(This is Part 1 of a four-part series.

(This is Part 1 of a four-part series. See Part 2: Home staging works real estate miracles, Part 3: Real estate agents tap ‘Feng Shui’ advice and Part 4: Real estate agents sell ‘lucky’ houses.)

If you’re stuck with a listing that won’t sell even when the price is right, making a few changes may be exactly what you need to replace the “for sale” sign with a “sold.”

I remember the early ’90s when we were in the worst buyers’ market I have ever experienced. Nothing was selling. At one of our meetings, someone suggested burying a Saint Joseph statue in the backyard. Several agents tried it and it worked–well at least sometimes it worked.

An important question all listing agents must address is how to best advise the seller to prepare their home for sale. Do you hire a professional to “stage” the home? How about an interior decorator to make it look terrific? Does it make sense to replace the carpets? How about painting? Should you call in a Feng Shui expert to “change the energy”? Does it make sense to pay for expensive upgrades? There is no one right answer to these questions, but here are a series of simple guidelines.

The Basics:

1. Clean is a necessity.

Very few people are willing to tolerate a dirty house. Granted, there are buyers who love fixers or who actively search for probates, but the large majority of buyers prefer squeaky-clean properties. If the sellers are unwilling to clean up their property, ask them if they are willing to take a 10 percent reduction in their purchase price. This question normally captures their attention. Dirty, cluttered properties do not command the same price as “pride of ownership.” Be sure to have the windows and screens cleaned, all junk removed from closets and the garage, and any unnecessary clothes or other unused items placed in storage. If the sellers do not have the time, suggest a cleaning service. It is also advisable to locate a company that removes “junk” from properties. This can be particularly handy after the transaction closes and the sellers leave their junk for the buyer to cleanup.

2. Love me–love my pet

Fluffy may be adorable and the owners may not be able to smell the “pet smell,” but outside visitors can. Like smoking odors, pet smells can be particularly difficult to remove. The best course of action is to have the owner board their pet elsewhere while their home is on the market. It’s a nightmare for all involved if a pet disappears or is hurt because it escaped during a showing. Encourage sellers to protect their animals by keeping them elsewhere. If the sellers are unable or unwilling to board their animals, recommend they purchase a quality air purifier. This will eliminate a large portion of the odors. When all else fails, a can of air freshener and plenty of scented candles can sometimes mask the smells. Regardless of whether the sellers board their pets, have them clean the carpets, the drapes, furniture, as well as any surfaces where the pet normally spends time. The same recommendation applies to smokers. Once the house is clean, have the smoker smoke outside.

3. Less is more

Homes crammed with furniture, walls covered with family photos, or cluttered countertops all convey the same message: “This is my home filled with my possessions.” This makes it particularly difficult for the buyer to imagine their belongings in the property. If the buyers cannot picture themselves living in the property, there is a high probability they will continue to search elsewhere. To assist the seller in removing these items, tell them the truth, i.e., “To obtain the highest price possible for your property, the buyers will need to picture your property as their home.” This means removing as many personal mementos as possible. Cluttered properties seldom bring as much purchase price as properties that look spacious and organized. Have the sellers clean the closets, clean the garage and clean the attic. They will have to do this eventually–why not do it when it can help them achieve a higher purchase price?

4. Fix it!

Repair anything that is broken or not functioning properly. Buyers make snap decisions about property condition. While the house may be structurally sound and all major systems working properly, unpainted trim, a leaky faucet and an inoperable doorbell can give the impression the property is in poor condition. To give the best impression possible, replace damaged screens and gutters, and re-caulk where needed. Remember, a poor impression leads to a smaller sales price.

5. Corral the kids

While you can’t ask the sellers to board the children, make sure the children’s toys are put away. If the seller is short on space, you may want to “loan” the seller some large plastic storage boxes to store toys during the listing period. Store the boxes in the garage during showings. Toys can be dangerous, especially for adults who wear bifocals and cannot see the floor clearly.

Want to learn how to “stage” a home? If so, watch for next Friday’s column.

Bernice Ross is an owner of Realestatecoach.com and can be reached at bernice@realestatecoach.com.


What’s your opinion? Send your Letter to the Editor to newsroom@inman.com.

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