1. Selling a Home – Increasing Your Chances of Success
Before they offer that home for sale, smart sellers do some preparation.
The first step, of course, is to clean and de-clutter. Buyers are turned off by dirt – starting with the fingerprints (or muddy paw prints) on the front door.
Most buyers are also looking for a home that has enough space for all their “stuff” so clean out those over-stuffed closets and drawers, get rid of excess furniture, and clean off the counter-tops. Your goal is to give the impression that your house has more space than they will need.
If you need to re-paint a room, do it. If the carpets are dirty, shampoo them. If they’re worn out, replace them.
When you’re cleaning, be sure to wash the light fixtures – when they get dusty the light is diminished, so clean them to let more light into the rooms.
The next best step is to hire a stranger, because they’re trained to “play up” the most attractive features of your home and help potential buyers visualize how they will use each of your living spaces.
But what if you can’t afford that? Your job will be to make the house look as welcoming yet impersonal as you possibly can. You want your potential buyers to walk through and be able to imagine themselves living there. You don’t want them to feel like they’ve invaded your “nest.”
That means – depersonalize.
Take your children’s drawings down from the refrigerator – pack them carefully so you can re-hang them in your new home! Replace the family pictures with something neutral – scenic or still-life pictures that merely serve to add the right touch of color to brighten the room, but give no personal information about you and your family.
The first reason for this is to let the buyers see themselves in the home. The second is that buyers can become distracted by your personal things. They can become so interested in seeing if they know you or your family that they’ll forget to notice details about the home.
Next, move furniture around to give an air of spaciousness. Check for “bottlenecks” in the traffic flow. Look at the colors and get rid of anything that creates a jarring note, while adding accents that give warmth.
If you have children, you can’t get rid of all their toys, but pare them down, and then provide a toy box and get them into the habit of using it.
Help buyers focus on the home, not on your belongings…
Pack away your collections. You want potential buyers to focus their attention on the house, not on the contents of the house. Your collection of dolls or salt shakers or carvings are fun to look at, but can take so much attention away from the house that the buyers may leave without remembering if the fireplace was in the living room or the den.
There’s yet another reason for putting some things away, and it has to do with human nature and the belief that a house holds the “energy” of its occupants.
If you have guns mounted on the walls, some people will feel that this is a home of violence. The same goes for hunting trophies – some will be so turned off that they won’t even enter the room, much less consider buying the home.
Anything that shows your political or religious affiliation can cause the same response.
Now the hard part – your pets. Over half the population of America loves pets, and those buyers will be distracted by talking to them and petting them. And then there’s the rest of the population. Some hate cats or dogs for their own reasons, and some are allergic.
Keep all pet hair vacuumed up, and before buyers arrive, get the pets out of the house and put their beds, toys, and food and water bowls away. If you have a cat, get the cat box out of the house. You may not smell it because you’re used to it, but a stranger will… believe me.
Get a non-pet person to come in and sniff the house – you may need to take a second run over the carpets with some odor-killing shampoo in the machine. If your pets sleep on the furniture, you should shampoo it as well.
Take the pets with you or lock them in a kennel cage when you leave during the showing. This is as much for their safety as for the presentation of the house. People forget to shut doors.
Remember to keep vacuuming and using non-perfumed deodorizers. If the dog always lays in the same spot on the carpet or couch, sprinkle on some baking soda and let it sit there for a few minutes before you give it a daily vacuuming.
If you’re a smoker, you may need to scrub walls and ceilings, as well as shampoo the furniture and wash all your bedspreads and curtains. To a non-smoker, the smell is a real turn-off. After cleaning, try to step outside to smoke.
Next – keep the house smelling fresh, but do not use perfumed air fresheners. Some people are so allergic that they won’t even enter the house if they catch a whiff in the doorway.
You can remove odors from the air with baking soda and with vinegar. If the smells are strong, put some vinegar in water and boil it. This works well if your showing is after dinner and you need to quickly dispel the cooking aromas. (Which you do!)
Yes, do leave during showings…
You may think you need to stick around in case someone has a question – or to point out features the agent might miss. Don’t do it!
Your presence in the house can make buyers uncomfortable, so they won’t take time to really look. In addition, you could accidentally say something that would give away your negotiating position.
It is in your best interests to be gone when the buyers are viewing your house.
2. Should you make upgrades before listing your house for sale?
Making upgrades to a home prior to offering it for sale might not return the investment dollar for dollar. But it might make the difference between selling quickly and not selling at all.
Say you have a nice solid home, but it’s a bit on the “worn” side and needs some minor repairs. Or perhaps it needs a complete kitchen or bathroom remodel. But you don’t want to spend either the money or the time to make the upgrades.
Who can blame you? Simple things like a coat of paint and a new toilet seat might return more than the investment, but remodeling never does.
I read a recent article that said kitchen and bath remodels returned 70-80% of the investment at resale. Other things, such as adding a room, returned even less.
Why should you spend $1,000 to get a $700 or $800 return? And why should you endure the inconvenience and mess of a remodeling job if it isn’t going to pay?
There is a good reason to consider it.
When the market is flooded with listings – enough inventory to last a couple of years if no new homes are listed – buyers have choices. And since the majority of today’s buyers are looking for move-in ready homes, they aren’t interested in taking on a remodeling job – or even a painting job – unless they’re going to get a very good return on investment.
So if that kitchen remodel will cost $2,500 – some buyers might consider it if the home is priced about $5,000 less than a comparable home that doesn’t need the remodel. Even at a bargain price, some buyers will pass it by because they lack the time, or the expertise, or the extra money to have the work done after closing.
So the reason why you should go to the trouble and expense is to give your home the best chance of selling – at all.
At the very least, presenting the home in top shape, and of course at the right price, will speed the sales process. That alone could save you the cost of updates if you’re making monthly mortgage payments.
3. Inexpensive Upgrades to Make Your Home Stand Out
Upgrading your home for a faster sale can also help you command a higher price, but what if you just don’t have a few thousand dollars to spend?
Concentrate on inexpensive upgrades, then clean the house to sparkling and then call in a home stager. If money is tight, many will do an initial consultation for a nominal fee and leave you with a to-do list to stage the house yourself.
Interior upgrades that can make a huge difference include:
Paint: Learn which color is “this year’s neutral” and give your rooms a fresh look. (Some years it’s a beige or eggshell, other years it’s a pale gray.)
You might even experiment with one wall or one section of a wall in one of today’s “hottest new colors.” (Just make sure the hot new color isn’t one that will turn people away. You may love purple or lime green, but…)
Hardware: Create a modern look with new door and drawer pulls, new locksets on entry doors, or new faucets in kitchen and bath.
Light fixtures: Old fashioned ceiling fixtures can really date a house. Check your local hardware store for inexpensive new fixtures in today’s styles.
Note: Unless you’re experienced in this area, do call in an electrician to remove the old and install the new.
Accessorize: This is really part of staging, but remember that a new shower curtain and matching towels can modernize your bathroom; bright throw pillows and rugs can put the spark in a living room; and a new bedspread can transform a tired bedroom.
Remember: The accessories don’t stay. Choose things you’ll be glad to have in your new home.
Interior doors: If your home has hollow-core doors and some have been damaged, do replace them.
New flooring: This is not exactly inexpensive, although it doesn’t have to break the bank if you choose carefully. Consider it if your carpets really are too worn to look good even after shampooing, or if your colors are a long way from neutral. Additionally, cracked or torn vinyl can be a complete turn-off for buyers, so do seriously consider replacing it.
I know it’s easier to give a flooring allowance, but the majority of today’s buyers are looking for move-in ready. They don’t want to deal with any repairs or remodeling projects.
4. Create curb appeal
The initial impression of your home will create an expectation for the buyers – and they will often see exactly what they expect inside. So make sure they walk in expecting to find an attractive, well-kept home.
New screen / storm doors: These doors take a beating from the weather, pets, and children. If yours have rust spots, torn screens, or dents, consider replacing them.
An exterior scrub: Rent a power washer and clean your house – outside.
Repaint your entry door: A bright attractive color on your entry door can draw attention and create an expectation of “more good things to come” inside.
Repaint exterior trim: Painting window and door trim gives the house a fresh, clean look.
Invest in a new welcome mat: A bright color or a pretty pattern set the tone as visitors step inside – and this is another investment you can take along to your new home.
Add bright bedding plants or pots of flowers. People are affected by color – and tidy flower beds imply that the interior will also be well cared-for.
5. Competition – The Driving Force Behind Home Selling Prices
Competition – the driving force of the American free enterprise system. We are all affected by it every time we make a purchase.
We almost always shop for the best value. If two items seem pretty much alike, we choose the less expensive. If two items are priced alike, we choose the one we think is the best quality. The only time we waver from this is when we’ve been convinced that a certain item is something we simply can’t live without.
What does that have to do with real estate? Everything. But all too often it is the one thing overlooked when homeowners decide to sell.
They consider how much money they have in their home. They consider how much money they need to make a move. They consider how much they love the home and what it means to their family.
If you’re thinking of selling your house, you need to consider the competition instead.
Consumers are just as careful – if not more careful – to spend money wisely when choosing a home. They will look at everything available and choose the home that offers them the best quality and the most benefit for their dollars.
That’s why the market analysis we prepare before listing your home is so important. It not only shows what similar homes have been selling for in your neighborhood, it shows your competition. These are the other homes buyers will see and consider along with yours.
By the way, if you’re interviewing Realtors and each presents a market analysis, do not simply choose the agent who suggests the highest price. Your agent’s aggressive marketing can get more people in the door to see your house, but can’t get you a higher price. The market determines the price, not the agent.
6. Selling Your House With Feng Shui
When you put your house on the market, you first need to “stage” it for presentation.
Potential buyers are put off by cluttered counters and overflowing toy boxes – not to mention overflowing kitty litter boxes! Ideally, the house should look like no one lives there – or like the owners have full-time maid service.
All Realtors recommend getting rid of clutter to create a spacious feeling, keeping the drapes open to fill the rooms with light, and keeping everything clean and neat. But sometimes that doesn’t quite do the trick.
Sometimes the cleanest, neatest house just doesn’t “feel” good. And that’s where feng shui comes in.
You may or may not believe in the power of color and placement to create good energy flow and bring all you desire into your life. You may not believe that energy flow makes a difference at all.
But you’ll have to agree that some houses feel like homes, while others only feel like houses. They feel cold and uninviting.
By using the principles of feng shui, you can create warmth in a cold house. It’s all about balance, and blending the colors of nature. When staged with feng shui, every room has some earth tone, some red or purple, some black or blue, some yellow, and some white. Each room also has some sign of “life” in the form of flowers, green plants, or pictures that represent them.
The idea is to either have or represent fire, water, earth, wood, and metal – and to be sure that no one of them overpowers the others. Think of rooms you’ve been in that were all glass and chrome – did you feel comfortable? Probably not, because it was out of balance.
The result of a Feng Shui slant to decorating is a room that feels good – a room where you might want to stay and chat a while.
I don’t know why it works, and I don’t care why. I just know that it does work, and that buyers are more drawn to a house that feels like a home. So if you want your house to sell quickly, look at it from the standpoint of Feng Shui. Then make some subtle changes.
Bookstores offer a large variety of books on the subject, but do take time to look through them before you buy. Some are complicated and some recommend buying all kinds of strange objects. My favorite is The Western Guide to Feng Shui. It’s easy reading and shows how to use objects that most people already have.
7. The Danger of Over-pricing a House
Naturally, you want to sell your house for the highest dollar possible. Everyone does. And that’s exactly why you should strive to put your house on the market at the right price from the very first day.
Some sellers subscribe to the idea of over-pricing now and coming down later. It sounds good, but it always backfires.
Why is that?
A new listing gets the most attention within the first two weeks after being entered in the Multiple Listing Service.
Agents who have buyers waiting for just the right house are watching the daily updates and hurrying to get their buyers in to see the “new arrivals.” If a house is over-priced the first time they visit, they’ll simply cross it off the list for future showings.
Nobody wants to waste their time – or their gasoline!
Of course, a few buyers might go ahead and make an offer at a lower price. But if the difference between the list price and fair market value is too great, many will move on to a different house because they don’t want to insult the seller with a low offer. It depends upon their personalities.
So, the common result of over-pricing is that the house remains on the market with very few showings. Over time, the price is reduced – maybe several times. And finally, after many months, the house sells for less than fair market value.
Why less? Because the home has become “stale on the market.” The agents have lost interest, and the buyers shy away.
Interestingly, one of the questions buyers ask before deciding if they want to see a home is “How long has it been on the market?” They assume that if a house as been listed for a long time, there’s something wrong with it. Thus, it gets fewer and fewer showings and either never sells or sells for less than market value.
How can you be sure of pricing your house to sell?
By paying attention to the market analysis your agent presents. Read it, ask questions, and make sure the houses chosen for comparison are really similar to yours.
You can’t go view the homes that have sold recently, but if you don’t feel sure that the current listings are really similar to yours, ask your agent to show them to you. Those listings are nearly as important as the ones that have sold – because they are your competition.
Don’t accept comparable from other areas of town or ones that sold many months ago. This market is in constant change, so an old sale doesn’t mean a thing. If you live in a sparsely populated area where no other homes have sold recently, make sure the locations your agent chose are comparable to yours.
Whatever you do, never choose an agent because they’ve promised you the highest price for your home. Some agents do that to “buy the listing” – and their intent is to talk you into lowering the price later, once your signature is on the dotted line.
The truth is, no agent can get you a price that’s higher than true market value. It is the market that determines the current value of a home.
8. Why Your Real Estate Agent is Worth the Price
If you’re thinking of selling your home yourself to save the commission, think twice. A good agent will be worth every cent you pay.
Your agent knows how to price your home…
Your agent will not only market your home and take care of details you haven’t thought about yet, he or she will save you from making some serious mistakes. The first of those mistakes is usually in pricing.
When you get that wrong, you may have a few early “lookers” but you won’t have offers. And determining the right price on your own can be difficult. That is, unless you pay an appraiser to determine your home’s true market value.
If you don’t have access to the local Multiple Listing Service, you have no way to know how much comparable homes have been selling for. You may hear gossip about what a neighbor’s house sold for – but it’s probably false information, and if it’s been more than a month or so since their house sold, things have probably changed.
You can also look around and find out the asking price on other homes, but asking and selling are two different things. And unless you’ve visited the homes yourself, you won’t know if they really are comparable to yours.
A good agent will prepare a market analysis and show you the price at which your home will most likely sell within a reasonable amount of time. His or her information will be based on actual selling prices. In addition, the agent may have seen the houses in question. At the very least, he’ll be able to read the details about those houses in the MLS listings.
Your agent talks to buyers every day and knows what will make your home appeal to them.
Next is staging and preparation. You live there, so you may not notice the clutter, or the peeling paint on your front door, or the smell of the cat’s litter box. A good agent will help you see what you need to do to present your house for greatest appeal.
Your agent knows the laws and has the forms you need
Then your agent will introduce you to all the disclosure forms and information you’ll need to have ready for buyers. It seems like the list keeps growing. Your agent knows current State laws and will keep you in compliance.
Your agent can and will market in ways you cannot.
Marketing is a big thing – and your agent has far more ways to reach out to buyers than you do. More than 80% of all buyers now begin their search on the Internet, and your agent will see to it that your home shows up on multiple websites – with attractive photos and descriptions that entice buyers to call for an appointment.
He or she will also furnish your yard sign, prepare flyers, and may even place print ads or hold open houses.
Plus, agents have a list of buyers who are looking for homes with certain benefits and features. He’ll show them your house if it looks like a possible match.
He’ll also market to other agents. He’ll enter your home on the Multiple Listing Service – where other agents with lists of buyers check every day to find new listings.
Your agent will create a valuable space between you and the buyers…
Negotiation begins at the time of showing – and that’s one reason why agents ask their sellers to be absent during showings. You can inadvertently say something that weakens your position. But if you don’t have an agent, you have to show the house yourself.
This is unfortunate from a negotiation standpoint, but even worse, it could keep buyers from staying in the home long enough to take a good look. Buyers are often uncomfortable about sellers watching them checking out closets or turning on faucets to check the water pressure. Most prefer to look when the seller is not there.
Negotiation after an offer is also easier when there’s an agent involved. Not only will he or she give you advice on how to respond, the presence of an agent gives you time to think about that response. She’ll save you from inappropriately answering a “Would you take…” question.
Your experienced agent will help you determine your final proceeds based on the price and the terms presented in an offer. He or she will also go over all the contingencies in an offer and save you from agreeing to something that could harm you.
Your agent will help you get through escrow.
Once you have accepted an offer, your agent will work to see that it closes. Working with the other professionals involved, he’ll take care of all the tiny details that can make or break a transaction.
There is a long list of things that can go wrong between agreement and closing, and a good agent will stay on top of the transaction, solving problems along the way.
9. How to Choose a Real Estate Agent
With over one MILLION real estate agents working in the U.S., you probably have at least a couple dozen in your own community who would like to handle your listing. Which of them will serve you best?
Consider these four major areas:
- Your intuition
Honesty: Your agent needs to tell you the truth – even if the truth is something you don’t want to hear. In today’s market, that often revolves around price, but it can also involve things like repairs that need to be done and cleaning issues.
No one, including your agent, likes to be the bearer of bad news. But if the truth isn’t told, your house will sit on the market for months – frustrating you and costing you and your agent money.
So if you sense that you’re talking to someone who will tell you whatever you want to hear, run the other way.
Enthusiasm: When an agent is truly enthused and excited about your home, it will shine through in all the marketing materials and in every conversation he or she has with customers and other agents. People listening will know they MUST see this house!
If, on the other hand, an agent comes through your house and begins pointing out its many faults, just say “next.” This can be a tactic to push you into a lower price so the house will sell faster. It can also mean the agent just doesn’t like your house. Either way, you don’t need that agent.
*Note: Being enthused doesn’t mean being blind. Your agent may love the layout, the view, the location, and many other things, but still give you recommendations for repairs before the house goes on the market. These are recommendations designed to show the house in its best light, so listen!
Marketing: A strong web presence is a must, and there is no excuse for being weak in this area. A good job means taking plenty of photos and writing descriptions that go far beyond the old basic “Three bedroom, two bath, deck” variety.
Your presence on the web should be in the form of a home tour that offers enticing details. Details that make prospective buyers drool at the thought of living in your home.
The MLS listing should include as much of that as allowed, and the flyers your agent hands out should radiate enthusiasm for the many special benefits your home offers. The flyer in the box out front should offer a glimpse of what buyers will find when they get inside… NOT merely show them a picture of the house they see in front of them and tell them something they can see from where they’re standing.
When you’re considering agents, ask to see their marketing materials for other homes. Then you will know if the materials they produce create excitement – or are bland and boring fact sheets.
Ask where the agent advertises, and then ask why.
Different advertising mediums work in different communities. Your agent knows which of them actually bring in customers, so don’t be upset if he or she doesn’t use a newspaper you read or a magazine you recommend. Agents have learned through trial and error – and countless wasted dollars.
In some communities open houses are a good tool. In others they are a total waste of time.
You should be able to count on your agent to let you know all the news, both good and bad. Ask how often you can expect an update.
When you call, you should be able to count on a return call within a few hours, or at least by the next morning.
Remember that you are not the only client, and if your agent is with someone else he can’t return your call until he’s finished. You’d want the same consideration if he or she was with you.
You shouldn’t expect to be able to contact your agent 24 hours a day, but you should be able to count on a call back during the evening or on week-ends. Just don’t demand immediate attention.
Sometimes your agent will be out on a showing or a listing appointment, and sometimes he or she will be spending time with friends and family. Even real estate agents have lives outside of work. If you leave a message in the evening, tell your agent how late they can return the call.
Your own Intuition:
Possibly the most important deciding factor of all is one that’s hard to pin down. That factor is your feelings. “Trust your gut” to tell you if the agent you just met is “for real” and is a person whose company you can enjoy and whose advice you can trust. If you feel uneasy going in, it will only get worse.