Years ago, I had a co-worker who used to refer to life in terms of seasons.
Love, sickness, loss, job promotions, they were all summed up in terms of a "season" in life, a passage of time where one either endured hardship or happiness as if it were preordained by God or fate and there was little to be done about it.
Over the years, as I've walked through plenty of "seasons" of my own, I've mulled this idea and tried to make sense of it — with little success. Who knows why things happen — good, bad or indifferent — but as I get older, I've reached a certain tentative conclusion: No matter how in control of life any of us think we are, at the end of the day we really aren't.
Lately, proof of this comes by way of the real estate crisis. Every day on my walks through my neighborhood, I see "For Sale" signs that haven't budged in months, maybe a year, maybe longer. Many of these homes are owned by ordinary people, not investors or speculators, but people who need to sell for normal reasons — relocation, retirement, marriage — and can't. I think about how hard this must be, desperately trying to sell a home but not being able to because of a cataclysmic turn of events.
One Realtor told me recently that what has happened in the housing market isn't just a cycle, but a "devastation." It made me wonder what someone could do right now to improve their chances of selling their home.
The obvious and expensive stuff is a given, if a person has the money, they may not be as affected by this "season" as others. It's the small things that can boost chances of a sale that interested me, so I turned to longtime Tampa and Little Gasparilla Island Realtor Sue Paskert for her thoughts.
I chose Paskert for a reason.
Yes, she has been through a housing downturn before, and yes, she was the Tampa Realtor on HGTV's House Hunters last December.
But, if anyone understands the concept of a "season," Paskert does.
In 1996, Paskert, then 56, was diagnosed with acute mylegenous leukemia and underwent a bone-marrow transplant.
It was the worst thing she has ever been through and part of a five-year down "season" that included a litany of sad events including the death of her baby granddaughter to sudden infant death syndrome.
"We live our lives in chapters, and we all have different kinds of chapters in our lives — it's something I find really fascinating," says Paskert, who is a volunteer fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Woman of the Year Award on May 10. (You can read more about it on her Web site at www.suepaskert.com.)
"I want to give back what I've been given: my life!" she says.
Paskert calls the current real-estate crisis "the worst I've seen," but says that like everything else it will cycle and eventually come back.
Her advice to anyone trying to sell a home right now is the same advice she gives her clients. Her tips are mostly cosmetic and rooted in sweat equity, so they won't hurt too much during these lean times. Her ideas can be addressed in a weekend, and, if you're in a blessed "season" of life, these five easy tips might even help you sell:
1. Gussy up the front yard. "Keep it clean, trimmed and mowed," Paskert advises. "You don't want anything to look overgrown. In a lot of foreclosures the front yard is a mess. You want the first impression to be positive." Plant flowers if you want, but remember you want it to have a certain curb appeal so you can get people past the front door."
2. Beautify the front door and exterior entry. Paint the front door if it needs it because it's something people will really notice, Paskert says. Then, if you have to, "get out the scrub brush and Clorox" (something she recently encouraged some sellers to do) because you want the front entry to look "nice and inviting."
3. De-clutter. This does not mean erasing all personality from your home. "I'm not a believer in taking all of your personal stuff out, except maybe for photos," Paskert explains. But if you have small children, stow away excess toys and gear, something Paskert recently told a young couple with two babies. Essentially you want things to look airy and streamlined while still maintaining that "warm and homey" feel.
4. Clean like a maniac. Do not confuse cleaning with de-cluttering. By cleaning, Paskert means cleaning your house with the same passion as one of my Danish great aunts: Get rid of that mildew that's been clinging to your bathroom or kitchen tile, recaulk, clean baseboards — even repaint a room if it's looking dingy. "Make sure there's no mold or mildew, make sure everything's really clean and neat, especially the bathrooms, because it shows that you really cared for a house and that it's been well-maintained," she says. "I always say that it's the second showing of a home that's the most important, that's when people will pick the house apart."
5. Open the blinds, turn on the lights. What a difference this can make, Paskert says. Even if there's plenty of natural daylight, turning on lights — especially cozy lamps — adds a certain je ne sais quoi. "It gives everything a cheery bright feeling; I actually have one seller who I call when we're about to show the house," Paskert says with a laugh. "He actually runs home and turns on all the lights."
Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.