Real Estate

Learning how to let go

Longtime Realtor steps back, takes a deep breath and turns it over to the pros

Selling a house where one has lived for a long time isn't easy, even for someone in the business.

That's what Alain Pinel Realtor Derk Brill and his wife Patricia Boomer learned when they decided to put the family home in the Waverly Park neighborhood of Mountain View on the market this spring.

The Brills had lived there, raising their two children, for 18 years. Over the years they'd remodeled and updated the home, including partially removing between the dining and family room to create a more open floor plan better suited to entertaining. Not long ago they did a major landscape renovation, adding drought-resistant native grasses, drip irrigation and mow-optional Buffalo grass "that uses one quarter of the water. It made the lot very interesting and quite beautiful," Brill said.

But in 2012, the Brills joined a Mountain View co-housing group whose 19-unit was recently completed. (Brill described the co-housing group as "an intentional community" that held potlucks for years as the prospective buyers got to know each other, talking about their shared values: sustainability, small carbon footprint and appreciation for outdoors/nature.)

Although each unit is independently owned, the community shares a large kitchen; a laundry area; media, craft and exercise rooms; and a rooftop terrace. The plan is to have community meals three or four times a week, he said.

The couple moved into their four-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot unit in January.

But preparing their longtime home for sale proved a bit of a challenge, Brill acknowledged.

Like he advises his clients at Alain Pinel, Brill brought in a stager. One of the first things she suggested was painting the trim and doors he and his wife had painstakingly stained years earlier.

"I had to remember I was selling a product. Look at the buyer -- a young family not looking for stained oak," Brill said. "These are things I tell sellers day and night."

Next came the brick fireplace. The stager suggested it needed updating and chose a giant piece of quartz that runs up the wall to the ceiling -- a modernized look, he added.

As an interior designer, Boomer was attracted to bright colors and had assigned red to the living room, navy blue to the dining room and yellow to other rooms.

"The stager suggested light pewter throughout with a white ceiling and trim," Brill said.

Then came redoing the floors, including replacing the carpets "with not what we would have chosen, but poised for the new buyer, that young family," he added.

Preparation to sell included replacing the front door, adding more contemporary lighting fixtures and replacing the mailbox with a midcentury modern "retro-cool" look.

In all, Brill expects to put in between $15,000 and $18,000 to make the house ready. He expects those improvements will "bring a minimum of $50,000 more. More than that, it will generate an offer right away. This is why you paint and stage," he said.

In addition to bringing in a stager -- and listening to her -- Brill said he would ask a colleague to do the pricing and negotiating.

What he's learned in the process is it's a "lot easier to give advice than to accept it. ... You don't get the true feeling for the depth of those emotions until it's you. I gained more empathy and (insight into) how to help them get to that point," he said.

Initially, he felt sorrow about the move.

"My wife has mentally moved on to the new development, where her heart is. Mine was with the old house," he said.

He described going back to the house, without their furnishings: "It was like seeing a corpse. The soul of the house was gone. It wasn't ours anymore."

Today he tells his clients who are considering selling their longtime homes, "I know how this must sound to you" -- and he sees the light go on.

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