Real Life v Real Estate

Tiggy Johnson finds that selling your house can be hard when your kids live in it

I don’t recommend that you sell a house that small children live in. This is the kind of advice that I wish I’d been given before I had small children. Or perhaps more realistically, before I put a house that small children lived in on the market.

It’s not like I don’t normally clean, although it’s true I am not obsessive about it, and I do often sit back and appreciate what I’m doing for the kids’ immune systems. But even when I’m having one of my cleaning frenzies, I not only don’t focus on every room at once, I certainly don’t sweep the entire floor space every day, let alone twice. Maybe I’ll do the bit that catches the toddler’s food scraps. Or the eight year old’s, given he drops more. But not the entire floor, not a chance.

Selling a house isn’t just about keeping it clean though. Washing dishes, wiping the bench, sweeping all the floors and the deck, and keeping the toilet and bathroom clean and all the beds made isn’t enough.

It also needs to be tidy. Clutter-free. To look spacious. Several people told me they knew of someone who’d rented storage for excess furniture while they sold their house. Others told me about someone who’d moved out until they’d sold their house. Or perhaps they just said they wished they’d done that. I wish we’d been able to do that. It sounds dreamy.

Once you tidy things up, you need to keep it that way. It becomes tempting to not feed the children, and to make them play outside all the time. From 6am to 6pm. Maybe even 7pm, after taking their pyjamas out onto the deck for them to change into.

They know that you’re desperate to keep the house as clean and tidy as possible. They show that they know this by making sure that at least one litre of bathwater ends up on the floor. They rush home after inspections and upend as many toy tubs as they can get their hands on. They forget how to get food from their plates to their mouths. They pour mud on the deck, and themselves.

You can’t even wash clothes. Well, not when you think it’s most convenient to do so. Because you can’t have washing hanging out to dry during an open inspection – you don’t really want strangers checking out your undies. You’re sick of making beds – especially the two littlest ones that are so low to the ground it hurts to bend, and the covers of which end up all over the house because the dolls have gone camping, or swimming.

The agent says it’s okay for the house to look lived in, and to just do the super clean for the open inspections on Saturday mornings. On that day, your husband takes the kids out early so that you can clean up, mop the floors and put the toys away without their help. Because they love to help. For instance, the two year old knows exactly where his toy car belongs, and he wants to make sure that you don’t move it from the special spot that it has to stay in since he dropped it there two days ago.

But it does end. Thankfully. Eventually someone makes an offer on your house that isn’t so low that the agent doesn’t bother to tell you. It’s low, just not so low that you would scoff, or cry. And you take it, because you know that if you do, all this craziness will be over. So you’ll be able to move on to the stress that comes with buying a house.

Illustration by Amanda Upton