The following is a reprint of my column that appeared in Frontiers In L.A. magazine on June 17th, 2010.
Selling a home in any market can be a major undertaking, even more so in a buyers' market such as the one we're in now. It's a major life change. As a Realtor, I always want to see my clients get top dollar, with no money left on the table, and we both want it done as quickly as possible. The longer a house sits on the market, the less it's ultimately going to sell for. A few pointers and guidelines will help you achieve a smooth, successful sale and get you on your way to your next destination.
The first and single most important thing on your “to do” list is to price your home correctly. There is no over-emphasizing this. Be as objective as possible when reviewing comparable sales with your agent (comparable sales are recently sold properties similar in size, area and condition). Listen to what the market is telling you (your agent is only the messenger). Coming on the market too high will result in your missing out on those first critical weeks – your best chance to get the house sold. Find the sweet spot that gets the most eyes on your property and in turn, the most qualified buyers from which to choose. A good strategy is pricing your home 5% under the nearest comp, making yours the best looking home at the best price.
One of the most important things I tell my sellers from day one is that you'll need to begin letting go of the home on an emotional level from the time you decide to sell. From this point on, begin seeing it as a product. Potential buyers aren't buying your memories. They're buying their future, and that's what you want them to see when they're viewing the home. Box up personal photos, most of your books, and your personal tchotchkes, knick knacks, doo-dads and what-nots. That googly-eyed thing you bought at a rest stop outside of Barstow? It's gotta go. Clear off the fridge doors, including your kid's finger paintings. Anything that might distract from the house itself is fair game.
Show the home furnished just enough that a buyer can see themselves in it. Many sellers temporarily rent a storage unit to put excess furniture and belongings. Don't shove it in the closets or fill up the garage with these items. Buyers will open closets and want to see the garage, and you don't want to give the impression that the house isn't big enough or lacks storage space. Create vignettes in each room using furniture and accessories. Don't hold back on things like pillows, rugs, plants, vases etc to give the home a warm, lived in feeling. Set out a cookbook in the kitchen. Set up the dining room table with full place settings. Put bright new towels in the bathroom, as well as new soaps and lotions. Set a bed tray on the bed with a newspaper and a coffee cup. Anything to give the illusion of a lifestyle.
Now this next one is very important. CLEAN that house from top to bottom, and not just once. Have it cleaned weekly, until it sells. Nobody wants to smell dog when they first walk in the house, they don't want to see dishes in the sink and they don't want to see soap scum all over your shower. Trust me, it's worth every penny. And get a second opinion on how the house smells...you might not notice it anymore – especially stale cigarette smoke.
Consider spending a few dollars on minor repairs and improvements that will help you get top dollar. Simple things like replacing dead light bulbs, repairing leaky faucets and patching holes and cracks to minor landscaping improvements are all good ideas. Curb appeal is essential, and shows pride of ownership. If your yard is lacking a certain visual aesthetic, you might not even get a buyer into the front door. Two words: first impression. We all know you only get to make one. Keep the lawn mowed, hedges and bushes trimmed, and consider planting some inexpensive flowers. New window treatments can make a huge difference in a room and don't have to cost a lot. Temporarily remove window screens while on the market, and make sure windows are clean.
A new coat of paint is one of the cheapest improvements you can make with the best return. Also, if you have any interiors that are painted crimson red or chocolate brown or royal blue or something similar, consider repainting with a softer, more neutral color. Again, you want people to see the house, not your taste. Not all buyers have “vision.”
Avoid being home when your agent is showing it. It distracts buyers and they don't feel free to say how they really feel about the house. Let the agent you hired do their job, and you'll be handing over the keys to a happy new owner in no time!