Home & Garden: Getting My House Ready to Sell—Part One, Deciding to Do It

Can I get my home on the market in time? Making the decision to sell is the first step. Carving out the time to do it—and then going for it—is the hardest and most exciting step.


The real estate agent looks around my house and says, “There’s too much to do, and it’s still cold outside. There’s no way you’ll be able to do it.”

Peak selling season in Larchmont is March and April. I’m determined to give it my best effort and put my house on the market. As the author of Ranch House Style, I styled over 400 shots, and my house and book were featured in The New York Times. So sure, I can do it. I think. Regardless, it’s time.

“This has to go,” the agent says about my prized vintage dinette set. “You need a new bathroom. And…” The list is endless, and I’m crushed. Not at all what I expected.

I bought this ranch house in 1998. The 1954 ranch had everything on my wish list: a foyer, living room with fireplace, eat-in kitchen, dining room, family room with fireplace, three bedrooms, two full baths, a mudroom, butler’s pantry, lots of closets, plenty of land, and an easy walk to the train station. I’ve put a lot of work and money into it, turning it into a French Country Cottage. While I’ve fussed over it less than I used to, focusing on my career, to me it’s still special in many ways. It’s a combination of 1954 details and modern updates. As any homeowner knows, there’s an emotional attachment that’s very strong to your own taste and to a place that’s your sanctuary.

Why am I selling? That’s everyone’s first question. Several years ago, it was unthinkable. Now, my son will be in college in a year-and-a-half. I don’t remember the last time he and his friends played on our land, which is over half an acre. Like many empty nesters who relocate or downsize, the high taxes will be less palatable without a child in the school system. And, as a single mother, I’d like to be in the next stage of my life before my only child goes to college.

I know I’ll stay in Larchmont because I have great friends and love the area, but I don’t know if I’ll move into an apartment or smaller home. My son doesn’t know what college go to yet, either, as he takes his SATs. First things first.  

Getting the house ready means knowing that the market has changed. In 1998, it was a seller’s market, and houses were not on the market long. Today, though the tide is turning, it’s a buyer’s market seeking move-in-ready.

I’ve styled homes for other people and made recommendations, but when it comes to doing it for myself, for selling purposes, it’s another story.

Having someone appraise my home is humbling. Not everything that looks great to me will translate to a sea of prospective buyers. Ideally, the agent wants me to totally renovate the kitchen and two baths, re-do the hardwood floors and replace the kitchen tile (I installed those! Is she sure they aren’t great?...) paint the exterior and interior, put in a new driveway, add landscaping. Not to mention neutralizing the color scheme, de-personalizing the rooms, and clearing out the clutter and much of the furniture. The list goes on.

But she does approve some of the improvements I've added over time: banks of French doors in the living room and kitchen, the renovated family room with its raised ceiling and new floor, the front patio and the back patio fountain, the garden landscaping from top nurseries.

Why didn’t I start sooner? I did, several times. Then life intervened, sidetracking my attention and time. A friend reminds me that I’m not alone; she’s been planning for three years to get her house on the market. It’s a big, daunting, consuming process.

Armed with the input of a selling pro, I can look at my house with clear eyes. Given the time frame, and the weather, and the fact that I’m on a budget, can I really do it? 

I’m clearing the decks and going for it.

Join me as I share my experiences and advice on ways to improve your home’s value whether you’re selling or staying put, as I race to get in on the selling market.

Katherine Ann Samon is the author of four books, including Ranch House Style; Ethan Allen: Create the Look You Love; and Dates From Hell. Contact her at kathsam@aol.com, or visit her website www.katherineannsamon.

Marie Graham, ASP, IDS The Refreshed Home March 08, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Katherine Ann-even under the best of circumstances choosing to sell your home can feel like a loss, to be grieved. HGTV is about 5 years behind...preparing a property for sale is just as much as managing the process and the people in it as it is about making it look 'nice'. It is a business decision, and it sounds like you are at that point, so wish you the best of luck, and look fw to reading more!
Katherine Ann Samon March 13, 2012 at 05:14 PM
Hi, Marie, You're so right! Thank you for taking time to write. Best regards, Katherine
Katherine Ann Samon March 13, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Hi, John, It's a wake-up! I'm sure your advice is great. Wishing you the best with your homeowners —Katherine
Ted St John March 22, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Hi Katherine, Having had my home on the market last year complete with hoop-jumping prep that ultimately led to nary one offer, I loved reading your going to market prologue. Hoping this tale has a happy ending. Mine did -- I pulled the apartment off the market as I realized it doesn't get any better for me than a 1-bedroom loft in the Far West Village. Can't wait to read Ranch House Style. Having sublet my home to keep it, I'm up in MA holed up in my mother's mid-50's ranch which is facing its own market date soon. Best wishes with an easy breezy sale! Ted
Katherine Ann Samon March 22, 2012 at 06:24 PM
Hi, Ted, Your home-prep experience is very interesting. THank you for sharing. It makes me keep a close eye on expenses. I hope my upcoming experiences help sell your mother's ranch. Your loft in the West Village sounds wonderful, so I think you did very, very well! Thank you for writing!


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