What Do Buyers Want? Sprinkles or Filling?

Industry Observer with Swanepoel T3 Group

Most folks used to be content with a nice slice of yellow cake on a special occasion. Now people want elaborately flavored and decorated cupcakes every day of the week.

Some home buyers have also seen one too many cupcake shows on HGTV and think more about the sprinkles than is good for them. But even these buyers may not be willing to pay for for everything they say they want.

An over-improved house -- if over-priced to match -- can be harder to sell than the more modest home. Very few buyers will pay for extravagant personal choices that the previous owner made.

So what do buyers really want when they are choosing a home?

1) Buyers want a deal: only a few buyers say "steal" a house but they do want to know that they are getting the most value for the money.

2) Buyers want a clean house. Not just a tidied-up house, but a house with clean baseboards, windows, siding, refrigerator and cabinets. Clean carpets are essential, no one needs to know you got  a new puppy last year.

3) Buyers want a house with a neutral palette to make it easy for to imagine their unique decorating plans.

4) Buyers want current light fixtures and hardware. Light fixtures are essential to showing how nice a room can look -- or not. Buyers prefer brushed nickle, stainless or bronze finish hardware.

5) Buyers want updated kitchens and baths. You may not be able to completely remodel your kitchen, but some freshening up can make a big difference.

6) Buyers want a garage that looks big enough for their cars. A 2 car garage needs to look large enough to hold 2 cars, not 1 car and piles of stuff. Rent a storage locker for excess.

7) Buyers want rooms that look like their intended purpose. A dining room needs to look like it's for eating and entertaining, not a sports locker or data center.

8) Buyers want a house with reasonable energy costs. While most buyers in our area won't pay substantially more for "green" and "energy efficient" improvements, they do want to know what it will cost to heat and cool the house.

9) Buyers want a house that fits their stage of life and activities. Don't be discouraged if your house isn't a perfect fit for all buyers but you should market aggressively to your target.

10) Buyers want a place to make their own. Make your home into a house that the next owner can easily envision himself living in.

If you are thinking of selling a home in St. Charles, Geneva, Batavia, Wayne, Elburn or South Elgin, I would be happy to show you what you need to do to make your house sellable in this market. Give me a call at (630)945-7935 and we can arrange a visit.


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  1. Cheryl Ritchie 04/23/2011 07:14 AM
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John Hopkins
Nakoni Appraisal - Renton, WA

Nice list Leslie, here is one more for you.

Buyers don't want to deal with tenants:  Unless it is income property, tenants make showing, inspections, appraisals much more difficult, and the worry of will the tenant vacate turns many buyers off.

Feb 12, 2011 03:53 AM #72
Kate Akerly
Kaminsky Group - Manhattan Beach, CA
Manhattan Beach Residential Sales

Great post!  I would add a few things off the top of my head for those buying into "vertical" living (i.e. condos or co-ops in an urban environment):

1.  Lots of windows with decent views.  They don't have to be dramatic in lower price ranges, but too few windows or restricted light caused by nearby buildings are tough sells.

2.  Outdoor space - not everyone can have it, but it's highly desirable.

3.  Wood burning fireplce -they're the ultimate urban amenity.

4.  Elevator access - walk-ups are just tough sells to non-renters unless you're buying the whole building.

5.  Some onsite amenities, but nothing that drives up the common charges.  Gyms, laundry, and roof decks are great.  On site spas, free breakfasts or drinks, valet parking, or other extravagent services add a lot to monthly carrying costs and many people don't even take advantage of them.

6.  Washer and dryer - NYC purchasers used to be willing to deal with laundry facilities in the building.  Demand for washer and dryers in the apartment is increasing.  

Most of the points in your post also apply to apartments!  Thanks for the insight. 

Feb 12, 2011 04:08 AM #73
Brad Hornshaw
Brad Hornshaw Realtor Lynnwood, Bothell, Everett - Lynnwood, WA
Realtor, Listing Agent, Buyers Agent, Investments

Hi Leslie   

Don't foget number 11. Buyers want a screamin Deal.........Brad

Feb 12, 2011 05:39 AM #74
Robert Courtney
Lihue, HI
Century 21 All Islands, RA, CDPE, MCRE, CIAS

Feel comfortable!  And all the above.

Feb 12, 2011 06:22 AM #75
Jan Laurie
JL Residential Styling & Staging - Nanaimo, BC

Great blog Leslie. Home sellers need to be reminded about their target market and how to present their house, inside and out, to appeal to those people. When buyers make their short list you, as a seller, want to have done everything within your power to keep your house at the top of the list.

This is why Realtors/clients hire a professional Home Stager to help. We come in, ideally before the MLS photos are taken. With fresh eyes and knowledge of target markets and design principles we can do wonders to amp up your presentation. 

Feb 12, 2011 07:05 AM #76
Erik Reilly
Remax Shores Nassau Suffolk Queens Counties - Oceanside, NY
Long Island NY, CDPE e-Pro Lic RE Associate Broker

On listing appointments I almost always give the sellers "homework" and let them know that the pricing I have suggested is based on them doing all the "homework". I have gone as far as saying that the 6 or 7 cats in the house are costing them IMO "x" number of thousands of dollars, that although it is their house and they can choose to live the way they wish, that when it comes to marketing it, I look at it as inventory and if it isn't pristine we will have to accept a lot less. Some get it some don't or can't.

Feb 12, 2011 08:16 AM #77
Suzi Sandore
RealtyONEGroup - San Diego, CA
North County San Diego Homes

Leslie, thanks for the well written article. Sometimes sellers are oblivious to the things we notice as soon as we walk in the door, especially when it comes to cleanliness and clutter. Having a concise list like this to present gets the point across without offending. And I would add one more line about dog and cat smells and stains.


Feb 12, 2011 10:30 AM #78
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Yesterday I spent some time trying to think of the term for a house that is overbuilt or over-improved for the neighborhood.

I still haven't remembered...

Feb 12, 2011 04:26 PM #79
Lyn Sims
RE/MAX Suburban - Schaumburg, IL
Schaumburg IL Real Estate

Cleanliness is not unrealistic.  Granite in a starter townhome is.  Great post on what buyers are looking for.

Feb 13, 2011 01:22 AM #80
Sylvie Stuart
Realty One Group Mountain Desert 928-600-2765 - Flagstaff, AZ
Home Buying, Home Selling and Investment - Flagsta

Great post! Very true. Price it right, have it show-ready!

Feb 13, 2011 02:36 PM #81
DeeDee Riley
Lyon Real Estate - El Dorado Hills CA - El Dorado Hills, CA
Realtor - El Dorado Hills & the Surrounding Areas

Leslie, This is a great list.  I would love to share it on my facebook page if you don't mind!!!

Feb 14, 2011 02:24 PM #82
Pat Tasker
Shorewest Realtors - Germantown, WI
Your Milwaukee Metro Area Agent (WI)

Leslie, two features in a row!  congrats!  I would love to use this list...you are so right, those tv shows really put ideas of grandeur in the buyers heads...

And to answer your question sprinkles or filling? they eant BOTH and for a GREAT PRICE!

Feb 14, 2011 03:02 PM #83
Samantha Smith
214.422.0729 www.SamIAmHouses.com - Rowlett, TX
Sam I Am Houses, d+b Real Estate, Lake Ray Hubbard

Leslie - great list! I need to add a few to my list, like the base boards - so true!, to hand the seller when we're getting the house ready to put on the market!

Feb 14, 2011 04:52 PM #84
Laura J. Lycans
Sandhills Choice Realty, LLC - Southern Pines, NC
Your Dream + My Passion = Success!!

Well Said!! I get so tired of hearing "I watch HGTV all the time!" my first thought is Oh goody....

Feb 15, 2011 01:29 AM #85
Armando Montelongo
Armando Montelongo Companies - San Antonio, TX

Spot on. Buyers want a house that will look cozy and ready to move into NOW. People will definitely want to improve it by adding their own personal touch, maybe repaint certain rooms to fit their styles, but when it comes to presenting it, it must look neutral and ready to be moved into ASAP.


Great post!

Feb 15, 2011 04:19 AM #86
Paul Armstrong
Realty Network - Laguna Hills, CA
Serving Orange County & The Long Beach Area

Great post Leslie, that's exactly what buyers want! 

Feb 16, 2011 04:28 AM #87
Sharon Alters
Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty - 904-673-2308 - Fleming Island, FL
Realtor - Homes for Sale Fleming Island FL

Leslie, younger buyers don't want to wait for anything. They want granite in the kitchen of their first house, if at all possible. They especially want a neutral palette. Spot on post.

Feb 18, 2011 12:14 PM #88
Leslie Ebersole
Swanepoel T3 Group - Saint Charles, IL
I help brokers build businesses they love.

Frank & Sharon: I know, sigh. I was excited to have a mailbox and a driveway.

Paul: thanks

Armando: some people have a hard time taking on work....

Laura: maybe we should threaten back that we'll show 3 and they need to pick one in 1/2 hour!

Samantha: I also have a thing about baseboards!

Pat: and they'll stomp until they get it

Dee Dee: go ahead as long as it links back here.

Sylvie: thanks

Lyn: soap is cheap and water is free...clean solves a lot of objections!


Feb 18, 2011 02:20 PM #89
Leslie Ebersole
Swanepoel T3 Group - Saint Charles, IL
I help brokers build businesses they love.

Marte: I will think about it, too.

Suzi: I love my animals (2 dogs, 2 cats, 2 kids). But I would seriously consider sending them all away if I had to sell my house.

Erik: I agree, it's just such a tightrope.

Jan: Stagers who work a particular market or property type are invaluable.

Robert: yes!

Brad: But the screaming deals might not be the prettiest

Akerly: I admit everything I know about vertical living is from HGTV, so thanks for your list.

John: isn't that the truth...tenants can help a seller out of a tight spot, but they can kill sellability the next year.

Kimberly: hard for me, I buy lots and location first. I can always fix a house.

Steven: frequently because there isn't money available.



Feb 18, 2011 02:34 PM #90
Leslie Ebersole
Swanepoel T3 Group - Saint Charles, IL
I help brokers build businesses they love.

Liz M: thanks for the detailed comment, I'm guessing you work as a stager! In my aream buyers at the upper price points fall into 2 groups....those who can visualize decorating on their own and prefer to see the bones of a house, and those who can't visualize well OR see past more dated decorating.

Gerard: getting the tricky stuff out of the way sure helps.

Feb 18, 2011 02:40 PM #91
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