Introduction – Emotion vs. Reason
When conversing with real estate agents, you will often find that when they talk to you about buying real estate, they will refer to your purchase as a “home.” Yet if you are selling property, they will often 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.
The first step in getting your home ready to sell is to “de-personalize” it.
De-personalize the House
The reason you want to “de-personalize” your home is because you want buyers to view it as their potential home. When a potential homebuyer sees your family photos hanging on the wall, it puts your own brand on the home and momentarily shatters their illusions about owning the house. Therefore, 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,” and that is the next step in preparing your house for sale.
Removing Clutter, Though You May Not Think of it as Clutter
This is the hardest thing for most people to do because they are emotionally attached to everything in the house. After years of living in the same home, clutter collects in such a way that may not be evident to the homeowner. However, it does affect the way buyers see the home, even if you do not realize it. Clutter collects on shelves, counter tops, drawers, closets, garages, attics, and basements.
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. Let your agent help you, too.
The kitchen is a good place to start removing clutter, because it is an easy place to start. First, get everything off the counters. Everything. Even the toaster. Put the toaster in a cabinet and take it out when you use it. Find a place where you can store everything in cabinets and drawers. Of course, you may notice that you do not have cabinet space to put everything. Clean them out. The dishes, pots and pans that rarely get used? Put them in a box and put that box in storage, too.
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 “stuff.” 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 do that is to have as much “empty space” as possible.
For that reason, if you have a “junk drawer,” get rid of the junk. If you have a rarely used crock pot, put it in storage. Do this with every cabinet and drawer. Create open space.
If you have a large amount of foodstuffs crammed into the shelves or pantry, begin using them – especially canned goods. Canned goods are heavy and you don’t want to be lugging them to a new house, anyway – 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.
Beneath the sink is very critical, too. Make sure the area beneath the sink is as empty as possible, removing all extra cleaning supplies. You should scrub the area down as well, and determine if there are any tell-tale signs of water leaks that may cause a homebuyer to hesitate in buying your home.
Closets are great for accumulating clutter, though you may not think of it as clutter. We are talking about extra clothes and shoes – things you rarely wear but cannot bear to be without. Do without these items for a couple of months by putting them in a box, because these items can make your closets look “crammed full.” Sometimes there are shoeboxes full of “stuff” or other accumulated personal items, too.
Many people have too much furniture in certain rooms – not too much for your own personal living needs – but too much to give the illusion of space that a homebuyer would like to see. You may want to tour some builders’ models to see how they place furniture in the model homes. Observe how they place furniture in the models so you get some ideas on what to remove and what to leave in your house.
Storage Area Clutter
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 the storage area.
Or have a garage sale.
Fixing Up the House Interior
Plumbing and Fixtures
All your sink fixtures should look shiny and new. If this cannot be accomplished by cleaning, buy new ones where needed. If you don’t buy something fancy, this can be accomplished inexpensively and they are fairly easy to install. Make sure all the hot and cold water knobs are easy to turn and that the faucets do not leak. If they do, replace the washers. It is not difficult at all.
Check to make sure you have good water pressure and that there are no stains on any of the porcelain. If you have a difficult stain to remove, one trick is to hire a cleaning crew to go through and clean your home on a one-time basis. They seem to be wonderful at making stains go away.
Ceilings, Walls and Painting
Check all the ceilings for water stains. Sometimes old leaks leave stains, even after you have repaired the leak. Of course, if you do have a leak, you will have to get it repaired, whether it is a plumbing problem or the roof leaks.
You should do the same for walls, looking for not only stains, but also areas where dirt has accumulated and you just may not have noticed. Plus, you may have an outdated color scheme.
Painting can be your best investment when selling your home. It is not a very expensive operation and often you can do it yourself. Do not choose colors based on your own preferences, but based on what would appeal to the widest possible number of buyers. You should almost always choose an off-white color because white helps your rooms appear bright and spacious.
Carpet and Flooring
Unless your carpet appears old and worn, or it is definitely an outdated style or color, you probably should do nothing more than hire a good carpet cleaner. If you do choose to replace it, do so with something inexpensive in a fairly neutral color.
Repair or replace broken floor tiles, but do not spend a lot of money on anything. Remember, you are not fixing up the place for yourself. You want to move. Your goal is simply to have as few negative impressions upon those who may want to purchase your property.
Windows and Doors
Check all of your windows to make sure they open and close easily. If not, a spray of WD40 often helps. Make sure there are no cracked or broken windowpanes. If there are, replace them before you begin showing your home.
Do the same things with the doors – make sure they open and close properly, without creaking. If they do, a shot of WD40 on the hinges usually makes the creak go away. Be sure the doorknobs turn easily, and that they are cleaned and polished to look sharp. As buyers go from room to room, someone opens each door and you want to do everything necessary to create a positive impression.
For those who smoke, you might want to minimize smoking indoors while trying to sell your home. You could also purchase an ozone spray that helps to remove odors without creating a masking odor.
Pets of all kinds create odors that you may have become used to, but are immediately noticeable to those with more finely tuned olfactory senses. For those with cats, be sure to empty kitty litter boxes daily. There are also products that you can sprinkle in a layer below the kitty litter that helps to control odor. For those with dogs, keep the dog outdoors as much as possible. You might also try sprinkling carpet freshener on the carpet on a periodic basis.
Costs of Repairs
Do not do anything expensive, such as remodeling. If possible, use savings to pay for any repairs and improvements – do not go charging up credit cards or obtaining new loans. Remember that part of selling a house is also preparing to buy your next home. You do not want to do anything that will affect your credit scores or hurt your ability to qualify for your next mortgage.
Fixing Up Outside the House
Most real estate advice tells you to work on the outside of the house first, but unless there is a major project involved, we believe it is best to do it last. There are two main reasons for this. First, the first steps in preparing the interior of the house are easier. They also help 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.
So take a walk across the street and take a good look at your house. Look at nearby houses, too, and see how yours compares.
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 for flowers, buy mature colorful flowers and plant them. They add a splash of vibrancy and color, creating a favorable first impression. Do not buy bulbs or seeds and plant them. They will not mature fast enough to create the desired effect and you certainly don’t want a patch of brown earth for homebuyers to view.
Your lawn should be evenly cut, freshly edged, well watered, and free of brown spots. If there are problems with your lawn, you should probably take care of them before working on the inside of your home. This is because certain areas may need re-soding, and you want to give it a chance to grow so that re-sod areas are not immediately apparent. Plus, you might want to give fertilizer enough time to be effective.
Always rake up loose leaves and grass cuttings.
The big decision is whether to paint or not to paint. When you look at your house from across the street, does it look tired and faded? If so, a paint job may be in order. It is often a very good investment and really spruces up the appearance of a house, adding dollars to offers from potential homebuyers.
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, too. For some reason, different shades of yellow seem to elicit the best response in homebuyers, whether it is in the trim or the basic color of the house.
As for the roof, if you know your house has an old leaky roof, replace it. If you do not replace a leaky roof, you are going to have to disclose it and the buyer will want a new roof, anyway. Otherwise, wait and see what the home inspector says. Why spend money unnecessarily?
The Back Yard
The back yard should be tidy. If you have a pool or spa, keep it freshly maintained and constantly 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 kids, it probably makes more sense to remove them than to 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 are not as large.
The Front Door & Entryway
The front door should be especially sharp, since it is the entryway into the house. Polish the door fixture so it gleams. 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 twiddling their thumbs, this sends a negative first impression to prospective homebuyers.
Meeting With Realtors
So you’ve decided to sell your home and have a fairly good idea of what you think it is worth. Being a sensible home seller, you schedule appointments with three local listing agents who’ve been hanging stuff on your front doorknob for years. Each Realtor comes prepared with a “Competitive Market Analysis” on fancy paper and they each recommend a specific sales price.
Amazingly, a couple of the Realtors have come up with prices that are lower than you expected. Although they back up their recommendations with recent sales data of similar homes, you remain convinced your house is worth more. When you interview the third agent’s figures, they are much more in line with your own anticipated value, or maybe even higher. Suddenly, you are a happy and excited home seller, already counting the money.
Which Realtor do you choose?
If you’re like many people, you pick Realtor number three. This is an agent who seems willing to listen to your input and work with you. This is an agent that cares about putting the most money in your pocket. This is an agent that is willing to start out at your price and if you need to drop the price later, you can do that easily, right? After all, everyone else does it!
The truth is that you may have just met an agent engaging in a questionable sales practice called “buying a listing.” He “bought” the listing by suggesting you might be able to get a higher sales price than the other agents recommended. Most likely, he is quite doubtful that your home will actually sell at that price. The intention from the beginning is to eventually talk you into lowering the price.
Why do agents “buy” listings? There are basically two reasons. A well-meaning and hard working agent can feel pressure from a homeowner who has an inflated perception of his home’s value. On the other hand, there are some agents who engage in this sales practice routinely.
What Happens Behind the Scenes
Whichever the case, if you start out with too high a price on your home, you may have just added to your stress level, and selling a home is stressful enough. There will be a lot of “behind the scenes” action taking place that you don’t know about.
Contrary to popular opinion, the listing agent does not usually attempt to sell your home to a homebuyer. That isn’t very efficient. Listing agents market and promote your home to the hordes of other local agents who do work with homebuyers, dramatically increasing your personal sales force. During the first couple of weeks your home should be a flurry of activity with buyer’s agents coming to preview your home so they can sell it to their clients. …If the price is right.
If you and your agent have overpriced, fewer agents will preview your home. After all, they are Realtors, and it is their job to know local market conditions and home values. If your house is dramatically above market, why waste time? Their time is better spent previewing homes that are priced realistically.
Dropping Your Price…Too Late
Later, when you drop your price, your house is “old news.” You will never be able to recapture that flurry of initial activity you would have had with a realistic price. Your house could take longer to sell.
Even if you do successfully sell at an above market price, your buyer will need a mortgage. The mortgage lender requires an appraisal. If comparable sales for the last six months and current market conditions do not support your sales price, the house won’t appraise. Your deal falls apart. Of course, you can always attempt to renegotiate the price, but only if the buyer is willing to listen. Your house could go “back on the market.”
Once your home has fallen out of escrow or sits on the market awhile, it is harder to get a good offer. Potential buyers will think you might be getting desperate, so they will make lower offers. By overpricing your home in the beginning, you could actually end up settling for a lower price than you would have normally received.
Are Commissions Negotiable?
In some areas of the country there is a certain percentage that real estate agents expect to earn as a commission.This commission amount is a certain percent of the sales price.Or, some companies will charge a set fee for their services.However, just like anything else in real estate, this amount is negotiable.When completing the listing agreement, you and your agent will agree on the amount of the real estate commission.
How and When Listing Commissions are Earned
Your listing contract specifies a listing price. Your agent’s job is to bring a “ready, willing and able” buyer to present an offer. If you reach agreement with the buyer, then the agent has done his job and earned the commission. Once the sale has closed, the real estate broker gets paid from the proceeds of the sale.
If the buyer proves unable or unwilling to conclude the sale, the house is placed back on the market and the agent has to begin earning his or her commission all over again.
However, if the seller backs out or does not accept an offer that meets the price and terms of the listing agreement, the listing broker has still earned the commission. They may want to be paid, even though you did not actually sell your home. Therefore, it is very important to carefully consider every detail when completing your listing contract and accepting an offer to buy your property.
The Purpose of Advertising in General
Every home seller likes to be assured that their listing agent or the real estate company will run ads featuring their home. Newspaper ads could be large display ads with lots of listings or small classified ads featuring just your property. Ads may also appear in local real estate magazines and your listing will also show up on the Internet.
Of course the agents and companies will run ads featuring your house, but not for the reasons you expect.
You see, the main job of advertising is not to sell your house directly. Advertising creates phone calls and some of those callers become clients of the agents answering the calls. This builds up a pool of homebuyers looking for property in general, all represented by selling agents. Multiply this by all the agents and companies who also advertise homes, and there is a large pool of homebuyers in the market at any given time – all of whom are represented by selling agents.
The agents representing those homebuyers know about your home because it is listed in the Multiple Listing Service, has been on office and broker preview, and because your agent may have also sent flyers to all the local real estate offices.
The agents match up their clients with available homes, one of which may be yours. Then they show the homes to their clients, who eventually make an offer on one. That is how your house gets sold. Ads create a pool of clients, one of which buys your home. Ads do not usually sell your house directly.
Real Estate Office Advertising
As mentioned previously, advertising your home in newspapers and magazines rarely sells your home directly. More likely than not, the buyer who eventually purchases your home will have called on a totally different house. The same thing happens with buyers who call on your house. They will probably buy something else.
You still want to be certain the real estate company selling your house runs ads in the local and major newspapers, whether they feature your house or not. The ads generate phone calls to the real estate office, and if those agents viewed your house on the office preview, they will be familiar with it. This is how your property is sold.
Or you could be one of the lucky ones – someone calling on your house may actually end up buying it.
You should also realize that when a company advertises the homes they have for sale, there is more than one objective. Sure, the real estate office wants to generate phone calls and sell houses, but the advertising also shows home sellers how effectively they market properties. This impresses not only you, but others who may be thinking of selling their home.
The advertising brings in more listings, which generate more ad calls, which produces more buyers….and that is how real estate advertising really works.
Individual Agent Advertising
Individual agents may advertise your home for the same reasons as companies do. They usually advertise in classified ads or in specialty magazines featuring houses available for sale.
As in other types of advertising, these ads rarely sell your home. Once again, the main goals of advertising are to accumulate homebuyers as clients, and to impress you and future home sellers with how well they market their listings. Some agents actually do sell their own listings, but not that often.
It is much more productive and beneficial if your listing agent directs most of his or her marketing efforts toward other agents. Since this is “behind the scenes” marketing that you don’t actually see, it is often difficult for you to measure how hard the agent is working for you.
It is a mistake to measure your agent’s effectiveness solely by counting the number of newspaper and magazine ads featuring your property.
An open house when your property is first placed on the market can be very important, but not for the reasons most homeowners think. Just like with advertising, most visitors to open houses rarely buy the house they come to look at. They may not even know the price of your home when they stop by to visit – they probably just followed an “Open House” sign to your door.
An open house performs a similar function to the neighborhood announcements – it lets all of your neighbors know that your house is for sale, and it practically invites them to come “take a look.” Being generally nosy, a lot of your neighbors will take advantage of the invitation.
And they may tell their friends about your house, creating more “word of mouth” advertising.
Of course, there are other reasons for holding open houses, too. Listing agents who “farm” a particular neighborhood use them as an opportunity to meet with other local homeowners who will someday be selling their home. Your agent may hope to list their homes in the future.
Open houses held after your home has been on the market awhile do not usually serve a useful purpose in selling your home. Most of the neighbors already know your house is for sale and open house visitors rarely buy the homes they visit.
However, if you really want more open houses, your listing agent may allow other agents to hold it open. Open houses attract prospective homebuyers and agents hope to convince some of those homebuyers to become their clients.