Sold! 10 Tips to Sell Any Home
You’re anxious, worried and feeling as if you’ve lost all control. Your stomach is in knots and you have no appetite. You nervously sit by the phone, waiting for it to ring.
These are the unmistakable symptoms of someone who has either: 1) fallen in love for the first time, or 2) put their house up for sale. If you happen to be lovesick, I can only share with you the sage advice my father offered me when I was in a similar situation. He sat me down and in his most understanding voice said, “Good luck, kid.”
On the other hand, if you’re about to sell your house, and are feeling a bit overwhelmed, don’t fret. There are 10 specific steps you can take to prepare your house for sale. But before proceeding, you need to prepare yourself psychologically. You must try to divorce yourself emotionally from the sales transaction. Once your home is on the market, think of it as a commodity of certain value. Your job is to prepare and present that commodity to attract buyers.
Unfortunately, for many homeowners, letting go of their home can be excruciating, but keeping your sentiments in check allows you to make smart, clear-headed decisions. Remember, buying and selling a home is easily the largest, most nerve-wracking transaction you’ll ever complete. So, in order to sell your home quickly and at the highest price, keep your emotions under control, work closely with an experienced Realtor, and follow the 10 steps listed below.
READY, SET, SHOW
The three most important factors in selling any home are location, condition, and price. Now, you can’t do much about your home’s location, and the real estate agent will suggest a listing price. (Be sure to ask for a Comparable Market Analysis, which will list the selling prices of similar homes in your immediate area.) However, you can do something about the condition of your home, starting with its exterior.
1 Prep the exterior A prospective buyer’s first impression of your home is formed the instant they pull into the driveway. That’s why it’s important to take a close look at the outside of your home, including the yard. Stand back and look at the house with a fresh eye, just as a buyer would. Take note of any items that need to be cleaned, fixed or removed. Pay particular attention to the obvious, highly noticeable areas. Every Realtor has stories of prospective buyers who were turned off simply because the front door was dirty and scuffed up. Remember, first impressions are lasting impressions, and they’re difficult—if not impossible—to change.
Make sure the lawn looks clean and is neatly trimmed. Mow the grass, rake the leaves, and pick up fallen branches. Trim the shrubs and foundation plantings, and remove dead and broken limbs from the trees. Add mulch to flowerbeds and, during warm-weather months, plant brightly colored flowers to enhance the home’s curb appeal.
Give a tired-looking asphalt driveway a quick makeover by applying a fresh coat of sealer. Power-wash a soiled concrete driveway with a pressure washer. Freshen up a gravel driveway by raking existing gravel over any bare patches.
Sweep clean walkways, paths and sidewalks. Move out of sight all extraneous items, such as lawnmowers, garden hoses, sprinklers, wheelbarrows, and the like. The idea is to create a clean, uncluttered appearance. And while I realize that one person’s junk is another’s treasure, no one is impressed by a `76 Ford Pinto resting on concrete blocks. Tow it out of there.
When it comes to the house itself, it’s important to fix or replace all obvious eyesores, such as tilting window shutters, sagging gutters, dented downspouts, and wobbly railings. Check to make sure all exterior lights are operating properly. Pressure-wash the siding and clean every window, inside and out. Polish brass lighting fixtures, door hardware and house numbers.
For larger repairs, such as new roofing, window replacement or repainting of the entire house, you’ll need to call in a licensed contractor. However, note that there are certain situations when it might make better economic sense to lower the sales price rather than make the repairs. An experienced Realtor will be able to advise you on the best course of action.
2 Prep the interior The two best ways to spruce up the interior of a home is to paint the walls, and remove or replace old carpeting. Most homebuyers simply cannot see beyond purple-painted walls or stained, threadbare carpeting. And buyers only need to see one or two objectionable elements, for them to reject the whole house.
When repainting rooms, don’t try to guess which colors buyers might like. Play it safe and choose light, neutral colors. Dark colors might be dramatic, but they tend to make rooms look smaller and—surprise!—darker. Stick with pale colors.
When it comes to grimy, badly worn carpeting, it’s an easy call: tear it out. If you find hardwood flooring below, have it refinished. If there’s a bare subfloor beneath the old carpet, then you’ll have to put down new carpeting or other finished floor. If the carpeting is dirty, but otherwise in good shape, steam-clean it. If your home has hardwood floors that are showing signs of wear and tear in isolated areas, refinish just those areas or simply cover them with runners and area rugs.
Check the operation of every door and window to be sure each one opens and closes smoothly, and locks securely. Replace all broken hardware. Examine the closets and fix sagging shelves and cracked clothes rods. Be sure all light fixtures and wall switches work. Replace burned-out bulbs in table lamps.
If your home has a fireplace, test the damper to ensure it opens and closes fully. Also, if the flue hasn’t been cleaned or inspected within the past couple of years, call in a professional chimney sweep.
3 Kill the clutter I’m sure you’re very proud of your 800-piece PEZ dispenser collection, but to a prospective buyer—and please don’t take this personally—it’s just a distracting bunch of junk. People can’t evaluate the true potential of a home if they can’t see past the clutter. So, take this opportunity, since you’ll be moving anyway, to pack up, purge and pass along every knickknack, collectible, trinket, souvenir and other nonessential item. The result will be rooms that look cleaner, more organized and larger than they actually are.
Start by thinning the number of books stored on wall-mounted shelves and bookcases. Clean out curio cabinets, china hutches, and other storage cupboards with glass doors. Organize closets, especially the stuff piled up on the upper shelves and floor. Clear off the kitchen counter of small appliances, canisters, spice jars and the like. If the refrigerator is obscured behind an impenetrable mass of magnets, photos, calendars and school projects, clean it off. Check the bath vanity, which is often littered with small bottles, cups, cartons and toiletries.
Too much furniture can also clutter up a room. By removing a piece or two from each room you’ll not only make the spaces seem bigger and less cluttered, but you’ll also improve traffic flow. The displaced furniture can be put in the garage, moved to a neighbor’s, or placed in a self-storage facility.
As you go through the house on this de-cluttering detail, don’t forget to clean up the basement, garage, laundry room, deck and patio. Now I’m not suggesting that you must remove every bit of human existence from the entire house; we’re going for clean and uncluttered, not sterile. However, it’s important to remove excess matter so buyers see your home. Many Realtors subscribe to the 50% rule, meaning you should clear out at least half of your junk, I mean, treasured memorabilia.
A new and increasingly popular way to eliminate clutter is to hire a professional home stager. Stagers will prepare your home by thinning out much of your stuff, rearranging furniture, and adding rugs, paintings, pillows and other decorative accessories. In some cases, they’ll bring in furniture and decorative accents to enhance a room. Most professional home stagers charge by the hour, but a flat rate per room is also common. Ask your real estate agent to recommend a home stager.
4 Depersonalize Another interesting psychological effect of home shopping is that many buyers can’t imagine themselves living in a house if everywhere they look they see you and your family. Therefore, reduce the number of family photos, portraits, monogrammed items and other personal affects that are on display. Again, you don’t have to remove all photos, but you should drastically reduce their number.
5 Focus on the kitchen and bath The likelihood of a home selling—or not selling—is often based upon the condition of the kitchen and bathrooms. As a result, it makes sense to pay particular attention to these areas when readying your home for sale.
In the kitchen, start by cleaning the outside and inside of all appliances, especially the refrigerator and oven. Wipe dirt and cooking grease from the cabinet doors, drawer faces and range hood. Scrub the sink clean and polish the faucet. And never allow a buyer see the sink filled with dirty dishes.
In the bath, clean all the obvious surfaces: floors, walls, vanity, sink, toilet, tub, and shower. But also organize the linen closet, put out fresh towels, hang a new shower-curtain liner and clean smudges from mirrors. Fix leaky faucets, clean grimy tile grout, and check to be sure that all toilets flush properly.
6 Mechanical systems You must also ensure that all of the mechanical systems are operating correctly. This includes the plumbing, electrical, air-conditioning, heating, and hot water systems. These mechanical components don’t have to be brand-new, but they must be in safe, working order. If you find that any system is defective or in code violation, have it repaired or updated by a licensed contractor. Remember, a serious buyer will hire a home inspector to test the mechanical systems before signing the final contract. Testing the systems and making any necessary repairs ahead of time will reduce the chances of a bad report from the inspector, which could cause a buyer to back out of the deal or offer significantly less money for the house.
7 Clean everything Once you’ve clear out all the clutter it’s time to get down to some serious cleaning. You don’t need to sterilize the house, but prior to a showing you should at least vacuum or mop the floors and dust the furniture. It’s also a good idea to clean the stairs leading to the second floor.
Check to be sure the kitchen and bathroom fixtures are sparkling. And clean the inside of all the windows, including those on the front door. Use a long-handled feather duster to clean cobwebs from the ceiling.
Pay particular attention to the foyer, mudroom or whichever entrance the Realtor and buyer will use. Again, first impressions are lasting impressions and you don’t want a prospective buyer to walk in and immediately see a dirty floor strewn with shoes, boots and backpacks.
8 Control pets Dogs, no matter small and cute, should never be left in the house during a showing. First, there’s always the possibility that a dog might bite someone, and remember that some buyers come with children in tow. Secondly, dogs are distracting. No one can concentrate on viewing a house while being chased, tail-whipped, barked at and licked. Obviously some pets can stay during a showing, such as birds, fish, hamsters, and other small, caged critters. And although cats aren’t as problematic as dogs, they too should be controlled to prevent them from scurrying out the door as the Realtor walks in.
If you absolutely must leave a cat or dog in the house, rent or buy a crate, cover it with a blanket and place it in a quiet, out-of-the way place. And be sure to tell the Realtor where you placed the crate. (Realtors hate surprises.)
9 Be ready to show There’s no way around it, putting your house on the market is a huge inconvenience. You must be ready at all times to stop what you’re doing and open up your home to strangers. The exact times and days that a Realtor can show your house can be negotiated, but being flexible—and available at a moment’s notice—will greatly increase your chances of selling quickly. You can request that the Realtor grant you a 24-hour notice before showing the house, but again, that’ll severely restrict the number of prospective buyers your agent, or any other agent, can bring by.
Here are several quick, simple tasks to perform on the day of a showing: Open all window shades, drapes and blinds to emit as much daylight as possible. Empty all trashcans and waste baskets. Eliminate odors, by opening windows or heating some potpourri. Turn on several interior lights to give the house a bright, lived-in look. Set the thermostat so the home is at a comfortable temperature. Finally, lock away all valuables, including purses, jewelry and portable electronics.
10 Get out of the way This last step is a simple, yet extremely important, one: When a Realtor is coming over to show the house, leave. Take a walk, visit a neighbor, drive around the neighborhood, go to a Laundromat and watch clothes spin in circles. It doesn’t matter what you do or where you go, but get out of the house.
When evaluating a home, buyers must be able to speak freely to their agent, and feel comfortable enough to open cabinets, look inside closets, and turn on faucets. And the truth is, buyers just don’t feel comfortable if the homeowners are hovering nearby.
Before leaving the house, take a cell phone with you, or leave a phone number where you can be reached. Then ask the agent to call once they’ve left the house. Keep in mind, too, that there’s no way for an agent to predict exactly how long a showing might take. A disinterested buyer, or someone who’s already seen 12 houses that day, might be in and out in a matter of minutes. On the other hand, a buyer might spend an hour or more, especially if they’re returning for a second or third visit. The point is, be patient, stay flexible and you’ll meet your original objective of selling your home quickly, at a fair price and with a minimum amount of stress and worry.