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"Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on,
deep and permanent, in the ideas of living."

~ Miriam Beard


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 trip)

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 continuing lousy 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 profit, right?

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.


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.

The 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 offer.

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 get them.


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).  (4-6-11)

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 good start.

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 our property.

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 projects.

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.


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 stomach?

Ahhh  . . . that looks better!  (4-15-11, the weekend we intended to start showing the house)

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 family room

Ready for company and prospective buyers

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 ours.

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 porch.  (4-24-11)

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 so much 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 far.

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 other improvements.

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil