3 tips for preparing a vacation home for sale

How to navigate low inventory and high demand in vacation markets by showing each home at its best

Demand for homes in vacation markets, where space is more abundant than in dense city centers, has not yet abated. With that in mind, here are three tips that have helped me navigate some of the most hectic months of my career.

As a real estate agent, my specialty is selling vacation properties in Cape Cod. I also live in the area, and it’s not usually until the summer that I start to see my neighbors returning to their properties. So you can imagine my surprise when I was driving home one night this winter and counted lights on in nine houses on my street alone. At this time of year, there’s normally two of us in the entire neighborhood.

We know that 2020 was no ordinary year, and those of us in second-home markets can see that just by looking at the numbers. Typically, the Cape sells approximately 5,000 homes per year, but last year there were over 6,500 sales. And where my own little village of vacation homes normally has around 100 properties on the market, the current count is 20. There’s very little inventory available, and in a small community, that’s hugely noticeable.

Demand for homes in vacation markets, where space is more abundant than in dense city centers, has not yet abated. With that in mind, here are three tips that have helped me navigate some of the most hectic months of my career.

1. Assist your sellers with a long-term strategy

Sotheby’s International Realty – Osterville Brokerage

One reason why local inventory is so low is that many homeowners originally purchased their vacation properties as investments—and they jumped at the opportunity to sell as soon as the market value soared. These transactions may have been a boon for agents, but for other would-be sellers, it created all sorts of challenges. For example, we now have a lack of available rental spaces, so even if someone wants to sell their home, they have nowhere nearby to move to in the meantime.

Listen closely to your clients as you help them prepare for a potential sale in these circumstances. To minimize stress:

Engage your sellers in a conversation about their larger holistic plan—once they put their property on the market, where will they relocate temporarily and then permanently? How can you help with this process?

Remember that there’s a higher chance your sellers will still be living in their home after you’ve listed it, and you’ll need to be extremely respectful of their space and their time as you schedule showings with buyers. Be sure to discuss this in advance.

2. Have your clients sell you the home

Anyone who sells second homes knows that they often bring their own aesthetic challenges. Homeowners come to these vacation markets because they want to spend more of their time outdoors, and they commonly belong to boating, sporting, or country clubs that keep them busy outside the home. Over time, their décor becomes a little dated—and they seem not to notice.

I had a situation relatively recently where I was selling a beautiful, contemporary home that had been built in the 2000s—but every prospective buyer believed it was a 1970s construction because of the mid-century modern furnishings.

My solution to this problem is to ask my clients to walk me through their home and tell me about all the best, most attractive features as if they’re the agent and I’m the would-be buyer. It makes them pause for a moment and take stock of their décor for the first time. Then they are much more open to advice.

3. Create continuity between the inside and outside

Sotheby’s International Realty – Osterville Brokerage

The past year has demonstrated beyond a doubt that homebuyers want outdoor space and privacy, and they know second-home markets can provide it. When preparing a vacation property for sale, I recommend paying particular attention to the landscaping. It’s a part of the home that sellers are likely to forget, and yet well-kept grounds can amplify curb appeal and signal the blended indoor-outdoor lifestyle today’s luxury buyers are looking for.

One of the things I always stress to my sellers is bringing the inside out and the outside in. Many years back, when I worked as a landscaper, I was taught to walk through each home to make sure the colors within were reflected outdoors. If the bedroom was peach, we’d incorporate peach flowers outside; if a kitchen featured red accents, we’d ensure there was a brilliant red bloom out the window. This color play creates a seamless sense of coherence and flow as homeowners move between their yards, patios, balconies, and interiors.

Here are a few factors I like to watch for:

Outside, a fresh coat of paint on the front door is a simple and impactful way to revitalize the home. Plants and grass can also get neglected for long periods of time at vacation properties, so have your landscapers trim down or remove anything that’s looking derelict or overgrown. It will make for a great first photograph on your listings page, and get your prospective buyers to keep clicking through.

Inside, the go-to aesthetic should be light, airy, and decluttered. People are moving to second-home markets to have more freedom and space, and that means the openness they desire outdoors should be carried through to the interiors. Light colors and less furniture will make the property feel like the summer home they’ve always dreamed of, no matter whether they intend to live there most of the year or not.

When preparing a vacation property for a sale, I think about how I can help my sellers ready themselves for this stage of their journey. I allow them to take the lead in recognizing that their house most likely needs work, and I view the outdoor space as an integral part of the home. In my years in this business, I’ve found that focusing on those components adds so much value for your sellers, you’ll be able to face any market.


Ellen Valentgas

Ellen Valentgas is in the top 2% of agents on Cape Cod. She has earned the Resort and Second Home Property Specialist Designation. Ellen’s professional career spans both Cape Cod and the vacation hot-spot of Nantucket. Ellen has been recognized as a Top 20 Agent of Cape Cod by Boston Top 20’s website and annually finishes near the top in sales production in the Osterville office. Ellen also leads the Osterville office in vacation rental representation. Whether selling, buying, renting or renovating, Ellen’s vision, experience, and perspective combine to deliver uniquely crafted successful outcomes to her clients.