Step I: Disconnect your Emotions
As a Real Estate Broker when I speak to someone about buying real estate I refer to the purchase as a “home”. Yet if I’m speaking to someone about selling property I 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.
Step II: Make your Home “Anonymous”
The next step in getting your home ready to sell is to “de-personalize it”. In other words make your property “anonymous”.
If there is a new home sales tract in your area, go visit. It doesn’t matter what size the homes are. That you will find are some wonderfully (but sparsely) furnished homes that anyone could live in – with the emphasis on “anyone”. They are anonymous. There may be a baseball glove in the boy’s room, but no family photos on the walls.
There may be “personality”, but no person.
The reason you want to make your home “anonymous” is because you want buyers to view it as their potential home. When a potential home buyer sees your family photos hanging on the wall it puts your own brand on the home and momentarily shatters their illusions about living in the house themselves.
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”.
Step III: Un-cluttering the House
This is the hardest thing for most people to do because they are emotionally attached to everything. After years of living in the same house clutter collects in such a way that may not be evident to the homeowner. However it does affect the way buyers see the home.
Things just seem to collect on shelves, counter tops, drawers, closets, garages, attics and basements. It is important to have as much open space as possible. Every extra little thing needs to be cleared away.
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. I am happy to offer suggestions as well.
The kitchen is a good place to start removing clutter.
First, get everything off the counters. Even the toaster. Put it in a cabinet and take it out when you need to use it. Find a place where you can store the items in cabinets and drawers. Of course, you may find that you do not have enough cabinet space to put everything. Most of us have dishes or pots and pans that rarely get used. You will need to pack for moving anyway so this is a great place to start.
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 things. 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 create that image is to have as much empty space as possible.
Do you have a “junk drawer”? Don’t feel bad we all do and we all have a plan to clean it out, one day. This is a good time. Do this with every cabinet and drawer. Create open space!
If you have a large amount of food in your cabinets or pantry, begin using it, especially canned foods. Canned goods are heavy and you don’t want to be carrying them to a new house, 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. This is also a great way to save on the weekly grocery budget for a couple of weeks.
Beneath the sink is very critical as well. Start by removing all extra cleaning supplies. It is also a good idea to clean and inspect this area to determine if there are any tell-tale signs of water leaks that may cause concern for the potential homebuyer.
Closets are great for accumulating clutter, though you may not think of it as that. Do you have extra clothes and shoes, things you rarely wear but cannot bear to be without? These items can make your closets look overly full. Thereby making a large closet look small and a smaller closet look really small. Again this is a great place to start packing. Your closet will look more spacious and you will have a head start on being ready to move.
Many people have too much furniture in certain rooms. This prevents the homebuyer from being able to see the room any other way. They need to be able to visualize how their furniture would be arranged in the space. You may want to tour some builders’ models to see how they have staged the homes for sale so you get some ideas on what to remove and what to leave in your house. As a Certified Staging Professional I can help with this also. Call me anytime.
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 a storage area or have a garage sale.
Step IV: Inspect and Repair
It is always a good idea to have the property professionally inspected. However to make sure the information is current this should be done just a few days before the home is presented to perspective buyers. I have worked with several good inspectors over the years and can recommend one in your area.
Prior to scheduling the property inspector you can conduct your own inspection of the visible areas.
· Check windows and doors to make sure they open easily WD40 works wonders on squeaky hinges as well as window and sliding glass door tracks.
· Turn on the faucets to see how the water flows. Clean the trap of any mineral build up. Make sure the water turns off completely and there are no dripping faucets.
· Look under the sinks to see if there is any evidence of current or past leaks.
· Flush toilets to make sure they flush completely and there is no continuous running water once the tank is full.
· Turn on all lights and change light bulbs as needed.
All these may seem like insignificant matters however perception is everything. It is easy for a buyer to develop concerns about potential bigger problems if they see relatively minor maintenance items that have not been addressed.
Something I have learned over the years is that smells can be very offensive to many buyers and some are much more sensitive to them than others. It’s never too early to start neutralizing odors.
Step V: The 3 “C’s”
In Step III we looked at the first “C”, clutter, and the idea that less is really more. That is to say that less of your personal items allows for more of the house, the product being sold, to be seen. Now for the next two “C’s”.
Paint is always a good investment. This will give a fresh appearance. Neutral tones are the best, colors that will not clash with the buyers purple couch or orange loveseat. Again the goal is to allow the potential buyer to visualize how their things could find a new home in this house.
With all the clutter free space and fresh paint it will be easy to clean everything from top to bottom. This is not your normal Saturday afternoon cleaning. This should be your most intense spring cleaning. The buyers will open drawers, look in closets and inside cabinets. Everything should pass the white glove test. It is best to have carpets professionally cleaned. Windows should be washed a couple of days before going on the market.
Step VI: The Exterior of the House
Most Real Estate advice tells you to work on the outside of the house first. However, it is probably best to save it for last. The only exception to this is if you know there are problems with your lawn. Then you should probably take care of them before working on the inside of the home. There may need to be new sod laid in certain areas. You’ll want to give it a chance to grow so that these areas are not immediately apparent. Plus, you might want to give fertilizer enough time to be effective.
Assuming there are no major outside problems; there are two main reasons for saving the outside for last. First, the initial steps in preparing the interior of the house are easier. This also helps develop the proper mind set required for selling, beginning to think of your “home” as a marketable commodity. Second, the exterior is the most important. A homebuyer’s first impression is based on his or her view of the house from the real estate agent’s car. They call that first impression “curb appeal”. So take a walk across the street to get a better look at your house. See how yours compares to nearby houses. Then it may be time to go to work.
One big decision is whether to paint or not to paint. When you look at your house from across the street, does it look tired or faded? If so, a paint job may be in order. Paint is one of the best investments often bringing a great return in the way of higher offers from potential buyers and shorter time on the market. 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.
The front door should be especially sharp, since it is the entryway into the house. Polish the door fixtures so they gleam. 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 waiting, this sends a negative first impression to prospective homebuyers.
Step VII: The Exterior Part II
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 of flowers, buy mature colorful flowers and plant them. They add a splash of vibrancy and color, creating a favorable first impression.
The back yard should be tidy. If you have a pool or spa, keep it freshly maintained and 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 children it probably makes more sense to remove them rather than 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.