Friday, November 28
“This kitchen could use an upgrade.”
It was the day after Thanksgiving. Pete and I were standing in the kitchen of his dad’s house with Lisa Tierney, a highschool friend of Pete’s brother Steve. More relevant, Lisa was a real estate agent – who was now frowning at us, arms crossed. No doubt calculating the extra commission she’d gain from the sale of a house with a newly renovated kitchen.
Pete said patiently, “It’s not going to get one. Neither are the bathrooms. This is an as-is sale. I thought Steve told you that.”
Lisa’s frown deepened. “He mentioned it. I said I’d have to see the condition of the house first.”
Pete taught at a community college; his patience was legendary – but Lisa was wearing it down. “It’s not your decision, is it, now? What Steve should have told you – what’s going to happen – is that we are going to unload this house ASAP. My dad owns this place outright, and he’s moving to my sister’s in three weeks. He doesn’t need a huge profit from this sale. We will paint the walls and clean everything thoroughly, and that will be the extent of our upgrades. The only question is, do you want this listing or not? ‘Cause if you don’t, we’ll find someone who does.”
Lisa was clearly used to bossing her clients – but she probably hadn’t dealt with a 6’4” ex-cop with a psychology degree who’d been a master at manipulating witnesses. She attempted to stare him down. Pete stared back but didn’t play along. “Jamie, please, check online. See who else is available.”
“You got it.” I whipped my phone out of my back pocket and started tapping.
Lisa huffed, but caved. “All right, fine.” She walked a circle around the kitchen island. “At least the floor plan is semi-open. That helps.” She turned back to face us. “Please tell me you’ll replace the window treatments.”
“Yes. We’ll hang new blinds.”
She pursed her lips, thinking. “You’ll want to consider staging.”
I said, “We have a stager.” Our friend Paul was an interior decorator and professional stager.
Lisa looked us up and down, in our ratty t-shirts and sweats, probably figuring any stager we knew would make the place look like a giant man-cave. “What’s the name? Maybe I know her.”
“Him. Paul Thayer.”
Lisa’s eyes widened. “You know Paul Thayer?”
“Yep. Pete’s going to be his partner’s best man at their wedding next month.”
Lisa gazed at Pete with grudging respect. “All right. You’re going to paint, install blinds, do a deep clean and have Paul stage.”
Pete said, “Right.”
“That’s acceptable.” Lisa was the brisk professional again. “I’ll draw up a contract for an as-is sale.”
I said, “We’ll have our lawyer take a look.”
A tiny muscle under Lisa’s left eye was beginning to twitch. “Of course.” She gathered her purse and briefcase from the kitchen counter. “How long will it take you to have the house ready?”
Pete said, “Two weeks.”
“Fine. I’ll email you the contract for your attorney to review. We’ll meet again Saturday, December 13th.” She consulted her calendar. “Say, 9:00?”
Pete nodded. “We’ll be here.”
“Excellent.” Lisa shook both our hands quickly. “I’ll see you then.”
Pete saw her out then came back to the kitchen, grinning. I said, “Is she the best we can do?”
“She has a terrific reputation. She’s just used to getting her way.” Pete rubbed his hands together. “Ready to start?”
We went into the garage, cracked the lid on a five-gallon container of paint, and got busy.
Sunday, December 7
On December 7 we stood in the same spot, this time accompanied by Paul. Pete and I were exhausted. We’d painted for three days straight the previous weekend, had driven up every day after work for the past week and toiled for a few hours before we dragged ourselves home, then spent the night here on an air mattress for the past two nights. We were trashed, but the house was pristine.
The windows were open to dissipate the faint odor of paint that remained, the new blinds folded neatly at the top of each window. The kitchen, bathrooms, and tile floors sparkled. We’d painted the walls and the ceilings, used cat litter to get rid of the oil and grease spots on the garage floor and driveway, and washed all the windows and screens inside and out. We’d moved Jack’s remaining belongings to a storage unit nearby to wait for moving day.
Mel had approved the contract. Lisa brought us a print copy Wednesday evening; Pete took it to the skilled nursing facility where his dad was in a cardiac rehabilitation program and got Jack’s signature. Paul would do the staging this week, and next Saturday Lisa could begin showing the place.
We’d just brought Paul through the garage, into the house. He’d been dictating notes to himself into his phone. “Garage, empty. Nothing needed. Kitchen…” He looked around, assessing. “Too bad you didn’t have time for an upgrade in here.”
I groaned. Pete said, “Not only did we not have time, we didn’t have the money. Besides, you’ll make it look great, right?”
Paul sighed and began dictating. “Kitchen. Maple wood cabinets with white pulls. White walls. Need two bar stools, kitchen towels – yellow and white. Stripe, not checked.”
I said, “What’s wrong with checked?”
Paul said, “We are marketing this house as classy comfort, not country kitsch. Stripes are classy. Checks are country.”
Pete snorted. I said to him, “We’d better get some striped towels.”
Paul rolled his eyes and spoke to his recorder. “For the walls – yellows, oranges. Sun. Or fruit. Contemporary still life. Two place settings for bar, probably solids. Fiestaware. Don’t forget cloth napkins.”
We led Paul through each room as he dictated lists of items to bring, right down to the bathmat. When we stopped at the bedroom that had been Pete’s as a teenager, Paul dictated, “Third bedroom. Tiny. Show it as an office. Table as desk, under window; bookshelves either side; armchair and lamp in corner. Items for desk, contemporary chair.” He paused the recording. “This was a bedroom?”
Pete nodded. “It was my bedroom.”
“Cozy.” Paul moved to the doorway and mused. “Office or nursery?” He tapped his forefinger against his lips.
I said, “An office is classier.”
He gave me a dirty look, but said, “Office it is.”