When my husband and I put our first house on the market, we were determined to make someone fall as deeply in love with it as we were. We cleaned, polished, de-personalized and de-cluttered. Someone would surely appreciate our vibrant color palette (brick red in the hallway!) and consider the small bedrooms to be “charming” – or so we thought. When only three people showed up to our first open house, and not one showed any interest, we were dumbfounded. The house was in the best condition it had ever been. What was wrong with these people?
We realized, too late, that the problem wasn’t their expectations, it was ours. We let our heart do the work our calculator should have been doing. We priced our house too high. It didn’t help that the year was 2005, and the house was in Michigan, the exact time and place where the real estate market started to grind to a halt. We also thought that whoever bought our home would be carbon copies of ourselves – a young family. The person who eventually purchased our home was in her nineties. Her vision, without a doubt, was different from ours.
“There are four factors that affect the sale of your home,” says Lillian Montalto, owner/broker of Lillian Montalto Signature Properties in Andover, Mass. “Two of them you can control, and two of them you do not control. “The ones that you control are condition and price. The ones that you do not control are location and competition.”
In order to sell your home quickly and at the best price:
Focus on first impressions: “I can tell how a house is going to look on the inside by the way it looks on the front porch and front door,” says Linda Mildon, Realtor with RE/MAX Affiliates in Florence, KY. Put a fresh coat of paint on the front door. Cut the grass, trim the shrubs and add fresh mulch. “Curb appeal is huge,” she says.
Declutter: “Remove everything in the house that might be personal,” says Montalto. That includes photographs, plants, your children’s artwork and anything affixed to the fridge. Put a fresh coat of paint on the walls and choose a muted color. That chair you always tripped over? Now’s the time to move it to the garage. “You want to have the least amount of furniture in the room, and you want it placed properly.” In the kitchen, hide drying racks, paper towels and tissues in cabinets. In the bathroom, remove plungers, toilet bowl brushes and rugs, which can make the space look smaller.
Let the light shine: If you have heavy drapery, take it down and replace with something that lets in the light. And wash those windows, both inside and out, Montalto says. Make sure your light bulbs are all high wattage, and turn them all on when you have a showing.
Keep the house “showing” ready: Keeping your house constantly neat is not easy, but Montalto offers this 10-minute home-showing preparation guide: Put dishes in the dishwasher, wipe down the countertops, empty the garbage, make the beds, vacuum or sweep, put fresh towels in the bathroom, wipe down the sink and tub, turn on all the lights and open the blinds. And then leave the house, because the buyer doesn’t like being there when you are.
Create online appeal: For most buyers, the website listing of your home will determine whether they arrange for a showing. So, put away your smartphone camera and hire a professional photographer. Kitchen and bath images are the most important ones to include, says Wendy Froehlich, vice president of marketing for Homes.com, but include as many pictures of the home as possible. When writing your listing, don’t get too creative. “Don’t use fluffy words or descriptions that leave people thinking, ‘What in the world is that?’” says Froehlich. Focus on descriptive, enticing and easy-to-interpret phrases such as “mature trees,” “oversized garage” and “charming cottage.”
Contain pets and kids: Definitely lock up your pets during a showing, but also hide all evidence of their existence, such as pet food bowls and chew toys. If you have children, have them pick a small number of toys to play with during the period you’re showing your home to prospective buyers. Then pack away everything else.
Be odor-aware: Have carpets and furniture cleaned to get rid of any pet or smoke odors. If you enjoy cooking with exotic spices, you might put the halt on them until you’re in your new home.
Price the home properly: Once your home is ready to go on the market, pick a price that is fair and pinned to your local market. “If you price a property above the market, it’s going to sit there and it’s going to collect dust,” says Montalto. “If you price it at market or just a hair under, you’re going to get multiple offers.”
After 30 years in the real estate business, Montalto has determined this formula to be true: If you’re having a lot of showings but no offers, your house is probably priced 4 to 6 percent too high. If you only get driveups but no showings, your price is more than 12 percent off. “Right now supply is low and demand is high,” she says. “Properties are selling.” So if yours has been on the market for a while and hasn’t sold, reassess its condition and your asking price.