Thursday, May 9, 2024

Foxwood Cottage

I named my home "Foxwood Cottage." It's nothing fancy—a small white painted brick home just outside the Ithaca, New York city limits in the Town of Dryden. I purchased it in 2018 so I could live closer to my business after spending my first seven years in business commuting an hour each way, six days a week.

Foxwood Cottage was built in 1950 and I'm quite sure the previous owners hadn't updated or decorated it much since they purchased it in 1960. All of the interior walls were obnoxious shades of what I can only describe as "electric pastel" blues, purples, pinks, and greens. The flooring was worn and dated, the garage was full of junk, and there was a mysterious red shed out back that was locked tight, which my coworkers soon nefariously nicknamed the "murder shed," because we had no idea what was inside it. (When we eventually broke into it, we made a big social media deal about it, similar to when Geraldo opened Al Capone's vaults, and also similarly with the let-down that there was nothing at all exciting inside.) The home had a lot of potential, but needed a lot of work.

 Over the years, I did what I could. But, as many of you can relate to, funds weren't abundant because I was reinvesting much of what I made back into my business, and, as a small business owner, time was even less abundant. I'm also not at all handy. Yes, I can build an intricate sculpture, crate, or display out of cardboard—blindfolded—but anything requiring a hammer or a saw is way beyond my skillset. So, much of what I did I had to hire out in small portions—a new roof through a contractor, a handyperson for small jobs, and even some young and hungry team members who did some interior painting for a few bucks and a pizza party.

If you've been following my story, you may know that I sold my business, Uncle Marty's Shipping Office, a few months ago. My then-manager was excited to take over ownership and I needed to move on to new and exciting opportunities in consulting, writing, and my growing editing business. Plus, the thought of semi-retiring at 44-years-old was very enticing (and, let me tell you, so far it's everything I dreamed it could be!) My next chapter will be in Delaware, closer to family whose needs for someone to be close by are increasing. So, once the business sale was finalized, my next move was to get Foxwood Cottage ready to list so I could make my move.

I reached out to Kelly, the Realtor® who sold me Foxwood Cottage in 2018 and someone who has become a dear friend of mine over the years. She has been incredibly kind and patient with me as I've taken her on many a wild goose chase while warehouse shopping to meet the growing storage needs of my business for the storage service we provide to our market, land shopping with the idea of putting up storage units to expand our storage offerings, and just a year or so ago my musings with moving into a condo. None of that panned out, as I ended up renting warehouse space and forgoing the condo and storage unit ideas, but nonetheless Kelly put up with all of the many, many searches and property visits I asked her to help with.

Kelly is an absolute pro. In the five-plus years I've known her, she's been featured on House Hunters whenever HGTV comes to the Ithaca area and needs a rockstar Realtor®, as well as taking over her whole real estate office and growing an incredible team under her leadership. And, even though Foxwood Cottage is small beans in the market she now works in, she was incredibly excited and gracious to take on my listing personally.

Kelly gave me great advice on timing, strategy, and what to do / what not to do to get Foxwood Cottage ready to list. She allowed me to write the copy (as a writer / editor who has obsessive compulsive tendencies, she knew I'd prefer to do that myself...with her guidance) and hired an incredibly talented photographer and videographer to do professional home photos. About 20 years ago, while living in New York City and doing visuals, display, and window design for the flagship Banana Republic store in Rockefeller Center, I also moonlighted as a high-end apartment stager, joining a team who would go into multi-million dollar apartments in Manhattan and Brooklyn, pulling appropriate furniture and décor from a staging warehouse and making the properties appealing to potential buyers. We always wanted to make them warm, depersonalized from the belongings that were previously inside them, and staged so that anyone could see themselves eating a meal or relaxing by the fireplace. So, I had a good idea of what needed to be done to Foxwood Cottage to get it ready: all personal photos came down, the table was set with wine glasses and fancy napkins, the main TV got moved from the living room to a cozy viewing nook in the sunroom, a gym area that I didn’t use nearly enough got expanded and polished, beds were impeccably made with towels in the guest rooms to allow viewers to imagine rental possibilities at Foxwood Cottage, toilet paper was folded into a hotel-like triangle at its end, all area rugs were washed and fluffed, the pantry and fridge were purged, fresh fruit was arranged in a bowl, the rusty mailbox pole got a fresh coat of paint, fresh flowers and a spring wreath graced the outside, and, of course, a tray of fresh pastries with tea napkins awaited all of the open house guests as they entered.

The listing went active last week. And today, less than four days on the market, Kelly presented me with seven offers; I accepted a cash offer at 20% above listing price! All being well, we'll close in early July and then at the end of August or early September my new townhome in Delaware will be finished and I can move in. In the interim, I'll be traveling, staying with family, and enjoying this new normal that I've come to embrace over the past five months of being retail store-free.

Why share all of this with you? It's because I want to drive home what can be possible with setting intentions, planning, staging, and trusting an expert for the things that you don't know about. If I hadn't seen the potential in Foxwood Cottage, made smart improvements without overinvesting, listened to my top-notch Realtor®, and timed the sale just right, I wouldn't have gotten so many offers. There are homes on my street that have been on the market for months, just sitting there, not staged, overpriced, and basically just kind of drab and unappealing. But not Foxwood Cottage. Foxwood Cottage was ready—an attractive, thoughtful, well-timed listing years in the making with the best team behind it.

I've been having a lot of discussions with clients and colleagues lately about exit strategy. Many are curious about how I sold my business and what I did to prepare. It's not something that will often happen by accident, but something that must be constantly thought of and worked toward. Just like with investing in a home and doing updates with the end goal of resale top-of-mind, so too is the case with a business. Systems, team member empowerment, lists, manuals, policies, and so much more add so much value to a business for when the time comes to eventually sell it. And isn't that the end goal of all of us who are or have been small business owners?

If you haven't yet, start working on your business and not so much in your business, as we hear so often touted at industry events. Start putting systems in place. Write things down. Make them pretty. Make the business attractive to a potential buyer. Market with intention. Brand with intention. Create a team that takes things off of your plate and is trusted to take on duties to grow clients, manage systems, and streamline processes. Trust them! Ask them to help you think about everything through fresh ideas and perspectives. Lean on their other-generation experience and mindsets to understand how to meet new markets and appeal to new people.

Anything is possible if you are intentional and goal-oriented. Don't leave it to chance. Yes, we hear about people who get very lucky when offers come in off the street to buy them out, but if you're serious about wanting to sell your business someday then start now with making smart choices to set it up for success. You can do it. I promise.

Marty Johnson is the Communication and Vision Coach at AYM High Consultants, a columnist, and an editor, producing the mail and business center industry's leading magazine, MBC Today. In 2023, he sold his popular and growing brand, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, and retired from shopkeeper life to focus on writing and coaching. Subscribe to his Ask Uncle Marty™ newsletter and read more at; follow him on socials @askunclemarty. #AskUncleMarty

This article was co-published on and on the blog on May 9, 2024. It was originally written on May 1.

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