Introduction – Emotion vs. Reason
When conversing with real estate agents, you will often find that when they talk to you about buying real estate, they will refer to your purchase as a “home.” Yet if you are selling property, they will often refer to it as a “house.” There is a reason for this. Buying real estate is often an emotional decision, but when selling real estate you need to remove emotion from the equation. You need to think of your house as a marketable commodity. Property. Real estate. Your goal is to get others to see it as their potential home, not yours. If you do not consciously make this decision, you can inadvertently create a situation where it takes longer to sell your property.
The first step in getting your home ready to sell is to “de-personalize” it.
De-personalize the House
The reason you want to “de-personalize” your home is because you want buyers to view it as their potential home. When a potential homebuyer sees your family photos hanging on the wall, it puts your own brand on the home and momentarily shatters their illusions about owning the house. Therefore, put away family photos, sports trophies, collectible items, knick-knacks, and souvenirs. Put them in a box. Rent a storage area for a few months and put the box in the storage unit. Do not just put the box in the attic, basement, garage or a closet. Part of preparing a house for sale is to remove “clutter,” and that is the next step in preparing your house for sale.
Removing Clutter, Though You May Not Think of it as Clutter
This is the hardest thing for most people to do because they are emotionally attached to everything in the house. After years of living in the same home, clutter collects in such a way that may not be evident to the homeowner. However, it does affect the way buyers see the home, even if you do not realize it. Clutter collects on shelves, counter tops, drawers, closets, garages, attics, and basements. Take a step back and pretend you are a buyer. Let a friend help point out areas of clutter, as long as you can accept their views without getting defensive. Let your agent help you, too.
Kitchen Clutter: The kitchen is a good place to start removing clutter, because it is an easy place to start. First, get everything off the counters. Everything. Even the toaster. Put the toaster in a cabinet and take it out when you use it. Find a place where you can store everything in cabinets and drawers. Of course, you may notice that you do not have cabinet space to put everything. Clean them out. The dishes, pots and pans that rarely get used? Put them in a box and put that box in storage, too.
You see, homebuyers will open all your cabinets and drawers, especially in the kitchen. They want to be sure there is enough room for their “stuff.” If your kitchen cabinets, pantries, and drawers look jammed full, it sends a negative message to the buyer and does not promote an image of plentiful storage space. The best way to do that is to have as much “empty space” as possible.
For that reason, if you have a “junk drawer,” get rid of the junk. If you have a rarely used crock pot, put it in storage. Do this with every cabinet and drawer. Create open space.
If you have a large amount of foodstuffs crammed into the shelves or pantry, begin using them – especially canned goods. Canned goods are heavy and you don’t want to be lugging them to a new house, anyway – or paying a mover to do so. Let what you have on the shelves determine your menus and use up as much as you can.
Beneath the sink is very critical, too. Make sure the area beneath the sink is as empty as possible, removing all extra cleaning supplies. You should scrub the area down as well, and determine if there are any tell-tale signs of water leaks that may cause a homebuyer to hesitate in buying your home.
Closet Clutter: Closets are great for accumulating clutter, though you may not think of it as clutter. We are talking about extra clothes and shoes – things you rarely wear but cannot bear to be without. Do without these items for a couple of months by putting them in a box, because these items can make your closets look “crammed full.” Sometimes there are shoeboxes full of “stuff” or other accumulated personal items, too.
Furniture Clutter: Many people have too much furniture in certain rooms – not too much for your own personal living needs – but too much to give the illusion of space that a homebuyer would like to see. You may want to tour some builders’ models to see how they place furniture in the model homes so you get some ideas on what to remove and what to leave in your house.
Storage Area Clutter: Basements, garages, attics, and sheds accumulate not only clutter, but junk. These areas should be as empty as possible so that buyers can imagine what they would do with the space. Remove anything that is not essential and take it to the storage area, or have a garage sale.
Fixing Up the House Interior
Plumbing and Fixtures: All your sink fixtures should look shiny and new. If this cannot be accomplished by cleaning, buy new ones where needed. If you don’t buy something fancy, this can be accomplished inexpensively and they are fairly easy to install. Make sure all the hot and cold water knobs are easy to turn and that the faucets do not leak. If they do, replace the washers. It is not difficult at all. Check to make sure you have good water pressure and that there are no stains on any of the porcelain. If you have a difficult stain to remove, one trick is to hire a cleaning crew to go through and clean your home on a one-time basis. They seem to be wonderful at making stains go away.
Ceilings, Walls and Painting: Check all the ceilings for water stains. Sometimes old leaks leave stains, even after you have repaired the leak. Of course, if you do have a leak, you will have to get it repaired, whether it is a plumbing problem or the roof leaks. You should do the same for walls, looking for not only stains, but also areas where dirt has accumulated and you just may not have noticed. Plus, you may have an outdated color scheme. Painting can be your best investment when selling your home. It is not a very expensive operation and often you can do it yourself. Do not choose colors based on your own preferences, but based on what would appeal to the widest possible number of buyers. You should almost always choose an off-white color because white helps your rooms appear bright and spacious.
Carpet and Flooring: Unless your carpet appears old and worn, or it is definitely an outdated style or color, you probably should do nothing more than hire a good carpet cleaner. If you do choose to replace it, do so with something inexpensive in a fairly neutral color. Repair or replace broken floor tiles, but do not spend a lot of money on anything. Remember, you are not fixing up the place for yourself. You want to move. Your goal is simply to have as few negative impressions upon those who may want to purchase your property.
Windows and Doors: Check all of your windows to make sure they open and close easily. If not, a spray of WD40 often helps. Make sure there are no cracked or broken windowpanes. If there are, replace them before you begin showing your home. Do the same things with the doors – make sure they open and close properly, without creaking. If they do, a shot of WD40 on the hinges usually makes the creak go away. Be sure the doorknobs turn easily, and that they are cleaned and polished to look sharp. As buyers go from room to room, someone opens each door and you want to do everything necessary to create a positive impression.
Odor Control: For those who smoke, you might want to minimize smoking indoors while trying to sell your home. You could also purchase an ozone spray that helps to remove odors without creating a masking odor. Pets of all kinds create odors that you may have become used to, but are immediately noticeable to those with more finely tuned olfactory senses. For those with cats, be sure to empty kitty litter boxes daily. There are also products that you can sprinkle in a layer below the kitty litter that helps to control odor. For those with dogs, keep the dog outdoors as much as possible. You might also try sprinkling carpet freshener on the carpet on a periodic basis.
Costs of Repairs: Do not do anything expensive, such as remodeling. If possible, use savings to pay for any repairs and improvements – do not go charging up credit cards or obtaining new loans. Remember that part of selling a house is also preparing to buy your next home. You do not want to do anything that will affect your credit scores or hurt your ability to qualify for your next mortgage.
Fixing Up the House Exterior
Fixing Up Outside the House: Most real estate advice tells you to work on the outside of the house first, but unless there is a major project involved, we believe it is best to do it last. There are two main reasons for this. First, the first steps in preparing the interior of the house are easier. They also help develop the proper mind set required for selling – beginning to think of your “home” as a marketable commodity. Second, the interior is where the potential homebuyer will spend most of the time while viewing your home. However, remember that the exterior is equally important and should be given the attention it deserves. A homebuyer’s first impression is based on his or her view of the house from the car.
So take a walk across the street and take a good look at your house. Look at nearby houses, too, and see how yours compares.
Landscaping: Is your landscaping at least average for the neighborhood? If it is not, buy a few bushes and plant them. Do not put in trees. Mature trees are expensive, and you will not get back your investment. Also, immature trees do not really add much to the appearance value of the home. If you have an area for flowers, buy mature colorful flowers and plant them. They add a splash of vibrancy and color, creating a favorable first impression. Do not buy bulbs or seeds and plant them. They will not mature fast enough to create the desired effect and you certainly don’t want a patch of brown earth for homebuyers to view. Your lawn should be evenly cut, freshly edged, well watered, and free of brown spots. If there are problems with your lawn, you should probably take care of them before working on the inside of your home. This is because certain areas may need re-soding, and you want to give it a chance to grow so that re-sod areas are not immediately apparent. Plus, you might want to give fertilizer enough time to be effective. Always rake up loose leaves and grass cuttings.
House Exterior: The big decision is whether to paint or not to paint. When you look at your house from across the street, does it look tired and faded? If so, a paint job may be in order. It is often a very good investment and really spruces up the appearance of a house, adding dollars to offers from potential homebuyers. When choosing a color, it should not be something garish and unusual, but a color that fits well in your neighborhood. Of course, the color also depends on the style of your house. For some reason different shades of yellow seem to elicit the best response in homebuyers, whether it is in the trim or the basic color of the house. As for the roof, if you know your house has an old leaky roof, replace it. If you do not replace a leaky roof, you are going to have to disclose it and the buyer will want a new roof, anyway. Otherwise, wait and see what the home inspector says. Why spend money unnecessarily?
The Back Yard: The back yard should be tidy. If you have a pool or spa, keep it freshly maintained and constantly cleaned. For those that have dogs, be sure to constantly keep the area clear of “debris.” If you have swing sets or anything elaborate for your kids, it probably makes more sense to remove them than to leave them in place. They take up room, and you want your back yard to appear as spacious as possible, especially in newer homes where the yards tend to be smaller.
The Front Door & Entryway: The front door should be especially sharp, since it is the entryway into the house. Polish the door fixture so it gleams. If the door needs refinishing or repainting, make sure to get that done. If you have a cute little plaque or shingle with your family name on it, remove it. Even if it is just on the mailbox. You can always put it up again once you move. Get a new plush door mat, too. This is something else you can take with you once you move. Make sure the lock works easily and the key fits properly. When a homebuyer comes to visit your home, the agent uses the key from the lock box to unlock the door. If there is trouble working the lock while everyone else stands around twiddling their thumbs, this sends a negative first impression to prospective homebuyers.
When Your Selling Price is too High, Beware!
Meeting With Real Estate Professionals: So you’ve decided to sell your home and have a fairly good idea of what you think it is worth. Being a sensible home seller, you schedule appointments with three local listing agents who’ve been hanging stuff on your front doorknob for years. Each Real Estate Professional comes prepared with a “Competitive Market Analysis” (CMA) on fancy paper and they each recommend a specific sales price. Amazingly, a couple of the Real Estate Professionals have come up with prices that are lower than you expected. Although they back up their recommendations with recent sales data of similar homes, you remain convinced your house is worth more. When you interview the third agent’s figures, they are much more in line with your own anticipated value, or maybe even higher. Suddenly, you are a happy and excited home seller, already counting the money.
Which Real Estate Professional do you choose? If you’re like many people, you pick Real Estate Professional number three. This is an agent who seems willing to listen to your input and work with you. This is an agent that cares about putting the most money in your pocket. This is an agent that is willing to start out at your price and if you need to drop the price later, you can do that easily, right? After all, everyone else does it! The truth is that you may have just met an agent engaging in a questionable sales practice called “buying a listing.” He “bought” the listing by suggesting you might be able to get a higher sales price than the other agents recommended. Most likely, he is quite doubtful that your home will actually sell at that price. The intention from the beginning is to eventually talk you into lowering the price. Why do agents “buy” listings? There are basically two reasons. A well-meaning and hard working agent can feel pressure from a homeowner who has an inflated perception of his home’s value. On the other hand, there are some agents who engage in this sales practice routinely.
What Happens Behind the Scenes: Whichever the case, if you start out with too high a price on your home, you may have just added to your stress level, and selling a home is stressful enough. There will be a lot of “behind the scenes” action taking place that you don’t know about. Contrary to popular opinion, the listing agent does not usually attempt to sell your home to a homebuyer. That isn’t very efficient. Listing agents market and promote your home to the hordes of other local agents who do work with homebuyers, dramatically increasing your personal sales force. During the first couple of weeks your home should be a flurry of activity with buyer’s agents coming to preview your home so they can sell it to their clients. If the price is right. If you and your agent have overpriced, fewer agents will preview your home. After all, they are Real Estate Professionals, and it is their job to know local market conditions and home values. If your house is dramatically above market, why waste time? Their time is better spent previewing homes that are priced realistically.
Dropping Your Price…Too Late: Later, when you drop your price, your house is “old news.” You will never be able to recapture that flurry of initial activity you would have had with a realistic price. Your house could take longer to sell. Even if you do successfully sell at an above market price, your buyer will need a mortgage. The mortgage lender requires an appraisal. If comparable sales for the last six months and current market conditions do not support your sales price, the house won’t appraise. Your deal falls apart. Of course, you can always attempt to renegotiate the price, but only if the buyer is willing to listen. Your house could go “back on the market.” Once your home has fallen out of escrow or sits on the market awhile, it is harder to get a good offer. Potential buyers will think you might be getting desperate, so they will make lower offers. By overpricing your home in the beginning, you could actually end up settling for a lower price than you would have normally received.
Showing the House to Potential Home Buyers
Your house should always be available for show, even though it may occasionally be inconvenient for you. Let your listing agent put a lock box in a convenient place, to make it easy for other agents to show your home to homebuyers. Otherwise, agents will have to schedule appointments, which is an inconvenience. Most will just skip your home to show the house of someone else who is more cooperative. Most agents will call and give you at least a couple of hours notice before showing your property. If you refuse to let them show it at that time, they will just skip your house. Even if they come back another time, it will probably be with different buyers and you may have just lost a chance to sell your home.
Why You Should Not Be Home: Homebuyers will feel like intruders if you are home when they visit, and they might not be as receptive toward viewing your home. Visit the local coffee house, yogurt shop, or take the kids to the local park. If you absolutely cannot leave, try to remain in an out of the way area of the house and do not move from room to room. Do not volunteer any information, but answer any questions the agent may ask.
Lighting: When you know someone is coming by to tour your home, turn on all the indoor and outdoor lights – even during the day. At night, a lit house gives a “homey” impression when viewed from the street. During the daytime, turning on the lights prevents harsh shadows from sunlight and it brightens up any dim areas. Your house looks more homey and cheerful with the lights on.
Fragrances: Do not use scented sprays to prepare for visitors. It is too obvious and many people find the smells of those sprays offensive, not to mention that some may be allergic. If you want to have a pleasant aroma in your house, have a potpourri pot or something natural. Or turn on a stove burner for a moment and put a drop of vanilla extract on it. It will smell like you have been cooking.
Pet Control: If you have pets, make sure your listing agent puts a notice with your listing in the multiple listing service. The last thing you want is to have your pet running out the front door and getting lost. If you know someone is coming, it would be best to try to take the pets with you while the homebuyers tour your home. If you cannot do that, it is best to keep dogs in a penned area in the back yard. Try to keep indoor cats in a specific room when you expect visitors, and put a sign on the door. Most of the time, an indoor cat will hide when buyers come to view your property, but they may panic and try to escape.
The Kitchen Trash: Especially if your kitchen trash can does not have a lid, make sure you empty it every time someone comes to look at your home – even if your trash can is kept under the kitchen sink. Remember that you want to send a positive image about every aspect of your home. Kitchen trash does not send a positive message. You may go through more plastic bags than usual, but it will be worth it.
Keeping the House Tidy and Neat: Not everyone makes his or her bed every day, but when selling a home it is recommended that you develop the habit. Pick up papers, do not leave empty glasses in the family room, keep everything freshly dusted and vacuumed. Try your best to have it look like a model home – a home with furniture but nobody really lives there.
Preparing your house to sell can make a big difference in how your house is perceived by a potential buyer. Of course, the suggestions above cover only some of the basics. The Dulcie Crawford Group can sit down with you and offer insights specific to your situation that can spell the difference in selling your house now for the most money and with the least inconvenience to you. Contact us today for your free, no obligation consultation.