Connecticut Home & Garden: Home-Selling Tips
Real estate agent Jim Porto remembers a determined client who, on studying the market analysis of his home a few years back, looked up and asked simply: “What do I have to do to sell my house fast?” Sensing that this client was a tad more adventuresome than most, Porto, who is with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Milford, went out on a limb. “Look at the comps,” he said, “and then list it at 10 percent under them.”
The agent’s advice (and nearly 30 years’ experience) paid off: Offers came pouring in, buyers got into a bidding war and the house sold for well over the asking price. “He loved the strategy,” says Porto of the seller, “because it worked. When it works, everybody’s a hero.”
Would that it were always that simple.
Selling a home in a recovering market like this one can be more complicated. Homeowners may have suffered financial losses or have emotional attachments they can’t easily brush off. They may lack the confidence they need to move up or move on. Most are not inclined toward crapshoots, preferring tried-and-true methods to tilt the selling odds in their favor.
So what does a homeowner have to do to close a deal? According to the real estate professionals we asked, you really can’t go wrong if you:
Price It Right
The industry standard for determining the market value of a house is based on facts (your home’s age, square footage, numbers of beds, baths, etc.), its appraised value, what comparable homes in your area have sold for—and ultimately what today’s buyer is willing to pay.
However, sellers often base their list price on what they originally paid or the dollar figure they feel they should (or have to) get out of a home. But the truth is that serious sellers must “let go and price homes properly” or they won’t sell, says PJ Louis, sales manager of the William Raveis office in Avon. “It’s Economics 101. Everyone can see all the information they need online, and they know exactly what they can get in a price range,” says Louis. “Your home is competing with comparable listings, so it has to be priced accordingly.” That said, Louis says home prices are “starting to drift back up” and he’s optimistic about the near future. “This has been one of the busiest winters in a long time … it’s almost like a perfect storm,” he says. “The economy is improving, consumer confidence is up, investments are bouncing back. And home prices and interest rates are still relatively low.”
It helps to think of a home sale as a lifestyle decision, and not just a property transaction, Louis says, especially if you’re buying up. Any loss you may take on your current home will theoretically be made up in the value of the home you’re purchasing, he says: “If you take a $100,000 hit, but you move to a nicer house in a more desirable location, with better schools, etc., then you’ve improved your lifestyle.”
Ira D. Goldspiel of Sotheby’s International Realty in Kent takes a more practical view. “Our buyers are very Internet-savvy. They are as smart as we are. They do research on properties before they see them and they know comps before they see a house,” Goldspiel says. “So if you market correctly and price correctly, you will sell. If you overprice it, a house will sit. Buyers cannot be fooled.”
Put Your Best Foot Forward
Regarding good first impressions, two truths prevail: 1.) You can only make one once; and 2.) It can take as little as 30 seconds to rule out a home, so make yours count.
For starters, your curbside view has to be pristine—be sure your lawn and shrubs are neatly trimmed, and that your mailbox, house number, light posts and planters are in good repair. Sweep the walkway. Paint the door. House hunters never forget the front door that wouldn’t open, the bell that didn’t work, or the worn welcome mat that may just as well have said “Go Away.”
Make certain the exterior of your home is “photo-shoot ready,” says Goldspiel. And that gaining entry is seamless: “Don’t forget that keys and locks should be serviced and in working order.”
Some agents swear that good light is second only to location when it comes to swaying a buyer; the rest readily concede that a house can never be too bright or uncluttered.
Suffice it to say that the last thing you want is a buyer standing in the dark while an agent fumbles for the light switch or draws back drapes in an effort to brighten up a room. “Light, bright and airy sells,” according to Porto. Replace heavy window treatments with sheers and wash windows thoroughly, inside and out. Paint sills and trims to frame outdoor views. Trim overgrown foundation plantings that are blocking light. Replace bulbs in overhead fixtures and increase wattage where you can. Replace dark, ornate shades with simple, neutral ones.
Lightening up also refers to eliminating stuff. It’s imperative that you clear out clutter—from bulky furniture to piles of magazines—with a vengeance. This is often where a professional home stager comes in. He or she is trained to see beyond over-decorated rooms (and just plain junk) and transform them into neat and orderly spaces. To that end, they advise homeowners on ways to cut down on visual noise and make a house appear cleaner and more spacious.
Refresh and Renew…Reasonably
There’s an expectation that every house, in keeping with its asking price, will be in good working order. “Most buyers expect property to be in reasonable shape,” says Porto, “so when your realtor gives you a ‘honey-do’ list, you actually have to do it. In most cases, they will be things that don’t cost a lot—like painting, removing wallpaper or worn carpet, refinishing floors. You really want a house to be as ‘turnkey’ as possible.”
Some repairs and replacements (a furnace, water heater or roof) may be non-negotiable. Most others are open to discussion.
Act swiftly; you don’t want a repair to rear its head during the home inspection. “If it gets to that point, the seller, who thinks his house is better than everyone’s else’s, may think something is a $5 fix—while the buyer may see it as a $5,000 problem,” says Porto.
An exception: If your older home needs reconstructive surgery, ask questions and think things through before you act. Most (but not all) listing agents will tell you honestly if a facelift is in order. Consider a range of remodeling options, but don’t throw good money after bad. A dated kitchen is a good example.
Selling it “as is” can knock a lot off your asking price (and it is true that kitchen remodels usually promise a decent ROI). Think like a buyer. Remember, depending on your home’s overall value, the new owners may choose to gut a poorly updated kitchen anyway, so don’t go overboard. Should you replace old Formica counters? Yes. Worn white appliances? Yes. But since builder-grade cabinets will never play in a custom kitchen, it may be enough to reface the doors and change out the hardware.
Updating is not an exact science. “Sometimes people will do things that don’t matter, or that don’t make a big difference,” says Louis. “Trust me, no one is going to buy a house based on the new carpet runner you got for the stairs.”
And no matter the extent of a project, have it finished before you start showing the house. If a work in progress is unavoidable, says Goldspiel, “just keep it neat. And be sure you have a plan, because many buyers just don’t have vision.”
Show and Tell
The information superhighway leads directly to the door of every property listing on MLS, so there’s zero tolerance for deceptive practices. Descriptions that are vague (or deliberately misleading) are now easily debunked by photos—and Google street views. For that reason, written descriptions have never been more important. “It’s a little game,” says Porto. “You want to write enough to get them interested, but not so much that they eliminate your house.”
“I try to be as descriptive and as accurate as possible with the listing details,” says Goldspiel. “I always use a top-of-the-line professional photographer. Today, photos matter more than anything else.” Porto agrees. Back in the day, it was enough to have one grainy photo in the Sunday paper, but house hunters now expect to see a dozen or more good-quality photos online.
Put It in Neutral
Like it or not (and many sellers don’t), a house needs to be “depersonalized” before it’s listed for sale. The thinking behind this is that it allows prospective buyers to imagine they are already living there. “We spend our lives choosing things that make our homes our own, and then we say ‘take it all out of here.’ It’s really hard to do,” says professional stager Cindy Heiman, owner of Home ReVisions Staging in Fairfield.
Heiman knows that an important step in the staging process is removing photos, collections, mementoes and tchotchkes from a home, but she tries to keep it about business. “I explain that I walk through a home as if I were a buyer. I immediately look at my surroundings and ask if what I see is appealing, or whether it’s a turnoff,” she says. “I don’t want paint choices or wallpaper or photos to get my attention. I want to see the bones of a house, the crown molding. This way I can help sellers identify a home’s strengths as well as its deficits.”
A neutral palette is essential. Goldspiel says that personal colors are just that: too personal. “White goes a long way,” he says. “I suggest that repainting a key room such as a kitchen, living room or bedroom is well worth the effort.”
Prop, Preen and Style
A house must be ready to show every day—you never know when your buyer is going to walk through the door. Make it easy to show as well, even on short notice. Be flexible and be prepared to make yourself scarce (it’s never a good idea to be at home during a showing).
Above all, a house should be spotless, look well cared for and smell good, says Goldspiel. Climate control is important, too; heat or cool according to the weather.
Styling a house is a cinch if you know what to add—and what to edit. While some home stagers like Heiman are called in early in the listing process, some are hired just to prop it for showing.
Her no-fail advice:
• Rethink your accessories: Take everything off the walls and start over, reposition artwork, decorating accents, even furniture.
• Buy all new bedding and throw pillows, props that look fresh. Keep in mind they can just as easily come from an off-price store as a high-end boutique.
• Evoke a lifestyle: Enhance the home, but simplify it. You want people to look at the space, not the furniture.
• Don’t overlook anything. Even a tired centerpiece may raise the question: “If this isn’t fresh, I wonder what else isn’t.”
“It’s important to remember that how we live and how we sell are two different things,” sums up Heiman. “Once we decide to prepare a property for sale, it becomes a house, not a home.”
Connecticut Home & Garden: Home-Selling Tips