Over the last three years I've
mentioned in this journal that Jim and I want to sell our house and land in Virginia so that we can travel and live
full-time in our RV.
Although we love the place, we never would have
purchased the property seven years ago if we'd known how much we enjoy
the RV lifestyle. It would be lot easier to satisfy our wanderlust if we
didn't have a house to worry about -- especially one located in
Virginia, when we prefer to travel out West.
Our two abodes: should we try to sell
the stick house now?
(3-23-11, the day after we returned from our winter
Jim and I are mentally 100% ready to sell our house but concerned
that we'd be making a big mistake to do it this year because of the
market for sellers. The equity in our property is an important chunk of
our retirement plan. After seven years of ownership we should make a
Ha! Not in this economy. It's the first time in my life when the
housing market has been so poor for sellers for so long.
There are several good reasons to sell it even if we don't continue
traveling as much as we want in the camper. As the house and we get
older, it's not as ideal for us as it was when we first bought it. We
are less able physically to do the necessary work to keep it maintained
and updated. The house has more space than we need, there is too much
yard/garden/woods to keep up with, it has stairs (hard on bad knees),
and it's out in the country.
We came mighty close to listing it for sale this time --
within four hours of signing a listing agreement.
DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN
Each spring we call the real estate agents with whom we've previously
consulted about the current state of the housing market in the Roanoke
Valley and ask them to run the most recent "comps" for our house and 12
acres of land.
Faded front porch and walkway
before re-staining (3-29-11)
They come back with houses with acreage in our county that may or may
not be anything like our place in terms of age, finished square footage,
number of bedrooms and baths, amount of land, list price, sold price,
and other factors.
It's interesting stuff to read and digest, but the properties are all
over the board in terms of those factors.
Front walkway after power-washing
to remove dirt and old stain (3-29-11)
It is much harder to find comps for houses with acreage than houses
that are on a typical suburban or city lot. Fewer of them are for sale,
and even fewer have sold in the past few months. In fact, the agents
have had to go back for a year each time, not just three months
(which used to be the standard time for comps), to find enough sold
houses to do a fair assessment of the current market.
And we're not sure the results are a fair assessment.
differences in recommended listing prices for our property have been
unbelievable, a much wider range from high to low than is reasonable for
a place like ours. These are ballpark guesses about where to
start. I'm not talking about the variance between the agents;
each individual agent has given us a wide variance in prices.
Jim power-washing the deck; he
also applied cleaner and stripper to remove the grunge. (3-29-11)
Listing prices are always moving targets, especially in a buyers'
market. It's one of several things that make us very
skeptical about putting our house on the market this year. Even with
these agents' professional assistance we have no idea what to list our
house for, let alone what price we should accept if someone makes us an
Although one realtor was quite optimistic about the current market in
the Roanoke area, we have read enough to know there are still some major
reasons why housing is still in the doldrums across the country and
prices probably haven't bottomed yet -- continued high
unemployment, the obscenely high foreclosure rate, pervasive pessimism
about the economy,
very strict lending standards, and so on. The only bright spot seems to
be the historically low mortgage rates that are available -- if
willing buyers are able to endure the intense scrutiny now required to
We know housing trends are very local and the Roanoke Valley is in
better shape than some areas, but it just doesn't seem to be in our best
interest to sell now since we don't have to.
For about two weeks, however, we convinced ourselves that we should
at least try this year.
We were going to list our house for sale at what we considered to be
an average price, based on the crazy-wide comps, but list it for only
three months. Traditionally, the best offers are the ones sellers
receive within the first month. We figured if we didn't get a decent
offer in three months, we could take the house off the market and
salvage at least part of our summer out West.
Finally: a sunny day when we can
start re-staining the deck! We used an
opaque stain for better coverage and durability (we hope).
We briefly considered making the house show-ready and leaving town
while it's for sale but we decided not to do that. We need to be there
to keep the yard looking nice, to be nearby for anything that needs to
be done to get the house sold, to provide more security, etc.
We had no intention of putting our belongings in storage, leaving the
house empty, and heading West in our camper. That's not a good way to
sell a house unless the owner is willing to shell out a percentage of
the selling price to have it professionally "staged."
Otherwise, potential buyers would tend to think we're desperate to sell
and won't come anywhere near our asking price.
The most tedious part of the job
was staining all the rails on the deck,
steps down to the ground, and
front porch. The floors went fast. (4-6-11)
Our goal was to get the house on the market by mid-April. We knew we
couldn't get it completely ready by then but we'd get enough done for a
We'd need more time to make the improvements we wanted to make, weed
through years of belongings we no longer want or need, have a garage
sale, sell some stuff on Craig's List, and put some of our remaining
possessions in storage.
Deck staining in progress; we
also replaced the white storm door to the screened porch
with the newly-repaired wooden
screen door that used to be there. (4-6-11)
We were stressed out in late March just thinking about it, but we
made list after list of what we needed to do to get the best price for
Then we set about doing it.
There are several general rules to making a house show well to
prospective buyers. I'm talking about the physical appearance, not the
most important caveat -- setting the price realistically. We
still hadn't come up with what we considered a realistic price, let
alone our absolute bottom line.
We also hadn't yet decided on which of the agents to hire. We told
them we needed a couple of weeks to make some improvements and get rid
of some stuff before signing a listing agreement.
Above and below: after finishing
the deck and back stairs, we tackled the front walkway.
Some of the old planks were
rotted and needed to be replaced. (4-7-11)
Our general goals were to make the house look more appealing inside
and out, to eliminate the clutter in all the closets and the basement
storage areas, to clean the entire house thoroughly, to replace or
repair things that needed to be updated or fixed, and to de-personalize
the house so prospective buyers could picture themselves living there.
Our house was built in 1989. Any 22-year-old house is starting to
show its age, even one like ours that has been carefully maintained and
hasn't "housed" any children during its lifetime. Fortunately, the main
systems are either fairly new or still working well. The roof will need
replacing in a few years but it's in good shape now. So is the stained
wood siding, at least for another year or two.
We don't even need to repaint the interior of the house or basement,
put in new carpet, or refinish the hardwood floors; they look
great. (That's one big reason we won't consider renting the place.)
Above and below: Jim
replaces two more deteriorated boards
while in the process of staining
the walkway. (4-7-11)
There were some improvements we needed to make, however.
This entry and the next page are full of photos from those projects,
which have kept us very busy the last five weeks. We planned to do most
of them in two or three weeks but the weather hasn't cooperated. It's
been very wet since we've been back in Roanoke.
The projects that were the most weather-dependent were 1) re-staining
the wood decking, porches, stairs, railings, retaining walls, and steps
that surround our house on three sides, 2) replacing and painting two
exterior doors, 3) patching a crack in a stone retaining wall, 4)
patching and sealing the driveway, and 5) doing several garden and yard
We had to start and stop those jobs several times due to rain and
temperatures that were too cold for staining, painting, and doing the
driveway repairs. We weren't real happy when it got down into the 20s
and 30s F. overnight near the end of March!
I stained the rails on the front
porch while Jim was working on the walkway. (4-7-11)
We were able to tackle indoor projects when it was raining or dark
outside. That included 1) going through things in closets, cupboards,
the basement, and the garage that needed to be organized better, sold,
given away, or tossed out, 2) doing some serious "spring cleaning," 3)
and painting/reorganizing the garage.
SECOND THOUGHTS ABOUT THE TIMING
Because these projects took longer than anticipated, we put off
choosing a listing agent and making an appointment with her until the
afternoon of April 11. That was a Monday. We wanted the house and yard
to look as nice as possible before anyone came to look at it.
Jim and I played serious Devil's Advocate for a week before the
appointment. We weighed the pros and cons until we were going a little
batty with indecision. We've been discussing this for several years, but
now we were down to the wire.
The dilemma was our bottom $$$ line. How much profit did we want to
make -- or more likely, how much of a loss could we
Ahhh . . . that looks
better! (4-15-11, the weekend we intended to start showing the
By that Monday we were about half done with our projects.
The deck and stairs, front porch and walkway, and retaining wall
looked great. The new garage and screened porch doors looked great. The
spring flowers and yard looked great. We knew the other projects would
also look great when completed.
But was it enough to lure potential buyers to give us a good price
for the place??
One end of deck from inside the
Ready for company and prospective
View of deck and yard from
screened porch at rear of house
Monday morning, four hours before our listing appointment, we called
the agent we selected. We've been consulting with her for three or four
years. She knew our concerns re: pricing so she wasn't totally surprised by our decision to not list -- yet.
She knows we're trying to get the best price we can.
Maybe next year will be more seller-friendly.
Or maybe not. We'll re-evaluate the housing market again then. Our
goal is still to travel/live full-time in our RV and cut what few ties
we have to Virginia.
By now we've finished most of the work we wanted to do before listing
the house this spring.
We're pleased with the results of our labor -- and plenty
pooped. This is work! (I haven't listed all the things we've been doing
to downsize belongings and make the place "sparkle.") The place looks
even better than it did when we moved in seven years ago and made it
View from back yard shows location of several of
our projects. L-R: wood and stone
retaining walls by driveway; new exterior garage
door; re-stained steps
and deck; and re-stained interior of screened
We still have other items on our to-do list before we sell the house
-- having a garage sale and trying to sell some things on Craig's
List are among them -- but we've made enough progress that we'll
have much less to do next time we think it's maybe the right time to sell.
How does excess "stuff" accumulate so fast?
One advantage to living
most of the time in our RV is learning to live with less "stuff." We've
really learned what's necessary to have around and what's just nice
to have around. And that makes it easier to get rid of things at the house
that we don't really need. It's quite liberating and we haven't
regretted getting rid of any of the items we've donated or trashed so
So far! A bunch of it is still in piles in the basement to try to
sell at a garage sale or on Craig's List this fall. If we change my mind
about any of those things, we can still retrieve them. I just hope I
haven't shredded or burned any financial documents we should have kept.
View of the front while the pink
dogwood was blooming (4-18-11)
So . . . we still have our house and will have it for at least
one more year. This is the closest we've come to following through with
our plan to be full-time RVers.
Now, if only the economy will bounce back in our favor!
Click on the
next page to see photos of some of our
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil