" She stood ready, with her marker pen and boxes, and of course, I was paying her for her time.
Sometimes these decisions were so obvious we collapsed with laughter. Why had I not been able to get rid of this junk?
The professional de-clutterer requires certain personality traits: a sense of humour as well as compassion, and the strength to keep pushing when the job gets tough. Congeniality is essential -- you really don't want to go through this with someone who makes you uncomfortable.
For my husband, just the fear of de-cluttering caused a flurry of activity, usually before Ms. Follis appeared. He got things done to avoid her standing beside him, holding aloft a crumpled piece of obvious rubbish, asking, "Do you have important plans for this item?".
Once things were boxed -- or for larger items, coded with coloured marking tape - Follis had a system for numbering the boxes, recording their contents and stacking them that quickly put our house in order, and made them retrievable later.
Most gratifying were the truckloads carted away to Ottawa Neighbourhood Services and the dump. By Friday there was space in the garage. And the basement, despite boxes stacked to the ceiling in a places, was positively roomy. We would use this space for storage, in the weeks to come, during painting and renovations.
The following week we tackled our offices, again just a few hours each for a couple of days. By mid-week the offices were shipshape, the upstairs bathroom ready to use and the major living spaces cleared for Christmas.
After the break, we had a relatively easy time in the first two weeks of January as the contractors continued working in the basement and second bathroom. That changed during the week of Jan. 16 to 20, when painting began in my office and the kitchen. I was huddled in the dining room, surrounded by boxes, trying to work. By Thursday night, we were eager to leave for a four-day weekend in the country.
When we returned, the interior of our house was like a hotel. Silk plants, fashionable decor and a remarkable spaciousness made it a lovely home we were proud to show. Within a week we were on the market, and the house sold in five days, with two bidders competing to make the final offer better than our asking price. We couldn't have asked for a better outcome.
Contact Peggy Follis and 1st Impression at 1-613-295-5354
Carrie Buchanan is an Ottawa writer.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2006
Reproduced with permission