Any real estate professional will tell you that an occupied home will sell 30-50 percent faster than a vacant house. Additionally, it will command a higher sales price, by 5-6 percent. Vacant homes tend to expose every little imperfection because the eye has no distractions. This can be a significant problem in all but the newest residences.
A furnished or staged home appeals to the buyer's imagination. They can see what they would do with a room when given visual cues about its purpose. Also, curb appeal on an empty house can plummet rapidly if the property is not cared for appropriately. There are, of course, times when having an empty house on the market is unavoidable.
Vacant Homes Can Be Costly to Maintain
There are many ramifications to maintaining a vacant property for sale. Not only will you face dual mortgage payments and taxes, but the premiums on your homeowners insurance for the unoccupied house could well double. To the insurer, the risk profile of an unsupervised residential dwelling escalates dramatically due to the increased chance of vandalism and prolonged damage from malfunctioning home systems like the plumbing. Any leak from a broken pipe is bad, but three days of leakage generally trumps three hours.
Consider Hiring a Caretaker
One option is to engage the services of a caretaker. There are agencies that supply long-term house sitters for a fee, or sometimes no fee. There are actually people who live their lives as nomadic house sitters, moving from one property to another. They care for the home in exchange for a place to live for a few months.
This arrangement allows the owner to avoid issues with tenants who are paying rent and may have an expected length of occupancy. A sitter can usually be out of a home in as little as 10 days after closing, but vacating a renter in a timely fashion is more difficult. Using the services of a paid or unpaid caretaker also resolves the escalated insurance issue and can provide much greater peace of mind for the owner, especially if that person is living in another town or state.
Home Staging Can Speed the Sale of an Empty Property
If you are not comfortable with the caretaker option, at the very least consider hiring a company to stage the home with furnishings and decor. Most buyers have an astonishingly poor imagination about how a home would look furnished and "lived in." Even minimal furniture and the suggestion of purpose or use for a given room or area can dramatically speed up the sale process.
Maintain Curb Appeal at All Costs
It is also well worth your while to pay a yard service to keep the grass mowed and the bushes trimmed. Homes located in areas where fire ants and other problem pests are prevalent should be sprayed regularly while they are on the market. No buyer is going to want a property with a visibly entrenched fire ant presence in the yard, plus the insects are attracted to wiring and electrical systems and can cause serious physical damage if left unchecked.
It is also extremely important to keep swimming pools at vacant properties clean and well maintained. At one time a pool was a no-brainer in terms of enhancing a property's value. Now, many homeowners see a pool as a pit of added expenses and labor; something they just don't want to fool with. If they're wavering on the edge of that perception and step out in the backyard only to be confronted with a concrete swamp, they will beat a hasty retreat and take their checkbooks with them.
Vacant Homes Create a Psychological Disadvantage
The longer a home stays on the market, the more desperate the owner becomes to sell. This explains the price discrepancies in vacant houses. Never for a minute think that the prospective buyer, and especially his real estate agent, don't know that. They will, understandably, use that psychological advantage to negotiate a lower price -- especially when the house is obviously empty and has obviously been that way for quite some time.
Although it may be unavoidable to put a vacant home on the market, there are things you can do to make it look occupied or to see that it is occupied until it sells. This will lower maintenance costs, especially where insurance is concerned, maintain the home's condition, and insulate the seller against the psychological disadvantage of apparent desperation during price negotiations. Anything spent in keeping the home looking "lived in" will be recouped both in terms of speed of sale and dollar amount received.
article submitted on behalf of co-author Darrell Self.
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