This is the final installment of my article on what it takes to sell a house in 2008. Because there is so much to address, this section is longer than the others, but it is full of very important and useful information, so please be patient and read on. Even if you haven't read Parts 1 and 2 of the series, I trust that you will learn something here.
‘the way that you need to live in a house....'
Here is the most difficult aspect of selling your house - living in it while it is on the market. Aside from painting and any renovating, the second most important detail that must be attended to is ‘presentation' of the ‘product' (your house).
Realtors have long maintained that the house should be ‘clutter-free'. So, what then is ‘clutter'? Well, aside from the ‘obvious' (paperwork, magazines, piles of ‘stuff'), a ‘cluttered' room might also mean that it has too much furniture and too many accessories. Think of a Model Home, or think about rooms that you see depicted in magazines; they contain a few pieces of furniture, a few lamps, and well-placed framed artwork and accessories (greenery& area rug are accessories too). The ‘wow'factor is achieved through thoughtful placement of the furniture/accessories and a few ‘punches' of color with window treatments, area rug, accent pillows, accessories, or even in the artwork on the walls. Most of us have too much in every room of our home; too much furniture, too many accessories, too much ‘stuff'! Remember that most people like to have their favorite things around them....some more than others.
When presenting your ‘product', every room must be ‘clutter-free'. In addition, you want to accentuate the positive features of the house. If there is a fireplace, you want that to be the focal point of the room; if it is the view from a window, then the focus needs to be placed there. One of the most important services that a professional Home Stager provides is the ability of knowing how to arrange furniture and accessories so that potential buyers can not only see the special features of each room, but also can make that all-important emotional connection that helps the buyer to fall in love with the house and envision themselves living there. In the end, that is what sells the house; the buyer has to see that the house will work with their lifestyle.
So, what stays and what goes?
Well, unless you have a ‘home theater' or other room especially designated as a place to watch TV, there is no place in your ‘product' for a large-screened TV! This fact is so important and I cannot tell you how many houses I have gone into where the seller has neglected to remove that large item. I'm not asking you to get rid of it, but rather to remove it or put it in a suitable area until the house sells.
Toys...can we talk about them for a minute? Every child needs the stimulation and enjoyment that toys can provide, however most children have too many and they not only take up valuable space, but also distract a buyer's attention from the more important features of the house. For the relatively short amount of time that it should take to sell your house (and we'll talk more about that later), the kids can live with less. Keep a fewfavorite toys in an accessible area and supplement ‘play time' with more quality time doing things as a ‘family'. You will be spending at least 3 hours together out of the house during those frequent Open Houses while your ‘product' is being sold. You can go to the library or a family-friendly bookstore such as Barnes and Noble and spend time reading (to the younger children) as a family. You don't have to buy anything, you can just sit in the comfy big chairs or at a table in the Café area. Of course if you have infants and toddlers, you will be taking ‘scenic tours' by car, going to the park, or strolling through your local mall.
I encourage clients with children over the age of 4 (where reasoning pretty much begins) to involve them in the selling process. Take them to a few Open Houses and explain what it takes to sell a house. Make it a game, if you must, and award points for the child who is keeping his or her ‘product' (their room/space) in the best selling condition. Since you will more than likely be looking at new homes for your own family, the younger family members can also be included in that process. Children today are a lot more savvy and resilient than we were as kids! They ‘get' it!
Collections, Family Photos, Personal Items....
In a nutshell, any and all of the aforementioned items distract the buyers' attention from what is most important....the house and all of its unique qualities. I have gone into homes where there have been so many items in each room, that I could not remember something as simple as whether the floors were carpeted or hardwood. Aside from the distractions, any type of personal ‘statement', whether it be the décor or personal items, keep potential buyers from ‘connecting' to the house on their own personal level. What they see is ‘someone else's house' and the buyers almost get a sense that they are intruding! That is hardly the feeling that you want your house to convey; you want each and every potential buyer to feel that the house could easily be theirs. You want them to visualize themselves waking up in that wonderful master bedroom each morning and making coffee in that fabulous up-to-date kitchen!
When it comes to personal items that are used on a daily basis, they can easily be stored out of sight in a closet or cabinet if each family member keeps their items in a basket. This includes toothpaste, toothbrushes, etc. as well as personal effects like homework, mail and keys. Try to charge cell phones, laptops and other items at night and store the adapters out of sight when not in use.
Laundry & Dirty Dishes.....
While your house is being marketed, it must be cleaner than clean! All surfaces, accessories and windows must sparkle and nothing should be left lying about; this includes laundry and dirty dishes. There are so many products on the market today which shorten cleaning time (Swiffers, Clorox wipes, Windex wipes to name a few) and if used on a daily basis, the house will always be in ‘showing condition'. There is also something to be said for ‘being up to date' with the laundry; you should never have more than one load that needs to washed at any given time. In that case, it can always sit in the washer until you have an opportunity to turn it on. For those who have a dishwasher, the problem of what to do with those dirty dishes is solved, however for anyone who must wash ‘by hand', it is imperative that you clean, dry and store away the dishes/pots as soon as the meal is completed; we're talking not even a drain basket on the counter!
I am a lover of all the creatures on the earth - I have 4 dogs and a bird at the present time and I've had my share of turtles, fish, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, cats, and even hermit crabs while the kids were growing up. I don't make the rules here, so please take what I am about to say as a simple fact of life and Real Estate; not everyone likes pets. Some people have allergies, and others have phobias (like snakes). There are odors that are emitted from certain pets (generally from caged/contained animals). All in all, it is best to keep pets out of the house while it is being shown. This may involve having someone care for the pet(s) in their own home until your house sells. One thing is for certain and that is that it is very difficult for most buyers to embrace or relate to a house full of animals/creatures! A final note here: make sure that all traces of the pet(s), such as feeding and water dishes, are stored out of sight.
Many Realtors recommend baking something in order to create a pleasing smell. I don't think that hurts, but who honestly has the time to do that every time that the house is being shown (not just the Open Houses)? If the house is kept clean, as recommended above, that should help to create a clean scent. Cooking certain foods (fish, and many ethnic foods) will increase the chances of the house having a certain ‘odor' that some people may not be accustomed to. My advice is to avoid cooking those type of meals before showings (if possible). I also recommend that the house is ‘aired out' on a daily basis - even on the coldest days, a few minutes of fresh air coming into the house will not be harmful. Try to stay clear of sprays and ‘plug-ins' which only ‘mask' the odors and may even affect buyers who are sensitive to that type of smell.
Pricing the house to sell.........
Through my involvement with many Realtors I learn all kinds of interesting information about the Real Estate industry. One situation that is of serious concern to most Realtors is that in which the seller insists that the house sell for a specific price/price range. I can only hope that what I about to say will help today's sellers to understand the importance of not only trusting your Realtor implicitly, but allowing the agent to do that which they are trained and qualified to do. Realtors know their industry. They are well aware that the house down the street from yours might have sold for an exceptionally high price, but they would also understand the reason(s) why. A good Realtor will do a large amount of ‘prep work' before coming to look at your house. They will provide you with what is called a ‘comparable market analysis' which will include what houses similar to yours are listed for and what others have sold for. The final caveat that I must convey to you is that your house has to be appraised by the mortgage lender and the selling price needs to be realistic enough to meet what the bank determines as the house's value. If not, that could be a ‘deal breaker', so please listen to your Realtor and understand that they want your house to sell as quickly and profitably as possible! The talk is that the ‘market' is in bad shape, however houses are selling if they are priced right and presented well!
Best wishes for your successful sale!
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