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Russell Frank: House 4 Sale -- I Mean, an Essay on Spinach

by on August 19, 2011 6:00 AM

My Realtor thinks my house looks "tired."

Well of course it does. If you played host to a family of two adults, three children, a dog, two cats, two guinea pigs and two goldfish for 10 years, you'd look tired, too. (The goldfish used to invite their friends over and trash the joint when we were out of town.)

I had asked my Realtor to walk through and tell me what I need to do if I hope to sell the old home place sometime before the end of the 21st century. Good reporter that I am, I took notes. By the end of the visit I had writer's cramp.

Paint everything, he said (this is no time to be sentimental about the smudgy corner where Bop the Movie Dog, may he rest in peace, used to sleep). Sand and polish the floors. Repave the driveway. Hire a landscaper. Fix the windows that won't stay open and the oven drawer that won't close. Lose the broken but ornamental '60s TV set and the dreary drapes. Above all, get rid of the clutter and hire a housecleaner.

Is there anything more depressing than putting time and money into a house you're planning to vacate? I know – it's an investment. You put the time and money in so you can get more money out.

But why paint everything white when the new owners have their hearts set on aubergine? Why mess with the wood floors if they plan to install wall-to-wall carpeting? In short, why not just offer it up for sale as is, at a lower price?

I know the answer to that one, too. A tired house will attract less interest than a sparkling one. You don't want a prospective buyer to say, nice house, but too much of a project.

And so, any day now, I'm going to...


Oops, sorry. I don't know what got into me. As a professor of journalism ethics I'm well aware that it is not appropriate for me to take advantage of my position as a columnist to inform you that my house has 4 BDRMS, an office, a finished room in the basement and a big backyard.

Nor would I dream of crassly turning sacred journalistic space into a real estate ad by noting that we did a very nice remodeling job on our kitchen a few years back and have some very cool built-in corner cabinets in our dining room.

And tempted as I am, I'll refrain from telling you Penn Staters how much money you'd save on gas and parking if you lived within walking distance of downtown and campus.

No, I'll just man up and start devoting my evenings and weekends to cleaning and decluttering and painting and repairing....

YOU KNOW all the mean things I've said about the Woo people? POETIC LICENSE, OK? Sure they get rambunctious sometimes, but is it their fault that there's never a bathroom when you really need one? Do not let the youthful exuberance of our student neighbors outweigh the charms of the leafy streets and handsome homes of this venerable corner of Happy Valley.

A friend to whom I sang the gotta-get-the-house-ready blues sent me this helpful advice:

"Get started on a tiny corner of one room in your house. Clutter is like spinach. It's just gonna keep growing, if you don't get started. You can throw 50 percent of what you have out, most likely."


It's easy for her to talk. She lives in a Manhattan apartment where there isn't room to grow spinach.

Consider this, too, house hunters. If I had sold my house five years ago, when I should have, it probably would have fetched $50,000 more than it will now. That's a bitter pill for me, but pretty freaking sweet for you.

A word of caution, though. This down market isn't going to stay down forever. If I were an advertising copywriter instead of an ethical journalist I'd say act now! Offer good for limited time only! Not sold in stores! Call Murray Hill 7-7500! That's MU7-7500!

Uh, sorry. Where was I? Oh yes, procrastination. Bottom line: I need to extricate myself from my house by this time next year, when I expect to be teaching journalism in Ukraine or writing a book in California or playing pinochle in Pago Pago.

My plan is to get rid of just about everything, put a handful of prized possessions (my Mickey Mantle card, my signed copy of Dizzy Gillespie's autobiography ["To Be or Not to Bop"], etc.) in a shoebox and then move into the shoebox when I return to State College, all wested and wewaxed after my fabulously productive sabbatical.

I bet you'd really like those corner cupboards. Did I mention the back porch? Or that I'm a very motivated seller?

A collection of Russell Frank's columns, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place for commentary in the 2019 Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter Best in Journalism contest. The winning columns: The Women’s March: Notes from New York, It’s Time to Change the Script and Mixed Messages at Bellefonte High. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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