While most economic indicators show that the recession is over, the real estate market continues to lag behind. Even in historically hot real estate strongholds, such as Las Vegas, San Francisco, Phoenix and Miami, houses often stay on the market for many months without selling.
And while it may be a tough time to sell a home, you can greatly improve the odds if you’re willing to invest some time and sweat in prepping your home for sale. Long gone are the days of simply calling a Realtor and then waiting for buyers to outbid each other. You must be proactive. Here are five steps to take to attract serious buyers.
1. Enhance the curb appeal. First impressions are never more important than when trying to sell a home. Put yourself in the shoes of a prospective buyer. Stand near the street and look with an objective eye at your house, yard, driveway, and gardens. Make note of all items that need to be fixed, painted, cleaned or removed.
How important is curb appeal? Consider this: Most people pass judgment on your house within the first 30 seconds. And that’s before ever setting foot inside! Here are some quick and easy ways to enhance curb appeal:
- Be sure the lawn is neatly trimmed and free of leaves.
- Prune shrubs and hedges, and remove dead limbs from trees.
- Fill flowerbeds with fresh mulch and plant brightly colored flowers.
- Apply a fresh coat of sealer to worn asphalt driveways; power wash concrete driveways.
- Clear the front and side yards of all extraneous stuff, such as bicycles, lawnmowers, garden tools, ladders, trashcans, and wheelbarrows.
- Inspect the house exterior for things that need to be fixed or replaced, such as ripped window screens, sagging gutters, broken balusters or peeling paint. Pay particular attention to the entryway steps and front door.
2. Beautify the interior. The instant prospective buyers enter your home they should be taken by the understated elegance of the interior, not assaulted by a cacophony of loud colors and eye-spinning patterns.
If necessary, repaint walls soft, neutral colors, and remove wallpaper with bright colors or overly elaborate patterns.
Remove threadbare rugs and refinish worn hardwood floors.
Clean the windows and open all drapes and blinds to emit as much daylight as possible. It’s also advisable to turn on all lights and lamps to give your home a bright, lived-in look.
3. Clear out the clutter. When a buyer walks through your home it’s imperative they see the true potential of each room. But that’s not possible when rooms are cluttered with an overabundance of furniture, books, toys, knickknacks, and other belongings. Plus, rooms appear smaller and darker when overfilled.
Therefore, kill the clutter by removing one or two pieces of furniture from each room. Thin out items from all closets, shelves and tabletops. And remove family photos, portraits, and other personal affects. You want the homebuyers to see the house as theirs, not yours. Most real estate agents recommend that sellers remove up to 50% of the stuff from each room.
Also consider hiring a professional home stager to prep your home for sale. Stagers will thin out much of your stuff, rearrange furniture, and add room accessories, such as rugs, paintings and pillows. Remember, you’re not trying to sell your things you’re selling the space. And buyers cannot visualize interior spaces when blinded by too much stuff.
4. Inspect kitchen and bathrooms. Interested homebuyers might accept a badly painted bedroom or a dining room with dingy paneling, but few will give serious consideration to a home with a kitchen or bathroom that’s dirty and in disrepair.
Start by cleaning all kitchen appliances—inside and out—and replace any that aren’t fully operational or that are seriously outdated.
Wash dirt and grease from the cabinets and range hood. Scrub the sink clean and polish the faucet. And never allow a buyer see the sink filled with dirty dishes. If the refrigerator is hidden behind a hodgepodge of photos, calendars and school projects, clean it off.
De-clutter the countertops to help maximize the space, and remove all items stored or displayed above the cabinets. If necessary, replace all the cabinet door handles and drawer pulls to lend a new, upgraded look to the kitchen.
In the bathroom, scrub all surfaces spotless, including the floors, walls, vanity, sink, toilet, tub, and shower. Organize linen closets and hang a new shower-curtain liner. Fix leaky faucets, clean stained tile grout, and check to be sure that all toilets flush properly. (Yes, homebuyers will be flushing your toilets.) Clear the vanity top of all small bottles, cups and toiletries. Replace a small bathroom mirror with a larger one to give the illusion of more space.
5. Hire a home inspector. Once, not all that long ago, a seller never would’ve even considered hiring a home inspector. That was the responsibility of the buyer, not the seller. But desperate times call for desperate—but wise—measures.
In a tough-to-sell climate, having your home inspected prior to putting it on the market is a very smart strategy. First, the inspection will reveal trouble spots—small and large—and give you the opportunity to fix them before listing the home.
And, being able to show a recent inspection report to prospective buyers will be proof-positive that the home is in good shape. Now, most buyers will still want to hire their own inspector, but at least you’ll have the peace of mind in knowing that there’s little chance of something major popping up.
You definitely don’t want to find out at the closing that the furnace is shot or the mudsill is rotted. Those sorts of surprises can lead to just two possible outcomes, and both are bad: The buyers will either 1) demand a drastic price reduction to cover the cost of making the necessary repairs, or 2) withdraw their offer and ask for the return of their deposit.
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