When I was looking for a home in Chicago a few of years ago, one of the most memorable tours was one I almost didn’t even take. I was keen to check out a foreclosure, which priced very low, in the exact location I desired. My agent sort of shook her head, muttering, “Foreclosures!” But she went ahead to try and set up the appointment anyway.
The listing agent took a while to get back to her. When we drove up one Saturday at noon, nobody answered the door. The front yard was filled with toys that looked recently used.
A week later, I got there early for the appointment. I was with a friend and we decided to knock on the door. Surprisingly the tenants answered. We let them assume one of us was the realtor and took a look around.
It was safe to assume that no one had toured this house in awhile. We spent ten minutes in there before escaping. It stayed on the market for more than a year after I bought my place.
These tenants did everything they could to discourage the house from selling. So I figured, let’s look at what they did wrong, and do the opposite.
Price It Right
First, simply, the best and easiest way to sell your home faster is to price it slightly under market value.
Hiring a great listing agent will be the single most important part of pricing the home. The right agent will ease every step of the process of negotiating and selling the home.
To find the sweet spot of pricing, they will objectively evaluate your home’s value, and they’ll take into account your ideal potential buyer, the general market trends, and when you want to list the home (the market changes with the seasons).
Agents also use their knowledge of trends give you advice how to best stage and upgrade your home to impress buyers and buyers’ agents.
The foreclosing home I visited was almost on the level of a squat, with the amount of garbage and food stuff all over the rooms, parrot cages loaded with droppings and frightened dogs in the basement aka “No thanks, I don’t need to see the basement!”
You know how it feels when you’ve cleaned your house top to bottom, and I mean dusting, vacuuming up and down, mopping, using natural fragrance (rosemary or lavender are faves), and then you decide to make cookies from scratch because gosh, life is great, and you’re on top of your stuff!
Well, the people who see your house will get that same feeling when they walk through a nice, clean-smelling, well kempt home.
Clean your windows, curtains, rugs, and overhead fans and lights. Clean out and leave space in cabinets and drawers, so that when people look around the storage space appears ample.
Also, board the doggies/cats/parrots/marmots/snakes, or bring them to a friend’s any time your agent plans to show the home. Buyers should feel comfortable to look freely and thoroughly around the property.
The back porch of the house was piled high with newspapers, recycling, water bottles, half-finished painting projects, bags of garbage waiting to be dragged to the alley.
It displayed the worst pack-rat tendencies, which is off-putting, to say the least. It also gives the impression the house doesn’t have enough storage space. And we know that most of us have clutter. The key here is not to remind buyers of it.
Disorganized bric-a-brac also projects an image that you’re deeply entrenched in your home, that you may be a reluctant seller. Are you? If not, don’t leave the detritus of your life on the back porch.
Remove personal items like photos on the mantel, and pack extra books, games, knick-knacks. This will help you start to de-home your home and make it poised to sell. The home should look clear and bright, uncluttered, and a bit generic, a blank palette.
People often use the idea of selling their home as a kind of motivation for downsizing or going through stuff. In some cases this is wishful thinking. I once fell in love with a house because the basement was so bright, organized and clean. It had been whitewashed and was dry as a bone even though it had rained that morning. (#notmylife)
Instead, think of clearing up as part of the preparation for selling. You’ll prime not just potential buyers for a sale, but yourself and your family, too.
Even if you’re looking to upgrade, space-wise, you’ll thank yourself later for going through stuff before you move.
Light It Up
Outside location, the natural light and use of space are obvious considerations for potential buyers. Agents will look for the use of space—whether the detailing and finishing is well done; whether the rooms are well-designed, or if the place has been oddly partitioned or renovated. The position of windows and size of rooms, and location for their various uses, are all important.
Make each room have a distinct purpose and nice way-through. This is one reason that although you don’t want the house to feel too lived-in, you also don’t want to show it empty if you can help it.
That said, too much furniture in a room is also clutter. People should not have to snake their way around to get from place to place. The kitchen particularly should feel open and well thought-out.
Do Reasonable Upgrades
A rehabbed home will sell for more—the conventional wisdom is often true. A non-rehabbed kitchen and bath will set your price down around $10K.
Whether that means you should spend over $10K on a kitchen redo just to recoup that expense, is another question.
Taking on a major renovation before selling is tricky—your ideal buyer may want to do the reno in their own style. You should also consider whether a renovation may put your home on the high end of prices in your neighborhood—which won’t stop it from selling, but may delay it.
Small but impactful upgrades will help show your home’s best side. Do the free stuff first (clean and declutter), then invest modestly in things that set off the home—fixtures, door handles, curtains, rugs. Some options include new toilet seats, door handles, window shades, fresh paint, clean grout and mold-free bathrooms—do these things first, and leave the bigger projects for the next owner.
Slightly bigger upgrades include replacing/refacing appliances, kitchen faucet and basin, backsplash, ceiling fans, and lighting fixtures.
An exception to this rule are problems that may come up in an inspection (heating/AC, water heater, leaks, foundational cracks, water pipes). These underlying systems of the house should be in decent shape for the house to sell, unless you’re selling it under market value as a gut rehab.
And don’t forget about curb appeal. The impression your home makes on a buyer begins when they pull up in front. Get rid of dead plants, cultivate the ones still living. Front door and lawn should be well-kept. Making sure your home is putting forth its best foot will make it sell easily, fast, and at the right price.
The last lesson I have from the squatters is easily digestable: make the house available to be seen. Make time, make space, make visitors welcome.