My clients over the years have buried religious statues in their yard, painted their front doors red and purple, and prayed like there was no tomorrow, all in hopes of getting a good buyer and quickly. I wish I could report great success with any of their tactics, but I cannot.
Common sense and some good professional coaching with regard to “showability” will most effectively accomplish the goal of selling your home in the quickest time (yes, price remains relevant). In case you are short on either of the aforementioned resources, this article should help you out. By the way, even if you are not selling your home, 90 percent of this information will go a long way toward making your home more comfortable to you and more impressive to your guests. Whenever I am doing a walk-through of a home prior to putting it on the market, I first ask permission to be brutally frank about what preparations the home may need.
While I’m almost always granted the permission, I try to be frank but not actually brutal. As a homeowner, it’s hard enough to “step back” and be objective about the presentation and decorum of your home. After all, you shopped for weeks, even months, for that wallpaper, floor tile, and paint color. You and your family have been happy in this home for years, and the photo gallery walls bear out all the proof! For sake of perspective, I explain to my clients the fundamental difference between a home buyer and a home seller. A buyer is engaged in a process that is rightfully emotional.
Think about it. You are going to bring your family and friends here for many years to come. It will also be your sanctuary from the world-that place where you recharge each day before heading out to take on the world once again. If you don’t “feel” good about a house you are touring, you are unlikely to choose it for your home. As a seller, you must take the opposite approach to succeed. You must be unemotional and pragmatic if you hope to get the most money for your home. There is a saying in this business that there are two buyers for each home-and one already owns it!
So when a seller finds themselves reacting emotionally in the context of selling, they oftentimes end up being that second buyer and beating out the one who came with open wallet to buy them out. I frequently have to remind clients to “let go” and let someone else become emotionally attached to the house. We always do well when we have successfully created an emotional appeal to our buyer prospects. With that understood, I typically advise that every house I’ve ever listed (that wasn’t vacant) needed to be “decluttered” to some extent. Most people collect things they don’t need just because they have the room.
Over time, you notice less and less what’s collecting, but prospective buyers don’t miss anything. In fact, they are drawn to look at your stuff, sometimes more than the house. I frequently remind my buyer clients that while all that other stuff, including the family photo gallery, is very interesting, they need to picture themselves and their things in that house. I’ve had listings that had to be vacated for prospects to fully see the potential and others that were so “model” perfect that the big letdown came when the seller moved out and the buyer put their stuff in. At the least, one should try to find a reasonable balance between these extremes.
So here are my most common suggestions:
* Declutter-Either throw out, sell, or store everything you don’t absolutely need for the next four months. Take down all but a handful of your family photos and personal knickknacks. Think model home. No more than one to three items should be atop any one surface, i.e., tables, hutches, countertops, nightstands, etc. Don’t let furniture “fill” a room. Just “furnish” the room and leave it feeling roomy.
* Freshen-I’ve always said that paint in a bucket is worth ten bucks, but on a wall, it can be a thousand dollars. Fresh paint gives a sense of newness and cleanliness, both very positive emotional experiences. It also avoids the sense that one will have extra work to do if they buy that house. “Needs work” is a negative emotional experience. Freshness is also achieved by deep cleaning. From all of the potentially sparkling things like mirrors, appliances, light and plumbing fixtures, and other surfaces to garages and utility rooms (a clean furnace and hot water heater say you maintain the home well), all things clean will “lift” one’s emotions-and all things dirty, dingy, and run down will dampen a potential buyer’s emotions, with a predictable result.
* Repairs-Sticking doors, broken grout, faulted thermal panes, and the like each become “a brick in the buyer’s knapsack” that, when ultimately weighing too much, will almost certainly result in rejection. When that prospective buyer leaves a home feeling weighted down by a dozen or three dozen small to not-so-small repairs needed, they will be eagerly looking for a different, more “move-in ready” home. Even when the perceived work is tolerable to them, the actual cost of repairs will be tripled and subtracted from the asking price when and if they offer on the home. * Lighting-All shades should be open during daylight hours (and windows clean!). All lights should be on for all showings, even at high noon on a sunny day. I like 75-watt bulbs almost everywhere where a single bulb is in service, and 60 watts where two bulbs are required. Large rooms, unfinished storage and utility rooms, and garages often need 100-watt bulbs to fill the corners and crevices with light. Wal-Mart and K-Mart well know that “bright” is uplifting and good for sales while dark, in any degree, is emotionally constricting.
* Embellish-Fresh cut flowers or silks will brighten a room and subconsciously make its inhabitants happy inside. I’ve recommended the placement and even acquisition of furnishings, linens, and art for homes that had “holes” in the decorum. Usually these are very minor. I’ve even loaned my own artwork to clients on occasion. A strong presentation is often the difference that influences a decision, and while the prospective buyer isn’t buying the furnishings, the subconscious effect can be very powerful. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. It all starts at the front door, and it doesn’t end until the signature is on the dotted line. Visit some model homes and notice the lighting and furnishings. Notice that the dark surfaces are held up by lots of natural or artificial light and light or bright furnishings and artwork.
NOTE: If your home is significantly outdated or an outright fixer-upper, you may ignore much of this. In fact, I have very specific strategies for these types of homes, keeping in mind that the objective is to maximize proceeds of the sale versus sale price alone.