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96-Year-Old Sells House. When She Opens Door Buyers Freak Out

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In 2014, a 96-year-old woman from Toronto was trying to sell her house in Bloor West Village. It looked like any other house in the area from the outside, and none of her neighbors had ever been in that house. You may wonder whether it looked terrible inside since for the elderly who didn't have anyone to help. But this woman had a surprise hidden in her house that nobody could have imagined.

1. Finding the right realtor

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The Spizzirri sisters had been working together for 10 years. Gladys boasted almost three decades of experience in the real estate business before her sister Carla joined in 2009. In her time selling houses, Gladys had pretty much seen it all.

It was a day like any other when the phone rang at the Spizzirri sister’s office. The Spizzirri sisters didn’t give a second thought to answering, only this time it wouldn’t be business as usual.

2. Taking it on as a team

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As Carla listened to the phone call, she became increasingly astounded. The caller was a woman named Joyce, the owner of 148 Jane Street. Joyce explained that she was 96 years old, and interested in selling her West Toronto home. Carla couldn’t believe how composed Joyce sounded for someone so far along in life.

Carla couldn’t help but think of her own elderly relatives, and how much more lucid Joyce sounded for someone so close to turning 100 years old, or that at 96, she was still living on her own. But Joyce’s age was hardly the most surprising thing she’d tell Carla during that first fateful phone call.

3. An optimistic initial estimate

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Gladys and Carla started calculating a conservative projected value for the Jane Street house. As seasoned house sellers, the sisters knew that before buying or selling a home, it’s important to look at the fair market value of a property.

The Spizzirri sisters looked at market data to determine the asking price they felt appropriate. Gladys was especially well-acquainted with the average price points of the area, having sold other homes around that part of town. But before they could get too excited about the prospective property, Joyce would tell them something that had Gladys and Carla seriously worried about their chances for a sale.

4. A beautiful day in the neighborhood

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As seasoned realty professionals, the Spizzirri sisters knew that a few different factors would need to be taken into consideration when calculating the fair market value of Joyce’s Jane Street home. One of the first things to take into consideration was the surrounding neighbors, which could both positively or negatively effect pricing.

While the neighborhood was well regarded for its wealthy residents, chic storefronts, and prestige priced boutique hotels, Joyce was a 96-year-old woman living on her own – a rarity not only for her age, but for the area she was living in. None of Joyce’s neighbors knew what was happening on the inside of 148 Jane Street.

5. The house of a lifetime

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Before Gladys and Carla could really rejoice over possibly having landed a lucrative listing, Joyce had a confession. She told the sisters that after 72 years, she felt it might be time to vacate her Old Mill home in incorporated Toronto. Immediately the realtors were concerned.

Living in the same place for such a long stretch of time could present quite a few speed bumps on the road to sold. The Spizzirri’s had to wonder, in what way had a 96-year-old woman maintained a three-bedroom house throughout the years? The sisters were scared that a home that hadn’t been touched in decades would be completely dilapidated.

6. A homeowner horror story?

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Working in real estate comes with a few risks, something the Spizzirri’s were familiar with from their years in the business. Gladys and Carla had dealt with hoarders before, an unfortunate occurrence that came with the job. What kinds of things had been piling up on the property?

After learning that Joyce had been living in the home since 1942, and that in all that time, no work had been done on the house, hoarding seemed likely. And to make matters more concerning, there was a hint of hesitation in Joyce’s voice. As far as Gladys and Carla were concerned, all signs seemed to point to potential disaster.

7. Does untouched mean un-sellable?

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The fact that the home hadn’t been renovated in any capacity in more than 70 years could easily have meant it would be in an un-sellable state of disrepair. Even if they worked with a professional cleaning service to take care of the clutter, how many repairs would the residence need?

The average kitchen renovation can come in at just over $20k, and that’s just for one room! It all seemed to wind down to time and money Gladys and Carla weren’t expecting a 96-year-old woman to spend to make the house more attractive for sale. Had the sisters signed an un-sellable listing?

8. Moving forward with an estimate

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Putting all their concerns aside for the time being, the location of the house was too enticing to pass up on trying to take on the job. After taking into consideration the surrounding neighborhood and the average closings of similar listings, Gladys and Carla settled on a price point they both felt was fair: $968,000.

Excited at the prospect of helping a 96-year-old woman sell her house for well higher than she would ever have anticipated, they presented Joyce with their plan. But after speaking with Joyce about the potential to turn the house into a pretty penny, there was a new problem.

9. Was it all for naught?

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While the Spizzirri sisters were excited about their targeted valuation, they were still nervous about the state of the house. To make the sisters even more nervous about the kind of condition the property was in, 96-year-old Joyce was thinking of backing out of listing her house.

Living in the same place for more than seven decades, it is completely understandable to grow attached to the house and all the memories that were surely made there. But was that why Joyce was hesitant to put her house on the open market? What was happening behind the doors of 148 Jane Street?

10. Calming realty concerns

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Gladys and Carla Spizzirri knew that the value of the house based on the location alone would make the listing desirable, but they had yet to see inside the house. All Joyce had shown them of the Jane Street residence was a photograph of the front exterior.

While the photograph didn’t give the sisters any immediate cause for alarm, Joyce’s wavering over going through with selling her house of so many years was still disconcerting. Joyce kept expressing the difficulty she felt facing the possible departure from her home. Despite reservation on both sides, Gladys and Carla knew what they needed to do.

11. Convincing the seller to move forward and move out

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Saying goodbye to a house after any amount of time can be hard, and 96-year-old Joyce had spent 72 years in 148 Jane Street. It was obviously more than just some brick building. The Spizzirri sisters were understanding, but after all that time in the realty business, they knew how to handle clients struggling with house-selling nervousness.

With the potential for an almost million dollar sale on their hands, they weren’t ready to let Joyce give in to her hesitation. It took a few phone calls and lots of reassurance, until finally, Joyce was ready to open up her house to Gladys and Carla. What they’d find, would be nothing like they’d imagined.

12. Not exactly business as usual

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Gladys and Carla nervously walked up the front steps of 148 Jane Street, fully expecting to have their hopes dashed when Joyce turned out to be a hoarder of the highest order. But upon walking through the front door, the sisters weren’t just pleasantly surprised, they were floored.

The house was like one large time capsule. Each room was a perfectly preserved peak into the 1950s and 60s. The pristinely maintained home was an Easter egg of pastel colors and period furniture. The Spizzirri’s couldn’t believe how immaculately maintained the home’s furnishings were, and each room was more jaw-dropping than the next.

13. Is it a house or a time machine?

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Each room had been carefully and lovingly decorated in the prettiest pale pink, lavender, mint green and robin’s egg blue. The fabrics had hardly faded, and the furnishings were clearly authentic pieces from the 50s and 60s. Gladys and Carla could hardly believe their eyes.

Each room was wallpapered and carpeted as was the style back in the day, and above all, each room was color coordinated to perfection. But while all the furnishings seemed to be in pristine condition, a home that hasn’t be updated since the 60s would surely be in need of a hefty overhaul of all appliances?

14. The cost of living a lifetime in one home

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Without proper care and attention, an older house can be a money-pit, with the constant cost of repairs piling up year after year. A good rule of thumb that’s often used when budgeting for basic home maintenance is 1% the cost of the home. But that doesn’t take into account how long ago the house had been purchased.

Joyce and her husband had moved into the house in 1942, the age alone would’ve meant way more than just maintenance would’ve had to have been done to keep the house habitable. The sisters had to look closely to find what faults may be hiding within the house.

15. Everything kept in mint condition

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Gladys and Carla couldn’t believe how meticulously Joyce had maintained everything within the house. It was readily evident that decorating the home had been a passion project, but in the decades that followed, keeping everything in tip-top shape had obviously been a labor of love.

In homes that have been built within 5 or 10 years, little work will probably need to be done, but once a home turns 20 or even 30, things start to show signs of age. But just like Joyce, everything was working as well as when they’d first purchased the home all those years ago - all except for one room.

16. A thorough inspection of the appliances

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Not a single lighting fixture of piece of plumbing was out of order. The only room to have been redone since the 1950s was the kitchen. True, the kitchen had been remodeled, but only once in the 1960s, and since then, not a room had been touched or changed in any way.

While basic appliances like ovens and refrigerators frequently have a working life of 10-15 years, Joyce, a product of World War II and a recession, understood what a little elbow grease was worth. Capitalizing on her early investment in home maintenance, Joyce had saved herself hundreds if not thousands of dollars over the years. Speaking of investments…

17. Investing in the future

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All of the furniture in every one of the house’s quaintly color coordinated rooms was original from the 50s and 60s. Even if she hadn’t known it at the time, those dining sets and smaller pieces of décor would prove to be seriously profitable purchases down the line.

Just as in shopping for house, the furnishings that fill said home can add value. While some people take to intentionally collecting furnishings to be flipped at auction at a later date, Joyce’s 1950s and 60s furnishings had clearly been picked out by a woman indulging in a love of interior decorating. Today, Joyce’s mid-century modern furniture could mean big things for the 96-year-old.

18. A mid-century modern masterpiece

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As the Spizzirri sisters noted in their listing, all of Joyce’s furnishings are authentic items from the 1950s and 60s. Mid-century modern furniture and decorative articles have been back in vogue in recent years, and as such, has been appreciating in value with every passing year.

While a house full of mid-century modern furniture is an auction house goldmine, and would certainly add to the appeal of 148 Jane Street, Joyce hadn’t realized she was sitting on some seriously covetable pieces. A lot of the furniture sets that had been selected all those years ago, are actually one-of-a-kind. How had Joyce come to decorate her home so specifically?

19. A passion project, not a profession

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Seeing the way in which the house had been decorated, it would be easy to assume Joyce had been an interior decorator. Alas, in her working years, Joyce had spent her days as a seamstress, but indeed, she had always taken an active interest in interior design.

Despite not pursuing it as a career Joyce has said, “I’ve always tried to be individual, and follow my own style.” Suffice it to say, her style certainly shows in every room, the house is almost entirely pastel pink. Even though the house was such a marvel, how would the public react to such a shocking listing?

20. Too much of a good thing?

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Gladys and Carla could appreciate how much care Joyce had clearly put into decorating every room, with all of the metallic wallpaper, coordinating carpets and curtains, and matching upholstered seating sets. But as they went from room to room, they started to suspect that they might have a problem.

As Joyce took Gladys and Carla through her home, the sisters initial shock at stepping back in time wore off and they realized something – the décor was overwhelmingly feminine. Even though they suspected that any possible purchaser would refurbish the house, perception and presentation is a key part of any sale. Would it appeal to enough people?

21. A little change of scenery

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When Joyce and her husband moved into 148 Jane Street in 1942, Joyce’s husband had given her the green light to decorate every room exactly as she wanted, with one exception, no pink in the master bedroom. Joyce gave her husband more than just a pink-free bedroom.

She understood that her husband needed a place to hang out that wasn’t quite so feminine. As was the fashion at the time, one room was outfitted as the perfect place for her husband to plop down with a drink. The wood paneled wet bar is a mid-century modern enthusiasts dream. So what did everyone in the market have to say about Joyce’s 50s/60s dreamhouse?

22. The house goes viral

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After Gladys and Carla posted the listing on the open market, Joyce’s impeccably maintained home went viral. It wasn’t just hopeful homeowners that were enthralled by the jewel box that was 148 Jane Street. Coupled with the incomparable charm of Joyce’s story, people were completely amazed that such a piece of history had been hiding in plain sight.

With all the buzz that was gathering around the pensioner with a penchant for pink and purple, the free publicity was incomparable. But would everyone get stuck on the house as a time machine, or would they see it has a potential purchase?

23. Putting together a final price

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Despite their initial predicted pricing of $968,000, with all the metallic wallpaper and pale pink and purple carpeting, possible buyers would potentially (probably) have to pay a pretty penny to spruce up the place and bring it into more modern times. Something that had to be taken into consideration.

Gladys and Carla had to work the unique nature of Joyce’s house into their calculations while they worked to put together their final listing. And just as any realtor would for a regular residence, that meant a little more market research. How did Joyce’s time capsule house compare to what else was out there?

24. Novelty houses that have hit the market

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Novelty houses, for lack of a better term, don’t often appear on the market, and when they do, they can often be hard to sell. Sometimes a possible purchaser may just have a hard time seeing a structure’s potential behind all its customized quirks.

But that’s where professionals like Gladys and Carla Spizzirri get a chance to really shine. Other houses that have caught the attention of the internet for their singular style, such as an all purple house from the 80s, were listed at the rough equivalent of just over $500,000. But more retro houses might be tougher to sell.

25. How does Joyce’s house stack up?

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For comparison, a home that went on the market in San Antonio, Texas, was frozen in time just like Joyce’s. Maintaining all its original 1970s décor, the realtor had the asked price listed at $355,000. But the more retro aesthetic of Joyce’s house made her 50s/60s décor even more desirable.

A little more similarly, a 1950s two-level bungalow in St. Louis, Missouri had been built and furnished in the 1950s, just like Joyce’s Jane Street house, but had never been lived in by anyone! The house, and its vintage furniture were offered for $129,000. Joyce’s house had one more thing going for it that many others didn’t.

26. An asking price perfect for purchase

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Joyce’s has was clearly special, but that wasn’t all that made it desirable. Even with its quirks, the address, 148 Jane Street was still a lure for those looking to purchase a home in Old Mill. Gladys and Carla Spizzirri finally decided on an initial asking price for the property, $699,000.

From there, the sisters set to work to ensure that the home that Joyce had spent more than half of her life looking after found the perfect new homeowners. Just as Joyce and her husband did when they first looked at their future home, first time buyers should think about a few things before signing on the dotted line.

27. Knowing some home-buying basics

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Anyone who is new to the real estate game should have a couple of guidelines in mind when looking at houses. While 148 Jane Street had been perfectly maintained, the structure, even a house that was built out of the best brick like in this case, isn’t actually as important as the land it sits on.

Joyce’s backyard wasn’t as retro chic as the rest of the house (although there was a big patch of astroturf), but it’s the land itself that appreciates over time – something Joyce was now reaping the rewards of. The old adage is true: location, location, location!

28. The housing market then and now

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Residential building blew up in the 1940s and 50s with the baby boomer generation, but even with the sudden need for bigger houses to accommodate young and growing families, the housing market would’ve looked a lot different back in the 1940s, than it does in the present day.

Joyce and her husband had perhaps unknowingly made the best investment of their lives when they bought their home. What Joyce and her husband would have paid for the Jane Street property back in 1942 would have paled in comparison to what Gladys and Carla had priced it at more than 70 years later.

29. Turning a profit

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When buying a home, the hope is always that one day, when it becomes time to move, that the home will be able to be flipped for a tidy little profit. One thing a new buyer wouldn’t have had to worry about? The added cost of faulty wiring or poorly installed plumbing.

Since the home had come in Joyce’s possession, there had been almost no problems with the interior structure. Between the houses sound construction (can’t go wrong with brick!) and appreciating land value, future homeowners could feel safe. And after 72 years in the same place, where was Joyce headed?

30. Ready to move on and move out

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As hard as it was for Joyce to say good bye to her house, at 96-years-old she was ready to move into an assisted living facility. Joyce was still as sharp as a tack, but even with all her faculties about her, she conceded it was time for something smaller, and simple.

The special attention she had taken in maintaining the house for over seventy years, in all of its 50s and 60s glory had at long last begun to feel a bit too taxing for someone so far along in life. Maintaining such a special house would have to be someone else’s job.

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