IT WAS FALL 2017 and I had decided, finally, to put my house on the market. My real estate agent, Nancy Taylor Bubes of Washington Fine Properties, had stopped by to take a look around. She knew the house, had in fact helped me buy it, but hadn’t seen it in a couple of years.
“What do I have to do to get this place in shape?” I asked her. Decluttering the main rooms was on my mind (but somehow never on my agenda), and hauling 32 years’ worth of crap out of the basement. Then what? Paint? Rearrange furniture? Get rid of excess furniture? And all those books? (I’ll repeat myself here: What was I doing with all those books? Trying to prove that I know how to read? Books make a room cozy, sure, but at a certain point they can become overwhelming.)
All of those things, plus a paint job, seemed obvious to me, but I couldn’t do them on my own.
“Well,” Nancy said, “there are a couple of people you could work with. But I think you should call Caroline Carter of Done in a Day.
“You’ll hate her when she’s here but love her when she’s gone.”
I never hated Caroline. She came in with some tough-love solutions, all warranted. And I did love her when she and her crew left, several weeks later.
I still admired the stairway runner I had installed perhaps 10 years earlier. It was still chic, albeit a bit dark. Gotta go, Caroline said, and then messaged pictures of light-colored samples—the runner, the basement
carpeting, the kitchen floor tile.
“My job,” she told me, “is to make people look up, not down. Keep it light.” Away went the old carpeting. Down came the mossy-green curtains from the living room and dining area. A lot of books were donated, others boxed up and sent to storage (not too many, I hope). The shower curtain in the hall bath upstairs was replaced with a simple white cotton waffle-weave. One burner on the kitchen range wouldn’t light: “Get it fixed or you won’t pass inspection,” she warned. The back-painted glass walls in the kitchen? “Too owner-specific; we’ll take the glass down.”
Caroline’s shorthand was brisk, specialized. I took notes and made my shopping list: ivory bedskirts, white shower curtain, white matelassé coverlets and pillow shams, inexpensive but nice-looking wall sconces to replace the ones I was taking with me.
The Done in a Day crew worked with me to store-trash-donate almost every item in the house, starting in the basement, and it was indeed done in a day—if your day has 192 hours in it. And that’s not that long: Apparently the average household has some 300,000 items in it.
After the new basement and stair carpeting, after the paint job, after boxes went to storage, I was left with a house that would photograph well for a real-estate listing. The bad news is that the house then sat on the market for months . . . and months; the good news is that I enjoyed living in that glorious space, all clean and fresh and bright, for all those months. In fact, the time I spent there in its new incarnation made me realize the house was too big for me. Win-win.
I don’t begrudge Done in a Day one penny of what I paid out, and it was thousands: They had the rug people on tap, the painters, the guys to make little repairs, to putty over dings, to haul all those boxes to a new storage unit. But now Caroline has published a book, “Smart Moves: How to Save Time and Money While Transitioning Your Home and Life,” and it costs $16.99, not thousands.
“Smart Moves” shares a lot of Caroline’s hard-earned wisdom about “transitioning” from one house to another. Reading the book won’t do the packing or donating for you, or apply the fresh coat of paint, but it sure spells out the steps that even the smallest move requires.
The book lays out what each part of the house should look and feel like to prospective buyers: furniture in proportion to the scale of the room, uncluttered 2½-foot-wide paths from one room to the next, no dark walls, a well-lit, light-colored basement (sorry, “lower level”), a dining room that looks like a dining room even if you have never used it as such.
Along the way, Caroline acknowledges the emotional toll such a move takes on the whole family. Her advice: Think of selling your old house, buying a new one, moving and settling in as one long process, not separate events. And even then it can take you a year in your new house to feel settled. Breathe.
I’m now coming to the moving stage, and Caroline’s rundown of what you need to know about movers is more detailed than I’ve seen elsewhere. Every guide tells you about interstate regulations, and about insured and bonded movers, but Caroline goes into the nitty-gritty of what you want, and don’t want, in your contract with the mover.
I was thinking her book had come out too late to help me. But no, I’m still there, in the middle of the year-and-a-half-long process and hoping to breathe more easily . . . soon.
Only one piece of advice I would add to Caroline’s: If you have any choice at all, do not move during tax season! Your 1099s may wind up being shuttled around the whole East Coast, as mine have.