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Better: Working hard to give home buyers an immaculate reception

For Better or Worse

By Cathy Drinkwater Better, cbetter@juno.com

6:34 AM EDT, October 4, 2012

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As I've mentioned before, we've been undergoing an adventure in house-hunting. Now that we've found our dream home, it's time to sell our current one.

What could possibly go wrong with that?

Our sales philosophy is simple: Keep the house immaculate and orderly at all times in case someone wants to see it. That means closets, too: no more tossing loose items in there and slamming the door whenever the doorbell rings. Unlike our friends — at least, as far as we know — house-hunting visitors are going to open the closets and look inside.

I learned the fine art of homemaking from my mother. She also passed along her impossibly high standards. I learned to plump the couch cushions every time my husband leaned forward to reach for a magazine; to make the bed if he got up at 3 a.m. for a glass of water; and to scrub the kitchen floor on my hands and knees any time he even thought about spreading peanut butter on a cracker.

Our agent promised us at least two hours notice before any prospective buyers came around. Since we keep the house super-clean anyway, we figured that was plenty of time to remove any dirty socks hanging on the chandelier, wipe the toothpaste off the bathroom mirror and vacuum ourselves out the door, thus leaving nary a footprint.

But there is a down side to ensuring the house would pass a military inspection at a moment's notice — such as spotting details I'd never seen before.

For instance, the other day Doug came in from the yard to get some lemonade. (He's been mowing the lawn three times a week since we listed the house.) As he reached for a glass, I observed three pieces of cut grass fall from his work-boot to the kitchen floor.

Ordinarily this would have been no big deal; I'd merely have reprimanded Doug severely, inquired whether he'd been raised in a barn, and made him clean up the mess.

But the stakes are higher now, and my insistence on a 100-percent-perfect house at all times is entirely reasonable.

Those slivers of grass on my kitchen floor were a big deal. My heightened vigilance gave the event an air of surrealism — those three bits of grass didn't just fall from Doug's boot; they drifted lazily, in agonizingly slow motion, and landed with a thud.

Doug must have felt it, too, because he froze, his eyes as big as Frisbees. He knew I'd make him drag out the Dyson, vacuum up the grass, and steam-clean the whole floor. He'll never again enter our abode without first removing his shoes and socks and using a pumice stone on his heels.

I began worrying that two hours might not be enough time to prepare for people to see the house — until Saturday, that is, when an agent called saying he'd be over with his clients in 20 minutes.

We flew into a hysterical frenzy of pillow-fluffing and cat hair Swiffering; emptying waste baskets and stuffing clean laundry into drawers unfolded. As we drove away, I suddenly turned to Doug with an "I think I left the iron on and now we're in Hawaii" look on my face. Actually, it was not quite that serious: "I didn't brush the eraser crumbs off my desk!" I wailed.

"There, there," consoled Doug. "Don't feel bad. I left dirty underwear on the bathroom floor."

Right then and there I decided not to let him anywhere near my dream home. Not ever.

Email Cathy Drinkwater Better at cbetter@juno.com.