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Prepare To Meet Thy Fluffer!

home, selling,

I am selling my home and over the past few weeks have learned way too much about residential real estate in a frenetic market.

When I was a kid, my parents sold three houses. It was simple. They called a few realtors listed in the phone book who came to the house, looked around and gave a sales pitch. One was chosen because mother and dad thought he or she would get the highest price – a conclusion based on no evidence whatsoever, sort of like creationism. A sign appeared on our lawn, strangers came through the house every night during dinner and, eventually, we moved because someone bought the old homestead.

Like much of the Fifties, selling a house back then was wistfully innocent compared to today.

When I decided to sell, I called the real estate agents I’d known since the early Nineties. Before uttering a word about price or open houses, they announced I needed a “fluffer.” My eyes widened as my jaw dropped because I knew the term: A fluffer is the woman on the set of porn videos who gets male actors, uhm, ready for a scene that is about to be shot. Maybe this would be more fun than I thought.

“No, no,” they replied in flustered embarrassment. A fluffer, they explained, will go through my house before it is put on the market and “fluff” it up so it looks better for showings. “Everyone does it,” I was told.

A few days later, I was prepared to meet my fluffer.

I opened the door to face a tall, rail-thin, non-nonsense Nordic blonde in her late twenties who shook my hand firmly and set about inspecting my place. She strode through the house with the solid resolve of a Viking mariner determined to find Greenland, making notes about the journey as she went. But when she read her ship’s log to me, I thought she was describing a medieval hovel, not my home.

“Buy new carpeting. Everything needs painting. The whole house needs a thorough scrubbing. By professionals! Re-do the kitchen. Re-arrange the sun room furniture. The bathrooms are dated; re-do them, too. Get rid of the dog and cat, they’re unsanitary. Those pictures of you in your office playing baseball must go in drawers. Hang new drapes. Toss the potpourri – it’s just dead stuff and bad Feng Shui. Scatter interesting magazines” – What is this, a reading room? – “around the house so you seem more involved.” Involved in what? Deception?

As she continued intoning the hideous problems she’d uncovered, I became depressed: How could I have lived in such dishevelled squalor for so long? After all, the city thinks what the fluffer sees as a dump is worth well into the upper six figures based on my new assessment. Until the fluffer arrived, I actually liked my home.

Admittedly, the house needed a good cleaning. A woman used to come every week but did very little of anything my grandmother would recognize as cleaning so I sacked her. And maybe the carpets could use a steaming; it had been a few years and I do share the place with two animals. But the carpeting is only seven years old and shows no signs of wear since I live mostly alone; occasionally, there’s a girl friend in my life who is around on weekends but nothing we do on the floor wears out carpeting. As for the dog, cat and photos of me playing baseball, they would stay. Period. End of discussion.

A few days later, the fluffer’s estimate of what it would cost to bring my house up to something approaching what she probably regarded as 19th century standards arrived by e-mail. I opened the file and choked: The projects she laid out would set me back $27,000, not including GST and her fee. That brought the total cost of what she said needed to be done before selling the house to almost exactly my down payment when I bought the place originally.

In a cold sweat and with panic edging into my voice, I called my agents. They calmed me down and we negotiated a more realistic view of what I should do to make the house spiffier before the For Sale sign appeared in the front yard. Still, it cost me nearly ten grand and for the life of me I can barely notice the difference.

But the work was done – it did make the place look better, I’ll admit – and I was ready for legions of eager buyers to come through the house. I figured offers would roll in by nightfall.

Wrong. Fluffing was only the beginning.

I also needed flowers. Lots of them. “Makes the place cheerier!” I was assured. By the time of the first showing, there were so many flowers – including bamboo shoots the fluffer told me to put in the guest bathroom so it looked “Zen” rather than outdated – my place seemed not so much cheery as that I was mourning a revered and close relative. Even after a dash to a discount store to buy more, I ran out of vases and improvised with mason jars, water pitchers and an inherited silver coffee pot; if it was in the house, it was pressed into service.

Then my agents showed up and took photos for an eight page sales brochure that was intended as a convenient take-away reminder for anyone touring the house. It contained more pictures than I took on my last holiday. In glowing terms, the booklet listed all of my home’s many features and improvements. It included a report from a consulting engineer on the sturdy soundness of the 125-year old structure. There was even a floor plan. The closest to anything like this when my parents sold a house came when they hunted up a piece of scrap paper for someone who’d made an offer and wanted to sketch the room layout. In those days, websites and four-colour brochures with pages of photos and narrative weren’t used to sell homes; well, there was no web and printing a brochure meant paying an ink-stained wretch who set type, not a colour printer bought on sale for $99.

Finally, the day of my first open house arrived. Apparently, the nachtschleppers who spent two days cleaning under the fluffer’s steely eye was a starter kit. I had to spend the morning scouring the bathrooms and kitchen, dusting, vacuuming, changing the cat litter and spraying so much air freshener my house smelled like one of those over-perfumed women on the bus that no one will sit near. I even set the dining room table with crisp, new linens, hand painted Spanish dishes, crystal wine glasses and sterling silver flatware so anyone looking in the room would think that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee was dropping by for dinner the moment the open house ended – another fluffer dictate.

After I finished, I checked the house and that’s when it dawned on me.

Selling a home means making it look as if no one lives there – or ever did. I suddenly inhabited a bizarre-o world usually found only in movies, on television or in ads. Other than in a romantic comedy, who has $250 worth of flowers filling every room? Other than Marie Barone, the mother on Everybody Loves Raymond, who cleans their house every day? Other than in a commercial, who runs around spraying air freshener before someone visits? And I doubt that Buckingham Palace always keeps the dining room table set on the off-chance that Liz feels peckish and in the mood for a nosh.

But this is what my life has become.

Not that the effort has motivated – in real estate, I think motivated means “fooled” – someone into making a decent offer. Now, 22 days, four open houses and I’ve forgotten how many showing later, I’m wondering why I bothered. Yesterday, for example, there were two showings. The first was an arrogant, upper class twit in tweeds who walked through the house commenting disdainfully on everything he hated about the place. The second, a family resembling the Beverly Hillbillies, went room to room shucking in awe while their uncontrollable four year old daughter tried playing with anything she could reach when she wasn't chasing my poor cat.

I hate moving so when I bought the place in the mid-1990s, I declared that if I moved out, it would be feet first with an undertaker doing the heavy lifting. I’m not sure what made me change my mind but I’m thinking that perhaps my first instinct was correct. Maybe I should take the house off the market so that the next uninvited stranger touring my home actually will be from a funeral home.
Published: 2008-03-18
Author: Charley James

About the author or the publisher
A former assistant editor of "Business Week" magazine, and a television news producer and reporter before that, Charley James began writing when he was about eight and hasn't stopped.

Now, he covers and writes news articles including his own independent investigative reporting, writes articles, websites and newsletters for clients, drafts speeches, creates and writes ad copy, and crafts humorous essays about things people encounter every day.

Charley has been published in many magazines.

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