Just because you are still enamored with your extensive Barbie collection, don't assume that everyone else is as well. As a full-time Realtor for the past 10 years, I have seen some great houses that wouldn't sell, simply because the owners couldn't get their own personalities out of the way. Below is a list of things you can do to help sell your house, and most of them cost little or no money.
I wasn't kidding about the Barbie collection. My buyer clients and I walked into a house that was decent enough and met their basic criteria. Then we walked into the master bedroom. It was a shrine to Barbie. Literally dozens of Barbie's, still in their boxes, took their place of prominence on every horizontal surface in the room. In a bachelor's house. It's sort of that feeling you get when you walk in on your parents. Even though the house met my clents' basic criteria, they took it off the list, because they couldn't see past the Barbie display. You might think my buyers were immature, but you must understand that they are in control of whether they buy your house, not you. Sometimes buyers make big decisions using little details to guide them. While you might love your Barbie collection, others probably don't, so get out your "It's Moving Day" Barbie and store those collectibles away. Leave room in your house for the buyer to mentally move in their own things. Quite often I see military families make this mistake as well. While I am quite proud and supportive of our troops, I don't recommend displaying pictures or plaques that remind people of some disturbing scenes. Home is a sanctuary. Keep it quiet for the buyers by removing anything that might disturb their peace.
Recently, I came into a house as a potential listing agent to interview for the listing. Long ago, I made the commitment to speak my mind, politely but firmly, about what issues I find. I have no desire to list a house I can't sell. This particular home was beautifully redone, from top to bottom, and sat in a very good section of town. It had been on the market, however, for two years. Obviously something was wrong. Besides being overpriced, the house was absolutely packed with furniture. The couple had married and combined furniture, so literally there were two houses of furniture in one space. Even though they were all very nice pieces, it made the house look llike a furniture showroom, instead of a home. Buyers need to be able to place their own furniture into a room, without tripping over yours. It is far cheaper to rent a mini-storage and pack away a few of your things, than to let your house sit on the market for two years. After the sellers moved out some of their stuff, the house went under contract in 28 days, and we got a backup offer as well.
My house is full of carpet stains. We manage to hide most of them, and if you don't like the rest of them, don't come over or clean 'em yourself. That's a fine attitude for us, because we aren't planning to sell. If you have pets, if you smoke, if you have kids (or husbands) who like to run with peanut butter and jelly, this will be a hard area for you to fix. It is SO important though. Getting those spots cleaned up will keep your potential buyers from forming a negative opinion of your home. It shows a pride of ownership, which puts the buyer's mind at ease about the rest of the house and the parts she can't see.
There is nothing worse than coming into a bedroom and seeing dirty underwear. Clean underwear isn't much better. If you are really serious about selling your house, pick up everything, everyday. Clean and put away the dishes. Put toys in the right place. Your dog's favorite bone needs to be tucked away. The litter box should be clean. The toilets should be spotless. Selling your house is a pain. You are under the microscope 24/7, and you never know when a Realtor will drive up unannounced with a car full of buyers and want to see your house with little or no notice. Although we try not to let that happen, sometimes circumstances don't work out that way. If a buyer can't get in right then, quite often they will take the home off the list. I know that's not fair, but buyers are not always fair. Buying a home can be just as stressful and overwhelming as selling one.
Just the other day, I walked into a house with some buyers, and I nearly threw up. Somebody got the "I'm an HGTV star" complex and starting painting and changing the carpet. I kid you not, when I say the room was a combination of mauve carpet and pink walls. It looked like a collision of Pepto and Grape Nehi, and we got the indigestion. While you live in the house, paint the whole thing purple, if you want to. But when you decide to sell it, you need to begin to move yourself out of the house. That includes your tacky paint colors. Spec builders use beige for a reason. It sells. That also brings to mind a real pet peeve I have with homeowners. Just because Lowe's says you can "Do-It-Yourself" doesn't make it so. If you don't know how to keep wall paint off the ceililng, if you don't know how to properly caulk nail holes, if you don't know how to cut a straight line, this is for you: "STEP AWAY FROM THE PAINT BRUSH!!!!" Your bad paint job will cost you thousands of dollars, much more than the cost of a professional painter. When people see what a bad job you have done, they will price in a new paint job, even if they like the colors you picked.
Sometimes we have 20-30 houses to look at over the course of only one or two days. Imagine trying to remember all those houses. The last thing you want the buyer to associate with your wonderful home is how smelly it was. Your cigarettes must be completely undetectable, and you won't be able to discern that. Only a non-smoker who is not acquainted with your house will be able to tell. The litter box must be clean. Cat pee is a sure-fire way to ruin a first impression. Scented candles in every room is almost worse than the cats. The scent is overpowering and makes people think you're trying to hide something. One house had so many candles burning, we had to leave the front door open for ventilation. That house got crossed off the list. It's a little unfair, but the buyer is the one who makes that decision. Don't give her a reason to walk away with her nose in the air, firmly pinched between two fingers.
Dogs and cats
Here's where I get in trouble. I know you love your pet. I know he's precious. I know he's just being affectionate. I also know that the buyers don't want to be bothered with Fido and Sparkles. Barking dogs will turn away a buyer, even if that buyer has pets of his own. If there's any way to get your pets out of the picture, it would be a bonus. If not in a kennel, then in the garage or outside. If you have a large or somewhat aggressive dog, this is especially important. Do you want the buyers to remember your house as the one with the mean guard dog or as the one with the beautiful hardwood floors?
Maybe you've noticed by now that I haven't mentioned price. It's the elephant in the room. We all know price is important, but it's not the only factor. In fact, it's one of the few things on the list over which you have little control. The market dictates price, not your mortgage amount or your bills that are piling up or your upcoming world cruise. This is a harsh reality, but you must respect the market. Quite often people will stubbornly stick to an unreasonable price for their houses and miss real opportuniites to sell. For every month you overprice the market, you are making yet another interest payment. Add those up and pretty soon, you've spent a great deal more money than you would have spent, if you had lowered the price to a reasonable level in the first place. Get an objective opinion of value. Your 1970s Brady Bunch era ranch with orange shag carpet and harvest gold appliances might really trip your trigger, but don't expect anyone to pay top dollar for it. Just because you don't mind a tiny bathroom with a pink tub, don't expect everyone to feel the same way. And just because you took out a huge line of credit to pay for that new bass boat with cruise control and XM radio, don't expect anyone to be willing to pay for it through an inflated house price.
Selling a house is like a going on a blind date. You never know if this buyer is "the one", so make your house ready every time. An attractive, well-priced house will sell, regardles of the market conditions.