How to Sell Your House

I am not a realtor, but because I have just sold and bought a house in one of the toughest markets in the country, I believe I’ve learned a thing or two. Some of my advice regarding selling your house seems like common sense, but after touring dozens of houses with “For Sale” signs in front of them apparently this is not so. We wanted to sell our house as fast as possible, without settling for an offer way below our expectations. So, we made a lot of immediate changes in the hopes that our house would sell quickly. It did. Here is what I know to be true that will help you sell your house:

1) See your house with new eyes and don’t let your emotions get in the way.

Of course, you are used to the wallpaper falling down in the downstairs bathroom; in fact, it might be somewhat endearing to you. You are not bothered by the fact that you have to jiggle the toilet exactly 33 times to get it to flush. Or you might smile (now) when you see the old marker doodles on the hallway wall that your little boy did when he was two. But to sell your house you must force yourself to cut your emotional ties to this space. You must become objective, and if you can’t, you must get someone else to help you. The truth is, no one is eager to buy a house when they know they are going to have to immediately repaint the hallway. Your fond memories are not theirs.

It is so hard, especially if you have lived in your house for a long period of time, but you have to do this. Your house is no longer a home; it is just a house. You have to see it this way if you want to sell it.

2) Remove family pictures and do everything you can to de-personalize.

This is a challenge, especially when you have a sentimental connection to your home. But remember once again: once it is on the market, it is not a home anymore, just a house. If you have to sell your house, then you want the people who come in to imagine themselves there. How can they when all they can see is the enormous family portrait you have hanging over your fireplace? I think an empty space might actually be better, because future buyers will begin to think about what item they would put in its spot if they lived there. The last thing you want is for the people viewing your house to spend too much time wondering about the current owners’ lives.

And pictures are not the only things that should go. Trophies, your kids’ paintings decorating the refrigerator, and your scribbled calendar are other examples, to name a few. Anything like these items make a house seem too lived-in. When I knew people were coming to look at our house, I even made sure that our toothbrushes weren’t sitting on the sink, nor were our toiletries left in the shower.

3) Put up to 50% of your stuff in storage.

Make your house look bigger, especially your closets. Go through all your things and pack away anything that you don’t need in a well-labeled box. For instance, if it is summer, you certainly don’t need your wool sweaters and coats, so get them out of your house. Go ahead and pay the storage company the monthly rental fee. It will be worth it in the end in order to make your house look neater, less cluttered, and larger. Some storage places offer a free first month’s rental, so you can take advantage of that.

For us, this was also a wonderful way to completely purge of things that we certainly did not need ever again. We took several carloads of bags to the Goodwill, and this saved us a lot of time when we actually did sell our house and were packing up to move. Not to mention, it is always good to donate.

4) Remove clutter.

This is similar to de-personalizing and putting your most unused stuff in storage. But I just want to hit that point home one more time. Remember, what is a treasure to you is not necessarily a treasure to someone else. Your collection of 55 Barbie dolls lining the edge of your bedroom walls may not be as exciting to a potential buyer as they are to you. There is nothing wrong with those Barbies taking a little vacation. Clutter makes your house look smaller, and can make your house look dusty and old. You want your house to look fresh and ready for new occupants, no matter how old it truly is.

5) Live a smaller life.

This is difficult, but packing away all of your unneeded items will help. Spend most of your time in the most important rooms. If you have kids, like we do, limit their toys and limit where they play with them. You’ll be surprised when they don’t notice that some things just quietly disappear. Go out and buy another covered storage bin for toys and such, so that you can just toss all the toys in it at the last moment if you need to. I would panic when our realtor would call to say that someone was coming for a showing, but was always relieved when I could just throw anything and everything in my daughter’s toy chest before leaving the house.

Living a smaller life means using less of what you have and spending most of your time in only a couple areas of the house. While you may not often use your dining room, anyway, from now on, really don’t use it at all. Keep the doors closed to your guest rooms so you are not even tempted to put footprints in your well-vacuumed carpets. We basically lived in two bedrooms, our kitchen, and our family room.

6) Pick up after yourself.

Some of you may already be pretty good at this. For me, it was a huge learning experience. Don’t save your messes for later. If you have a dirty spoon, don’t leave it in the sink; it needs to go right in the dishwasher. If you see a fur ball of your dog’s collecting in the corner of your foyer, bend over and scoop it up. (Now, if I had just carried over this life lesson into my new house….)

My husband and I toured houses where dishes were left on counters and newspapers were strewn about a coffee table. It is impossible not to notice how lived-in the house looks, and, again, it is hard not to start wondering about the current occupants (at least for me, since I have a big imagination).

7) Test the smell.

I know that after living in a house for a long period of time we forget or don’t notice what smells develop in our homes. This is when you need an unbiased person to come into your house and tell you if you are stinky. I happen to be very sensitive to smells, and I wanted to turn right around and leave any house that smelled at all (especially like cats – sorry, you cat lovers). Smoking can also damage your house’s marketability. Your house may need a good top-to-bottom cleaning, not something just superficial.

8) Consider hiring a cleaning company to come and clean your house once a week or twice a month.

We did this and it was well worth the money. It really took away some of the stress of keeping a house perfect. The first visit by the cleaning service was the most expensive and thorough. The following twice monthly visits were cheaper and less intensive.

9) Hide your pets.

This was hard for us, considering that we have two hairy, annoying dogs. If a neighbor will take your pets every so often that would be a big help. Or maybe the dogs, like the Barbies, can have a temporary vacation at your mother-in-law’s house.

10) Make sure you keep your windows clean and fix your carpet.

While other parts of your home may have a bit of grime, the windows and carpets are the most obvious. People touring your home will want to look out all of the windows to see the view. Make sure they are sparkling. And don’t gross people out with strange stains in your carpet. Either steam clean the carpet yourself, or get someone else to come in to do it. Or, as a last resort, move your furniture around so you can cover some of the stains. This is not misleading; right now you are only concerned with the first impression of your home. Later you can discuss the carpet situation.

11) Concentrate on the front of your house.

Again, remember that your house is making a first impression. People coming to see your house are using their best observation skills right at the beginning. So, as they are waiting for their realtor to get the lockbox open, they are scanning their eyes over your front porch, your ferns in the front beds, and the spider webs on your light fixture. Fix things like spider webs so that buyers have a positive feeling before entering your house. My husband and I toured one house where there were three torn up chairs on the front porch. This immediately made us think that the inside of the house would have the same tattered feeling. We had negative thoughts about the house before we entered it. It is the same as meeting someone who gives you a bad handshake.

12) Think about your house’s best feature and play it up.

In other words, what made you buy your house? We loved our backyard. We knew that most houses in the area did not have a yard like ours, and that this would be a good selling point. We made sure it looked nice. My husband went so far as to draw a map of the yard with labels to tell what plants were growing where. We also knew we had a large family room, so we made sure that it looked spacious and clean at all times.

And I should also add that you should think about your house’s worst features and play them down. Our master bedroom, closet, and bathroom were all very small. We moved half of our clothes out of the closet to give the illusion of more space. We pushed one of our dressers down the hall into a guest room to make our bedroom look bigger. And we always made sure that our bathroom counter was clean and that the mirror was spotless to make the room sparkle in the hopes that this would detract from its size.

13) Make your house neutral.

Sure, most of us love eggplant-colored dining rooms, but not all of us. Those who don’t may find this color horrible, and immediately worry about how hard it will be to cover it with their favorite white. So, you may have to do that work. All those bright colors you love? Well, you may have to tone them down. Again, you want your house to present like an empty canvas. You want your potential buyers to walk through and imagine how they would make it theirs.

14) Set the price right.

Check out the market in the neighborhoods surrounding yours and know what a competitive price would be. Ask yourself what are the true comps – on paper. That’s a biggie. Just because your 1.8 acres is tons more beautiful than the 1.8 acres belonging to your neighbor’s house doesn’t necessarily mean that your house is worth $10,000 more. The worst thing you can do is decide on a price based on what you alone have concluded that your house is worth – of course, you will think your house is much more valuable than it may be. Remember, you love it more than anyone else does!

Interview several realtors. Take note of what is selling and what is not. Understand that in this market you may not get what you are asking for, but don’t overprice your house because you know a potential buyer is going to come in low on an offer. It is a tricky process getting the price right. Imagine yourself as a buyer, touring all the houses for sale in your area. Imagine what kind of offers you would make. Get out your calculator and do some math. Find out how low you could possibly go, and still do as well as you can. Consider all scenarios involved in an offer (i.e. what if it is an all-cash offer?) so that you will know how to proceed during the negotiations.

All of this takes a tremendous amount of effort, but in this market, you have to be willing to do it, or your house will sit on the market for months and months and will sell for a lot less than what you truly want. And putting in all the effort upfront can really save you some time. It did for us. We sold our house in just over a month.

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