If you ask anyone who has bought and sold a home, you may be completely surprised at how complex it can be to sell your home compared to buying a home. From determining the best listing price, to making essential repairs, to staging and decluttering, to navigating the multiple contract agreements; it’s an exhausting process. The best place to start is by choosing a qualified REALTOR who has your best interests at heart and whom you enjoy working with. Leverage their experience to traverse this complex process and make sure to seek out their advice in each and every step throughout the way. A great REALTOR will keep you focused on the things that will help you sell your home for top dollar and as quickly as possible. If you’ve hired a great REALTOR, here is a list of 10 Essential Steps that they should be advising you to work on PRIOR to listing your home for sale.
There will be many different types of people visiting your home during the course of its listing. In order to encourage the most positive buyer experience, it is best to create a neutral environment where they can begin envisioning their family in the home. If a buyer walks through your house and can determine what your family size, job, religion, or favorite alcoholic beverage is, you may have just alienated them from being able to emotionally attaching to your house. This is especially true when your choices conflict with theirs. The best course of action is to take out all evidence that you live there. If a buyer has to ask if someone actually lives in the house, you have done your job.
In your executed sales contract with the buyer, there will most likely be a period of time that you allow the buyer to perform inspections on your house. This is called the inspection period. One of the first things they will do is hire a home inspector that will thoroughly inspect the house for code compliance, system functionality (air conditioning, electrical, roof, plumbing, etc), and overall safety and quality of the house. Their inspector will issue a report to show what repairs are recommended. Most buyers will second guess a house if the inspection report is loaded with issues and could potentially walk away from the sale. Why not beat them to the punch? An inspection typically costs somewhere around $300 and could potentially be the best money you spend in the grand scheme of things. Take care of any repairs upfront and you won’t be surprised by the buyer’s request for repairs, significant price reduction in lieu of repairs, or worst case scenario potentially walking away from the deal altogether. Poor property inspections are the #1 deal killer in this industry. In my experience, when buyers know that there has been a prior inspection and all repairs have been made, they are more comfortable with their home choice and are willing to pay top dollar.
What’s your definition of “clean”? Everyone’s definition is different, but when you’re listing your house for sale, you should pretend that each person walking through your house is Adrian Monk from the Monk TV series. Monk is a “germaphobe,” the popular name for people who become obsessed with germs and dirt and feel compelled to act out rituals of washing and cleaning. If you can afford it, it’s a great idea to hire a professional cleaning crew to thoroughly deep clean for you. It’s well worth the money! Again, this is all about creating an environment in which the potential buyer can envision themselves in the home and can emotionally attach themselves to it. It’s an interesting expectation, but most home buyers expect the house they are buying to be cleaner than the one they are currently living in. A clean house gives the impression that it has been well maintained and is easy to move into.
In order to sell your home quickly and for top dollar, you need the house to appeal to every possible buyer. Some people are allergic to animals and not everyone is a fan of kids and/or pets. You may have positioned your house perfectly with the right price and amazing pictures. It may be the perfect layout and design, but if it smells like a litter box or a wet dog, or if there are toys stuffed into every nook and cranny, you may have just lost your buyer. In the course of showing houses to buyers, I’ve walked into houses that the buyer simply refused to walk through because they were so sensitive to the pet dander in the air. There have also been times when a buyer completely ruled out the house simply based on seeing a litter box in the property photos.
Statistically, pet odors are one of the most common reasons for a home to stay on the market for an extended period of time. There are many people with pet allergies and one of them might be your perfect buyer. It is important for you to take the time to make your house appeal to them too. It could pay off big time in the end. Also don’t be naïve to think you can smell all the unique smells in your house. You live there and are used to its smell. It is a good idea to have a friend or family member do a smell test in your home.
A home that has been ravaged by children can be equally unappealing. While some buyers will likely have children of their own, potential buyers who don’t have kids will have a hard time picturing themselves in a house full of children’s belongings. Be sure that any evidence of your children’s presence is kept to a minimum. Now is the time to convert and stage any playrooms into a multi-purpose room, office, bedroom, or other minimalist open space where buyers can picture their own belongings in the room. During the period of time while your house is listed for sale, you should put the vast majority of the children’s toys, stuffed animals and video game systems away, and remove any small décor like pirate themed light switches or princess ceiling fan pulls.
Many kids struggle with the idea of packing up their stuff early, but in order to make the transition easier, let them pick out their favorite toys and store those items in an easily accessible box you can take out after every showing. By having their favorite toys around at night will help them feel more comfortable during this transition in their life. By taking this step you are actually helping minimize the amount of time your house is on the market and therefore minimizing the amount of time your children will have to go without some of their belongings.
This is one of the easiest fixes that will have one of the biggest and most visible impacts. If you have brass door handles and chandeliers, you should replace them. Brass fixtures make your house look very dated. Brushed nickel door handles can be found at your local big box home improvement store for around $5 a piece. If your home is appealing to a higher end buyer, then spend a little more for designer door handles. Also, I challenge you to go buy a brand new light switch and switch cover and hold them up to your existing ones. You will be surprised how dingy your switches have become with repeated use over the years. If your light switches and switch covers are outdated or dingy, you should replace them. Walk through your house and try to identify every fixture that reveals the date of the home and replace as many of them as possible. You’ll be surprised by how much of a difference it will make.
Carpets are one of the most visible and highly criticized aspects of homes on the market. Carpets hold a lot of dirt and odor. It’s important that they look and smell clean for your showings. If you have carpet in your house, it’s probably going to be a point of contention from your buyers. If the carpets are somewhat new and not stained, then you can probably get away with having them professionally cleaned. If a professional cleaning will not restore them to an almost new feel, you are probably going to need to replace them. Many people think they can just give the buyer a credit to replace the carpet when they buy the house. Don’t be tricked into this idea. Buyers are more impressed by homes that are fresh and look their best. Most buyers don’t want to do any work after they buy a house and are willing to pay more to have the seller take care of any problems themselves. If you try to keep dingy, dirty, or smelly carpet in the house while showing it, it will ultimately cost you more and potentially turn your buyer away without them even making an offer. If you want to compete for top dollar, you’ll need to tackle the carpet objection right away.
If it’s been more than a year since the walls of your house have been painted, then it’s time for some touch up. Touching up existing paint is very easy and makes your home look and smell new again. Whenever possible, use leftover paint from the time when it was originally painted. Make sure to touch up areas where there are nail holes, scrapes, hand prints, etc. If you examine the walls in high trafficked areas you will be surprised how grimy the paint has become. Also if you have a bed without a headboard, you should look at the paint behind the pillows to find another surprise area of dirty paint.
Many of us have had times where we wanted to paint an accent wall a very bold and strong color. If you have any strong or bold colored walls (orange, burgundy, lime green, red, purple, etc.) it would behoove you to paint over them with a neutral color. I like to suggest you have no more than 3 neutral colors in your home. The more colors you have, the higher the chance you have for buyer objections. You can’t take it personally if all of the buyers walking through your house don’t share your affinity for burnt orange! Keep in mind you want to appeal to as many people as possible. Neutral colors are the only way to appeal to the greatest number of buyers. Let those who like strong colors make the changes they desire once they’ve closed on the home. People will rarely object to buying a home with neutral colors, but will often object to a home with bold or strong colors.
This is also the time to take care of worn or faded exterior paint. You should pay special attention to things like mailbox posts, fences, storage sheds, house siding, and exterior trim work. The exterior of your home needs to look well maintained to encourage a top dollar offer from a buyer.
If you actually live in your house like me and most other people in this world, then chances are your closets are probably full and your garage is packed from floor to ceiling. Congratulations, you are normal! The problem is that a lot of the homes you are competing with are either vacant or almost vacant. These homes feel larger and typically show better than your jam packed house. Buyers are better able to visualize their belongings in the space. Buyers love homes that look move-in ready.
It is a wise idea to rent a storage unit and begin filling it with everything that you’re not going to need while your house is on the market. Start with your personal decorations (as mentioned in Step 1) and pack the unit with the items you are least likely to need in the back and anything you think you might need to have access to in the front. The more you put in storage, the better. This will accomplish two things: 1) your house will better compete with professionally staged vacant and almost vacant houses; 2) you will begin detaching emotionally from the house and start imagining the day when your house is finally sold. If you find yourself asking “Should I store this?” the answer is YES! The more you put in storage, the less you will need because your home will sell much faster!
We’ve all heard the importance of curb appeal and we all know that first impressions are CRITICAL in real estate. Statistically, landscaping is the biggest bang for your buck when listing a house for sale. The fastest way to freshen up your landscaping is by laying out new layer of mulch in all of your landscaped areas. This is very inexpensive and can be completed in a very short amount of time.
If you’d like to take it a step further (highly recommended), then you should plant some colorful flowers in your landscaping to make your new mulch stand out even more. Again, this can be accomplished pretty inexpensively and in a relatively short amount of time. Trim up any overgrown bushes and make sure to clean up everything around your house that could be considered clutter or trash. Outdoor space has become an increasingly important element to home buyers in today’s market and spending a few dollars to freshen up your landscaping will pay huge dividends.
Each property is different and will have unique challenges to address. Experienced Realtors have the opportunity to look at many homes every week with buyers who point out the defects they don’t like. We get to see the good and the bad of the real estate market. When we walk through your house at a listing appointment, we hear the buyers’ voices in our head screaming out all of their objections. Buyers tell us what they want each and every day. An experience Realtor will be able to point out all of the objections that you can expect to hear from your potential buyers and this is extremely valuable information. Be sure to take advantage of it early on in the listing process and please don’t be that seller that refused to listen and ended up regretting it.
As you read through this article, please don’t be intimidated by the amount of work ahead of you. Make a list of the things that are important and that will affect your ability to sell your home fast and for top dollar, and then tackle each item one at a time. Before you know it your list will be done. There are many sellers out there that simply don’t think these issues affect their ability to sell their house or haven’t received good advice from a reputable Realtor. If you’ve put in the required work and expense to tackle these issues, your house should outshine the competition and will most likely sell for the highest price possible. Your efforts will be well rewarded!
About the Author:
Hi there! I’m David Carpenter, a REALTOR in New Braunfels, TX and an associate with NPL Group. Real Estate is my passion! I truly enjoy writing useful articles for home buyers and sellers to help simplify the real estate process and provide a visual guide through one of the most complex times of your life. Feel free to contact me directly or leave a comment in the comment section below.