Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Moving Stuff

It is hard to believe that I've been living in Boston for over three months now!  The time has gone by in the blink of and eye and in the heart of an historic winter!  What a way to begin the next chapter of our lives..."It was a cold and snowy winter on Beacon Hill".  But now, the state of being busy has calmed a bit and we've adjusted to a downsized life.

As I sit enjoying my morning coffee, I can reflect on what the heck has happened in the past year! Since returning from Paris in 2010, Bill and I have talkedseriously about living in Boston... and in 2014, our nest was truly empty...our 3200 sq. ft. house sitting on just about two acres was more than we needed and starting to be more than we could handle.  I mean, really...dusting and vacuuming three bedrooms that remained empty most of the time...our family room in the basement had become a catch all for stuff...stuff we'd outgrown...stuff we'd inherited and were too sentimental to toss...stuff that spoke of a different stage in our lives...and was becoming the stuff of spider webs, dust and wasted potential.

The house too, which we had lovingly customized to our needs and wishes over the course of our first five years in residence, was starting to show signs of fatigue...I replaced the cooling unit in my Sub-Zero refrigerator drawers...the gaskets of the burners on my Wolf range needed annual replacing and tightening...granted I used my dear range to a fair the well...walls needed painting...carpets replacing... our gorgeous landscaping was maturing and in need of refreshing...and as these tasks mounted, we thought...heck...if we are going to do this, let's get everything up to snuff...clean up, clear out and downsize with the goal of getting out of Dodge (aka Groton!) and start living the next phase of our adult lives.

Last spring, we started researching what needed to be done to make our home sale-able and market ready...and all for the most bang for our buck!  First on the list was...insert dramatic dun,dun, dun...the septic system...Title V... the bane of all my home-owning experience.  Upon inquiry, we were told that with a system approaching 30 years old, it would be highly unlikely that our currently fully functional septic system would pass the regional Board of Health inspection...so we hired engineers, contractor and laborers who installed a brand spanking new system.

After tearing up the back yard, it was now time to refresh and restore our garden oasis...and open the pool...about 6 weeks later than expected!  Walls deconstructed so heavy equipment could traverse our lovely sloped side yard had to be reassembled...the ten year old blue spruces were worse for wear, enduring the biting winds of winter's Polar Vortexes...out they came...replaced by rhododendrons.  New grass seed...a bush here, a shrub there...when all was said and done....it was once again paradise.

Our faithful, 15 year old hot tub just didn't want to work for anyone one else...and two weeks before we listed the house, it died.  It took some finagling and about $400 to have it carted away and discarded properly...you just don't plunk a 6 person spa on the curb for trash pick up!  On the plus side, the brick patio upon which the hot tub sat made for a lovely sitting area and we brought our trusty fire pit up from the pool area to create a cozy spot for toasting marshmallows and telling ghost tales!

As all this work was going on from May to September, I was busy inside tackling closets, cubbies and cartons.  My strategy was first, have a deadline.  I knew that our town's Boy Scout Troops held an annual Labor Day Yard Sale and I was bound and determined to donate as much useful stuff as I could to the cause.  I hated the thought of trashing perfectly useful things which no longer fit in our schemes and dreams.  From kiddy board games to the old pots and pans I retired when I went all gourmet in my kitchen in 2004...these things still had purpose and my hope was they would make other families happy and offetr the stuff of new memories.

With my deadline set, I went about sorting things in each room...there were storage totes and packing boxes of things we would continue to keep or sell...bags and boxes of things to donate...and in what I considered a stroke of brilliance, a rented dumpster out next to the garage...if it was to be tossed...then let's toss it and take it away.  We had the dumpster for 5 days...so another deadline to keep me motivated.

In addition to donating to the Scouts, I had to find outlets and resources for things they couldn't take...like mattresses, upholstered furniture, clothing....and for those things that I thought might bring a financial return.  Welcome to the (unregulated) world of Estate Sales and Consignments...I researched a number of companies that specialize in clearing houses of goods...mostly from homes when folks passed away and grieving families couldn't or didn't want to cope with the disposal of their history, but empty-nesters, downsizing or moving were becoming a greater client base.  I checked our companies through the Better Business Bureau...I got references...I did drive-bys of estate sales...and so on....but dealing with that level of cleaning out was a long way off...or was it?

The tricky part to downsizing and refreshing a place was juggling a schedule...which comes first, storage units or the estate sale? The sprucing in the house or waiting until setting the stage to sell...what if color trends change?  what if the hot water heater goes..what if, if , if ?  I favored having the sale first so I made the executive decision...sell what can be sold... Why move stuff multiple times to accommodate painters and the rug guys...alas. their schedules and my executive-ness  did not align.  It worked out in the end...and when the time came, the estate sale folks took great care to cover the new wall to wall carpets and  freshly painted walls.

So in September, we had several rooms repainted then the new rugs went in...the landscaping was completed...the pool closed...and we had just started looking at rentals in the city.  What an eye-opener!

Our plan is to rent for a year, maybe two, learning about city life...exploring the neighborhoods we thought would set the stage for our as yet unwritten future.  Working with the best real estate agent, who "got us", we set upon finding a new roost...but back in Groton, I needed to find someone who'd honor our legacy...and find the family who would call High Oaks Path home.

I interviewed three real estate agencies and based on the first two interviews, my heart sank...my dream nearly shattered as the news about the market and comps failed to live up to our expectations.

The first agent, who in all honesty was the person I thought had the best reputation and success rate asked us, based upon her research which she had sent over earlier, what we thought the house should go for...and upon hearing our number told us that if we expected her to sell at that price, she'd have to walk away.  !!!!   When we asked where she'd price the house, it came in about $100,000 less than our figure.  She said she'd try it at $40,000 higher than her price point, but we should be prepared for lots of underbids.  I was not a happy camper.

Two days later, we met with the next broker and her firm assessed our house at $30,000 more than the first agent's price...but less than the number Agent 1 begrudgingly laid out as our high point. Agent 2 told us that is was foolish to "test" the market and that she was sure we could only get that price at which she'd listed the house.

At this point Bill and I were seriously questioning whether we could and or should move now...but darn it...we were ready...we had one more agent to interview.  If she came in around the same price point, we were prepared to wait at least until spring to reassess...but man, with all the work we'd done and funds invested, we were so ready!!

Agent 3 arrived on a Thursday and yes because of the disappointment of the previous two meetings, I opted to celebrate Champagne Thursday...a toast to hope.  The painter was putting the final touches in the bathrooms...but the house had been staged by me to show a home where life was lived and lives loved.  She walked around, measuring...asking questions...seeing what we saw...seeing a home that would make somebodies very happy.  We talked about strategies for marketing and selling the house...she explained the services her company offered and then...she recommended we sell the house for just what Bill and I expected...whew!  She actually came in a little higher than we thought...but our valuation had taken a beating and when Karen Earnest came in higher...oh...what relief.

Our apartment hunting was not going easily...we have a dog and for some reason, dog loving Bostonians are reluctant to rent to dog owners...but our intrepid rental agent dogged it out.  On October 11th, we found a cute place in the South End and filled out an application...which was promptly accepted!  YIKES! We expressed our preferred move in date of Dec. 1, but the owner wanted a November 1 date...we  countered Nov. 15th...our house wasn't even on the market yet...and although we could swing the mortgage and the rent...why should we?...we had time.  So when the apartment's agent...who lobbied really hard for us because he thought we were the perfect tenants...came back that the owner was holding firm to the Nov. 1 move in date...so we let it go.

We talked it over with Betsey, our rental agent, and thought perhaps we should put our apartment hunting on hold until later in November or December...giving us a chance to get Groton on the market...and if there was no interest, we might have to revisit the whole process in the spring real estate season. Betsey understood and gave us encouragement that more rentals would be available with Spring's warm weather...so keep chins up!

In the mean time, Karen set about marketing our Groton  home.  On October 15th, the professional photographer came in and took amazing pictures for the RE/Max website and by Thursday afternoon, the interactive house tour of High Oaks Path was live! The page had nearly 50 views by noon on Friday.   Karen scheduled appointments for Saturday 10/18...and five interested parties popped by to see the house. One couple asked if they could return with her mother and the kids on Sunday...and by 9 am on Monday, we had an offer for above our asking price!  We were moving!  But wait!..to where...oh crap...my stomach was flip flopping...things got turned over to agents and lawyers and we needed to find a place to live with an early December move-in...we were set to close on December 8...what once looked like a bleak situation now turned into a feeding frenzy of emotions, appointments and new scheduling which, if my hair weren't already gorgeously gray, would have turned it so!

A storage unit was rented...home inspections schedule...legalese abounded...and as we approached November 1...we needed to find a home.  Much to the chagrin of my very patient real estate agent, I became a real estate app junkie...constantly filling in profiles and setting filters...but it paid off!

Very early in our apartment hunting experiment, on the last sunny Sunday in September,  Betsey took us to see a Hancock Street apartment on Beacon Hill...it had just listed that morning and yes, it was $1000 above our budget and stated no pets...but it was open to see, so we popped in.  It was lovely...had parking...was 2 floors....in unit laundry... a workable kitchen, and so on...but being way over budget and the first apartment we looked at, we said good-bye.  We looked and looked until the South Boston find...that fell through and thus began my feverish obsession with Zillow, Trulia, and Redfin!

On October 31, as I was making a pass of updates on Zillow, a familiar address popped up...the first Hancock St. apartment was still not rented and the rent was $500 lower! Now, what I had come learn was, there is rental season in the city.  Generally apartments are leased from September 1 to August 31...that window had come and gone for this unit...and in general, if rentals are not leased by 11/15...the owners or management companies let them go dormant until the spring...I called Betsey and asked her to inquire about Hancock Street...ask about the dog...she's small...seeing that it is late in the rental season...maybe they'd drop the rent another $500...can you imagine my teeth gritted grin!?!...What a ballsy risk!  We were a month from being homeless...not in a tragic way...but no roof over our heads in sight...and glory be...they bit and took our offer...we immediately filled in the application and sent over a deposit...all based on the first impression of the first apartment I saw months before...I guess somethings are meant to be and lessons need learning...(foreshadowing for another blog).

With a future address in sight, I set about the final stages of leaving High Oaks Path.  We contacted and contracted with a terrific moving company, one that is comfortable with the peculiarities of  moving in Boston...one way streets...on street parking...permits...street sweeping.

The estate sale company came in mid-November , pricing and staging 30 years worth of belongings...the beds my kids slept in...the Beanie Babies they collected....36 place settings of Pfaltzgraff Yorktowne dishes and accessories (I owned the pattern and then inherited my mother's and mother's -in-law sets)...pictures and frames...arts and crafts crap...tools...a houseful of stuff...a grandfather clock...windchimes...jelly jar glasses...STUFF!  And on a warm, sunny Saturday...strangers came and bought my things.  Thank goodness I wasn't home...the manager of the estate sale highly recommended we leave...pets in tow...as seeing and hearing how others regarded your stuff could be sad, infuriating and weird.

The sale went well.  We got a little more that was estimated and somethings we hoped and prayed would sell did...and we were surprised at what didn't...the bedroom suites, the dishes....not a bite...but those Flintstone jelly jars from the nineties, which had been boxed up when we moved from Billerica 15 years ago...(they sold for $1 each)...found a new home!

As I examined the aftermath of the sale...it was a bit of organized chaos...I wondered what I should do with the stuff that needed new families...and lo and behold, a message popped up on the Groton Google group...the PTA for one of our elementary schools was looking for books, DVDs, CDs, and games for their annual holiday Craft Fair and Book Sale...I contacted the organizer and told her we had a large assortment of all those items and would she like to come by and take what she wanted...she took it all...and she told us it was the largest donation (single or otherwise) the PTA ever had...and that the funds would go to help with library, playground and music programs...hallelujah!

I contacted the outreach services and food pantry at Devens... they took 6 bags of clothing, toiletries  and some of the pantry items I wasn't sure I wanted to bring to the city...who needs a case of black beans when there are only two of you?

The remaining items found an outlet through an agency called HGRM, located in Acton.  They gratefully took our donations of furniture, linens, curtains, all those Pfaltzgraff dishes !  The mission is to provide gently used...well loved items that will help homeless families transition from shelters into a new, private home.  The clients can "shop" in their warehouses for items that they need and develop their vision of home...I am most satisfied with this decision for our stuff.

In the end just about everything found a new place to call home...and so did we!

We moved into the city on December 2...sold the house on December 8...never was homeless...thank goodness...and now with about 6 months left on our lease, we are exploring the awakening real estate market in the Hub...be still my heart...and here goes my stomach, flip-flopping again...will we rent again...renew our lease...or is the next dream home to own out there waiting for its new family with a new story and memories yet to share?  I'll let you know.



  1. That was a smart move, renting a dumpster to be able to throw it away, and have it taken away then. My husband and I are moving across the country, so we are trying to figure out what to do with everything. I really like the idea of renting a dumpster! Thank you for sharing you brilliance!


    1. Good luck with your move...I hope you are able to find other outlets for your stuff too...