Date:31 May 2006
How to attract buyers and fetch the best price possible.
YOU’RE anxious, worried and feeling as if you’ve lost all control. Your stomach is in knots and you have no appetite. You sit by the phone nervously, 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 a house up for sale.
If you happen to be lovesick, you’re on your own. But if you’re selling your house, there are steps you can take to ready the property – and yourself – for the sale.
First, you need to prepare psychologically. Once your home is on the market, learn to think of it as a commodity of certain value. Your job is to organise and present that commodity in such a way that it’s attractive to potential buyers.
Unfortunately, letting go of a home can be an excruciating experience. “The sellers’ motivation plays a key role in their emotional attachment to the house,” explains Bonnie Garguilo, an estate agent with Sotheby’s International. “If they’re selling a house they love because of a job transfer, or leaving a family home after many years, the emotional ties can be extremely difficult to break.”
Keeping sentiments in check is advisable because it allows you to make smart, clear-headed decisions. Buying or selling a home is easily the largest, most nervewracking transaction you’ll ever complete. So, to sell your home quickly and at the highest price, keep your emotions under control and work closely with an experienced estate agent.
Ready, set, show
The three most important factors in selling any home are location, condition and price. You can’t do much about your home’s location, and the estate agent will probably suggest a listing price. However, you can do quite a bit about the condition of your home, starting outside the door.
1. Prep the exterior.
A prospective buyer’s first impression of your home is formed the instant he pulls into the driveway or clicks on its image on a Web site. “I tell sellers to stand back and look at their house with a fresh eye, just as a buyer would,” says estate agent Amy Willaby. Take note of anything that needs to be cleaned, fixed or removed, and pay particular attention to obvious, highly noticeable areas. “I’ve seen buyers turned off simply because the front door was dirty and scuffed up,” Willaby says.
Start by making sure the lawn is clean and trimmed. Tidy up shrubs and remove dead and broken limbs from trees. Add mulch to flower beds and plant brightly coloured flowers during the warmer months.
Give a tired-looking asphalt driveway a fresh coat of sealer, and brighten concrete with a pressure washer. Freshen up a gravel driveway by raking existing gravel over bare patches.
Sweep paths and put away all items, such as lawnmowers, garden hoses, sprinklers, wheelbarrows and so on. And whereas we know that one person’s junk is another’s treasure, no one is likely to be impressed by a ’76 Ford Escort resting on concrete blocks. Tow it away.
When it comes to the house itself, it’s important to fix all obvious eyesores such as tilting shutters, sagging gutters, dented downspouts and wobbly railings. Pressurewash where necessary and clean every window, inside and out.
For larger improvements, such as roofing, windows or repainting, you may need to call in a licensed contractor. However, it could make more sense to lower the sale price rather than make the repairs. An experienced agent will be able to advise you on the best course.
2. Prep the interior.
The two best ways to spruce up the interior are to paint the walls and remove or replace old carpeting. When repainting, play it safe and choose light, neutral colours. Dark colours might be dramatic, but they tend to make rooms look smaller and – surprise! – darker.
When it comes to badly worn carpeting, it’s an easy call: tear it out. If you find hardwood flooring, have it refinished, if necessary. If there’s a bare subfloor, install new carpeting or a finished floor. Carpets that are simply dirty should be steam-cleaned.
Check the operation of every door and window, examine built-in cupboards, and fix sagging shelves and cracked clothes rods. Be sure all light fixtures and wall switches work.
3. Kill the clutter.
I’m sure you’re very proud of your 260-piece porcelain frog collection, but to a prospective buyer – and please don’t take this personally – it’s just a distracting bunch of junk. So, take this opportunity, since you’ll be moving anyway, to pack up or pass along every non-essential item. The result will be rooms that look cleaner, more organised and larger than they actually are.
Start by thinning bookshelves and cleaning out cabinets with glass doors. Organise cupboards and clear the kitchen counter of small appliances, canisters, spice jars and the like. If the refrigerator is obscured behind a mass of magnets, photos and school projects, clean it off.
Too much furniture can 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. And don’t forget the garage, laundry room, deck and patio. Remember, we’re going for clean and uncluttered, not sterile. Many estate agents subscribe to the 50 per cent rule, meaning you should clear out at least half of your junk (sorry, treasured memorabilia).
A new and increasingly popular way to eliminate clutter is to hire a professional home stager. Stagers prepare your home by thinning out much of your stuff, rearranging furniture, and adding rugs, paintings, pillows and other decorative accessories. If this idea appeals to you, ask your estate agent to recommend someone.
Many buyers can’t imagine themselves living in a house if they see you and your family everywhere they look. Reduce the number of family photos, portraits, monogrammed items and other personal effects on display. Again, you don’t have to remove all photos, but you should drastically reduce their number.
5. Focus on the kitchen and bathroom.
The likelihood of a home selling is largely based upon the condition of the kitchen and bathrooms. In the kitchen, start by cleaning both 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 taps.
In the bath, clean all the obvious surfaces and organise the linen cupboard. Put out fresh towels, hang a new shower curtain and clean smudges from mirrors. Fix leaky taps, clean tile grout and ensure that all toilets flush properly.
6. Check mechanicals.
You must also ensure that all of the mechanical systems are operating correctly. This includes the plumbing, electrical, air-conditioning, heating and hot-water equipment. If any component is defective, have it repaired or updated by a licensed contractor. Remember, a serious buyer will hire a home inspector to test these systems. Making repairs ahead of time will reduce the chances of a bad report, which could cause a buyer to back out of the deal or offer less money for the house.
7. Clean everything.
Prior to a showing, vacuum or mop the floors and dust the furniture. If you live in a double-storey, it’s also a good idea to clean the stairs leading to the second floor. Clean the inside of all the windows, and use a long-handled feather duster to clean cobwebs from the ceiling (yes, you read correctly… you’d be surprised).
Pay particular attention to the entrance area the agent and buyer will use. First impressions are lasting, and you don’t want a buyer to walk in to see a floor strewn with shoes and backpacks.
8. Control your pets.
Dogs, no matter how small and cute, should never be left in the house during a showing. No one can concentrate on viewing a house while being chased, tail-whipped, barked at and licked. Although cats aren
‘t as problematic as dogs, they too should be controlled to prevent them from scurrying out of the door as the agent walks in (sadly, some people don’t appreciate cats).
If you absolutely must leave a cat or dog in the house, rent or buy a crate or carrier for your pet, and locate it in a quiet, out-of-the-way spot. Be sure to tell the agent where you placed the animal.
9. Be ready to show.
The exact times and days that an agent can show your house can be negotiated, but being available at a moment’s notice will greatly increase your chances of selling quickly. On the day of the showing, open all window shades, drapes and blinds, empty all trash cans and wastebaskets, and eliminate odours by opening the windows or heating some potpourri. Turn on several interior lights to give the house a bright, lived-in look and if you have central heating, set the thermostat at a comfortable temperature. Finally, lock away all valuables, including purses, jewellery and portable electronics.
10. Get out of the way.
The last step is simple, yet extremely important. When an agent is coming over to show the house, leave. Take a walk, visit a neighbour, drive around the neighbourhood, go to a laundromat and watch clothes spin – it doesn’t matter what you do, 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 cupboards and turn on taps,” say estate agents.
Leave a phone number where you can be reached, and ask the agent to call when the showing is over. Keep in mind that there’s no way for an agent to predict exactly how long the process will take. A less interested buyer might be in and out in a matter of minutes, whereas others might spend an hour or more, especially if it’s a return visit.
PEELING PAINT Many a home sale is made or lost as the buyer approaches the house for the first time. Even a few patches of peeling paint make a house look sad and neglected. It also makes an otherwise sound home look like it’s falling apart.
OFFENSIVE ODOURS Maybe you’re used to it, but when a prospective buyer walks into a home that smells of cigarette smoke, fried fish, wet dogs or dirty nappies, the offensive stench is impossible to ignore. As a result, the showing rarely lasts more than a few minutes.
MOULD AND MILDEW Slime growing on walls isn’t only nasty looking, it’s a health hazard. As a seller, you can scrub surfaces clean, but until you discover – and stop – the source of the moisture, the problem will return.
WALLPAPER OVERLOAD A little wallpaper, no matter how ugly or outdated, isn’t likely to kill a deal. However, a house filled with wallpaper can discourage the most interested buyer.
DIRTY, SMELLY BATHROOMS Need I say more?
DAMP BASEMENTS Water or excessive moisture in a basement makes the space useless for storage, and its smell can permeate the whole house.
WATER-STAINED CEILINGS These stains aren’t always caused by a broken water pipe or leaky roof, but their presence alone is enough to raise a buyer’s suspicions.
BUGS An ant here or there is okay. The occasional spider is no big deal. But nothing will send buyers sprinting for the door faster than opening a kitchen cabinet and seeing cockroaches scurrying in every direction.