When talking to my sellers, I try not to make the assumption that they know how to prepare their houses for marketing. After all, most people don't sell their homes very often, and it is difficult for an owner to be objective about marketing their property. One of my clients told me recently that my knowledge of successful marketing was one of the reasons she chose me for the job. Here are some of the suggestions I find helpful in marketing my clients homes:
Entry - I often think that first impressions are all important. Obviously you can only make them once. While the potential buyer is waiting for their agent to get the door open, they are looking around. The front yard, entry door and wood trim should all be in good shape. Repaint or re-stain the door if it is looking worn, polish the hardware, and put a nice seasonal pot of flowers or evergreens on the porch or stoop.
Smells - Smells often work subliminally to help a potential buyer feel that they are at home. There should be no pet odors, garbage odors, or worse yet, mildew odors! On the other hand, a house being marketed should not smell like a fake floral bouquet. Nothing is a "red flag" more than room deodorizers everywhere! If the seller likes to cook, and has advance notice of a showing, banana bread, or cookies are a great thing to bake shortly before the showing. If cooking is not an option, a brew of apple cider, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg can be simmered on the stove before the showing. Just don't leave it unattended! Pets - Everyone loves pets....THEIR OWN! Try to take pets with you before showings. Clean all cat boxes, dog beds, etc. to get rid of smells. Pet hair should be removed from furniture. Word of warning - do not trust a dog, or even a cat to be friendly with strangers while their owners are gone. A large dog in the back yard probably means that no one will look at the yard while they are there!
Windows - Years ago, when I first started in the business, I asked a successful agent what they had their buyers do to their homes prior to marketing. One of her answers was that they should clean all the windows. Nothing makes a house sparkle more, or gives the impression of cleanliness and good maintenance. Of course all window treatments should be open during showings to let in light and views. If the view is not great though, you might want to think again:)
Keys - Sure there is a key for the entry door, but what if the buyer's agent is trying to walk their clients out the French doors to the deck? Does the same key work? If not, have an appropriate key in an obvious place. Also, have keys for all storage rooms available, fence gates unlocked, and even the crawl space accessible.
Lights - Have them all on for showings. If you are not able to do it, ask us to do it!
Assets - Make the most of them. A seventy five thousand dollar pool and spa doesn't look like much if it has a cover over it for the winter, or the water is green. Extensive landscape is not attractive when it is full of weeds. Consider turning that whole house stereo system on low volume with quiet background music. If you think your house has an asset that should bring in more money when marketed, make the most of it!
Accent Paint, Borders and Wallpaper - One of the first things that relocation companies do before marketing the homes of transferees is neutralize the interiors. You may like Chinese Red, but is it going to appeal to the typical buyer? Ten different types of wallpaper, borders, and five types of floor covering will often put off that potential buyer. If you can afford it, think about neutralizing some of the accent decor prior to marketing.
Repairs - If it is economically feasible, get repairs done to your house prior to marketing it. Buyers often estimate the cost of an obviously needed repair as much higher than it actually is, and subtract that amount from potential offers. Several needed repairs can be a "red flag" to a buyer that your house has not been well maintained, or can be the reason buyers make you substantially under market offers.
Clean, Clean, Clean - Nobody wants to deal with someone else's dirt. All rooms should be clean, particularly the kitchen and bathrooms. Yes, you do need to get rid of that old mildew in showers and tubs! And while you are at it, think about storing excess furniture off-site to give your house a larger feeling. One more thing, a garage should not be a storage room or basement substitute. Consider cleaning it out so that a buyer can actually believe that their cars will fit in there!
Staging - This seems to be the current "solves all" problem fix for houses that are not moving, or so say many recent reality television shows. I tend to think most people cannot afford to refurnish their entire house in order to market it, but sometimes a few changes are beneficial. These can be as easy as vases of fresh flowers placed in several rooms, rearranging the existing furniture in a more pleasing way, or changing the art to reflect the style of your home's architecture. I guess the best advice is to be open to your agent's suggestions on such changes, or if you are not sure you agree with you agent's taste, consult with one of the many professionals out there for ideas if your home needs help.
Easy Showings - Nobody likes the inconvenience of marketing their house, but the name of the game is easy access for showings. Please do not make it difficult for Buyer's agents to show your house. Even short notice should be forgiven, if at all possible, in these hard economic times. Showings are few and far between, so you better not count on an agent attempting to reschedule after you have turned them down. There are simply too many other competing listings out there, and they are going to show the ones with easy access first. If your house is not showing; it is not selling! Keep the house clean and be ready to head out the door with the pets and/or children if necessary, even on short notice...
Pricing - OK, you have done all the above to the best of your ability, and yet, still no offers are coming in. For that matter, there are very few showings. Did you listen to your list agent when they presented their market evaluation, or did you over-price your house, and not take into consideration current market conditions? An overpriced listing often stays on the market for an extended period of time, becomes shop-worn, and eventually may sell for less than it would have initially, if it had been priced reasonably. No one can force a seller to price their house correctly, but do you really want to go through all of the above improvements, only to have your house sit on the market for months? Most likely you will also go through different listing agents out of frustration before actually pricing the house right. Please, please, please listen to the professional seller's agent when pricing your home!
Free Extras - Finally, consider throwing in some extras to make your house stand out from the competition. Rather than say that the fridge is negotiable, say that it remains. Think about throwing in a washer/dryer and/or a one year homeowners' warranty. It could be, particularly for first time home buyers, that these extras make the difference!