Selling a House When It’s Gone to the Dogs

by Jody Frederick

photos by Marcia Herman

Moving Day!

I couldn’t believe that one of my lifelong dreams was about to become reality! The lure of sunshine and lucrative software jobs had finally coaxed my husband and me to leave behind eight months of winter and all of the hockey we could stomach. Yes, we decided to move from Canada’s wintry north to Southern California. After the initial excitement wore off, the reality of the gargantuan task of moving 3,000 miles from home hit us. The first assignment involved selling our 1,500 square foot condominium. We share our lives with two graceful, well-behaved, quiet ex-racing greyhounds and a zany, clownish standard Poodle. Despite how much they add to our lives, three dogs in a small home is not generally seen as a selling feature.

Finding a Pet-loving Agent

First, we phoned several real estate brokerage firms to inquire about agents who specialized in our neighborhood and housing type. Next, we created a short list and phoned each agent to ask how he/she felt about trying to sell a house that three large dogs call home. Those who hesitated or implied that it was going to be a difficult task were not considered. The agent we selected had a “nothing is impossible” attitude, was a dog owner herself, and (bonus points) indicated that she had heard of and supported the movement to adopt ex-racing dogs. She was honest in stating that our situation was not ideal because to some buyers, the thought of buying a home previously inhabited by dogs is a turn-off. Our task? To minimize, or erase, the culture of dogs so prevalent in our home.

Prepping the House to Show

Remove all dogs beds and pet paraphenalia from the house before a showing and before an open house.

In addition to the usual sale preparation suggestions, our agent gave us very specific feedback about how prospective buyers would view our home. First, we removed the wall-to-wall carpeting from the living room, dining room, hallway, and staircase. Over the years, the carpet had become worn and was, ahem, soiled in places. Second, we reduced the number of dog beds from what must be a record setting 14, to a seemingly very meager three. Third, we moved the dog crate that doubled as a night table from the master bedroom to the basement. Next, we paid careful attention to our yard. Not only were we meticulous about cleaning up droppings, we also used a product called BABY-ONE. This is a non-toxic industrial deodorizer that eliminates the scent of urine, leaving a fresh baby powder scent in its place. Finally, we put away the majority of our greyhound adoption paraphernalia, including our beautiful photographs and posters. The agent did suggest that we display the pair of life-size alabaster greyhound statues that sit on our fireplace hearth because she felt they added a stately and dignified touch to our home. Apparently, the greyhound’s regal appearance is appreciated even by those not familiar with the breed!

The Big Test

A clean kitchen is essental. Remove pet food bowls when showing the house.

After a thorough cleaning from top to bottom, our home was ready for its first big test. You often do not see the flaws of your own home because you become accustomed to its appearance, warts, and all! What traces of our dogs had we overlooked? To test the waters before the first open house, we asked friends and neighbors to walk through and give us their honest opinions about our home. Using this feedback, we fixed two oversights: we moved the tangle of leashes hanging on a hook out of sight and into the closet, and removed our rather menacing BEWARE OF DOGS sign on the front door. Next, our real estate agent advertised an open house for real estate agents only. It passed the white glove test and was finally ready for public showings.

Given our agent’s concern about minimizing the presence of our dogs for each showing, we evacuated the dogs and all of their belongings each time buyers wanted to see the house. In the listing, we requested 24 hours notice for each visit. We developed a sequence of steps to prepare for each showing:

Time Remaining Activity

One hour:  Tidy the house

45 minutes: Burn incense or candles to mask odors

30 minutes: Mop the linoleum and tile to erase muddy paw prints

20 minutes: Spray the yard with deodorizer

15 minutes: Move the dogs, along with their beds and feeding dishes to the minivan

10 minutes:  Spray air freshener throughout the house to kill any odors the incense or spray might have missed

During each showing, we decided to spend time doing something special with our pets. We took them for walks in exciting new locations, visited drive-thrus for ice cream cone treats, took them for long car rides in the country, or arranged for play sessions with other greyhounds. During an otherwise busy time, this forced us to spend quality time with our dogs. These outings also managed to ease our own anxiety regarding the business transaction element of selling our home.

Despite our city’s slow real-estate market, we sold our home within three weeks. We even received many compliments from prospective buyers regarding our home, indicating that we had indeed accomplished our agent’s goal! I like to think that the greyhounds played a large part in the race to sell our home. After all, do they ever do anything slowly?

Moving is stressful…. It is natural to feel stressed during this time. With all of the planning that must be done, it is easy to overlook your dog’s needs. Greyhounds do not ask for much from their adoptive families, but they do thrive on routine. Moving is bound to disturb your dog’s sleeping, feeding, and exercise patterns. In addition, animals are very aware of their owner’s moods, and can sense when things are askew in the pack. The stress of a move can expedite illness in your pet. It can also destabilize the pack order, making it much more likely for dogfights or aggressive behavior to ensue. Keep a careful eye on your dogs and monitor how they react to each other during periods of high stress.

When you are feeling stressed, try to remember how confused and upset your dog must be. Every family member, human and canine alike deserves a little extra pampering during the hectic experience of moving to a new home.

Traveling 3,000 Miles with a Canine Crew

After selling our home, we were faced with our next challenge: transporting our dogs from Ottawa, Canada to San Diego, California, a distance of more than 3,000 miles (5,000 km) spanning four time zones! Because of the dangerous summer heat, we decided not to ship our dogs by air and instead gave them the road trip of their lives. Nothing had prepared us for the ups and downs of this trip, so I will share the highlights and lowlights, along with my newfound wisdom. Here are excerpts from my trip diary:

July 21:  Moving company arrives and packs up all of our belongings into boxes. Dogs spend the day in the neighbor’s basement so that they are safely out of the way. Stressful experience for the dogs, despite our good intentions.

July 22: Moving company returns to load all of the boxes and furniture into a huge transport truck, which will make stops in Chicago, Santa Fe, and Los Angeles before finally arriving at our new home. Dogs spend another day in neighbor’s basement. More stress for them.

July 23:  Closing date of house sale. Full impact of stress on the dogs is realized. Duffy has a major diarrhea episode in the middle of the night. All things formerly white (floor, wall, dog bed, and poodle) are now stained (you can use your imagination regarding color). Luckily, the majority of the mess is on the linoleum, but we have no cleaning supplies except for one roll of toilet paper and a half-gallon of white vinegar. After a very late start to the road trip, we arrive safely in Alvinston, Ontario where we spend the night at our in-law’s house. Duffy’s head is accidentally slammed shut in the van door.  Distance: 695 km. Time Zone: Eastern

July 24:  Cross into the USA at Port Huron, Michigan. Customs Officer asks no questions about the dogs, even though we have their paperwork ready. Smooth sailing through Michigan, but we are stopped in Chicago traffic for more than one hour. Four-car pile-up happens immediately in front of us. We spend the night in Kenosha, Wisconsin at a fellow Greyhound owner’s home. We first met Katie Traxel and her Greyhounds, Mowser and Penguin back in 1995.  Distance: 707 km;  ime Zone: Central

July 25:  Day off for much needed rest and relaxation. Do some sightseeing in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Fill up on cheese curds and custard!

July 26:  We drive from Kenosha, Wisconsin to Omaha, Nebraska. We stay at a motor lodge in Omaha.  Distance: 839 km. Time Zone: Central

July 27:  During a rest stop in Kearney, Nebraska, an elderly driver backs into our van. Luckily, no damage! Arrive in Denver, Colorado, where we are staying with another greyhound family, Stephanie and Dave Russell of nearby Louisville, Colorado. Within 10 minutes of being released in the Russell’s backyard for a potty break, Duffy catches a nail in the wooden steps of the deck and rips it off. Blood everywhere. VetWrap to the rescue. Distance: 893 km. Time Zone: Mountain

July 28:  Day off for rest and relaxation. Do sightseeing in Denver and Estes Park, Colorado. Several large mudslides reported on I-70 West, the highway we need to take the next day.

July 29:  I-70 is reported closed because of the mudslides. We plan an alternate route through the mountains. Very scenic, but also very time-consuming. Most beautiful scenery through Utah’s canyon lands makes up for our longest day of driving. After 12 hours in the van, the dogs are very restless. Stop at Cedar City, Utah and stay in a motel that is shared by a motorcycle gang. Luckily, they love dogs! Distance: 1053 km. Time Zone: Mountain

July 30:  Pass through Las Vegas, Nevada and overcome our temptation to try our luck at the casinos. Finally arrive in San Diego, California and are anxious to see our new home. After walking through, we discover fleas on our legs, at least 20. House is infested with fleas after having been vacant for 3 weeks. Although we’d planned on staying at the new house, the fleas make it impossible to do so. Search frantically for a hotel in a tourist city on a Friday night. Finally find an available room at the San Diego Hilton. They have a size restriction of “medium” dogs only. We figure that Greyhounds, when curled up, are medium and take our chances. Distance: 850 km. Time Zone: Pacific

July 31:  Pick the fleas off of the dogs. Although our dogs have been given Program ™, the pill that inhibits flea reproduction, we think that they need added protection from the fleas that are already taking up residence on them. Visit a San Diego vet clinic to beg for Advantage ™, a product that kills adult fleas. Update: nowadays an oral medication called Capstar can kill fleas in three hours! One pill is all it takes.

Nuggets of Wisdom:

* Expect the unexpected.

* Keep cleaning supplies available at all times.

* Do not underestimate the amount of stress that your dogs are feeling regardless of their calm outward appearance.

* Do not expect a white poodle to remain white.

* Travel with emergency first aid supplies.

* Plan your trip route carefully and share your itinerary with others.

* Make friends with lots of greyhound owners who live in convenient locations across North America.

* Travel in a vehicle with air conditioning. It is a necessity, not a luxury during summer excursions across the Midwest.

* Promote greyhounds as “medium-sized dogs, when collapsed.” Give demonstrations if necessary.

* Learn to laugh in the face of flea infestation. “Welcome to life on the beach,” as one wise Southern Californian said.

* Acquaint yourself with a vet clinic in your new city before you move.

* Don’t forget to pack your sense of humor!

CG  W 99

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