Preparing Your House for Sale
How to make sure your house is dressed for selling success.
Before you open your house to the public, whether for an open house or individual tours, make sure it looks good, doesn't present any safety hazards, and that you and your possessions will be protected.
Fixing Up Your Home
You probably won't want to remodel your house in order to sell. After all, you might spend a lot of money and time only to have the buyer completely redo your work. And you definitely won't want to do it if the boost in value it gives doesn't cover the costs.
Even if you don't put in granite countertops, there are some things you should do to make your home its most attractive. Here are some minimum steps you should take:
- Curb appeal comes first. Sweep the sidewalk, mow, prune, and weed the garden, and clear toys and debris from the front areas. Remove cars from the driveway.
- Buy blooming, potted plants to frame the front door -- and take them with you when you move! If you’re willing to spend a bit more, landscaping your property (particularly the front yard) yields great returns in home value.
- Clean the windows inside and out.
- Touch up any chipped or flaking paint (both exterior and interior).
- Buy an attractive new welcome mat. Be sure that the doorbell works.
- Clean, tidy up, and make attractive all rooms and furnishings, floors, walls, and ceilings -- it’s especially important that the bathroom and kitchen are spotless.
- Organize and make free from clutter all closets, cupboards, and surfaces. Box up all but a few knicknacks and family photos -- they can distract potential buyers. Instead of stacking the boxes in the garage, consider renting a storage unit so they are completely out of sight.
- Make sure that the basic appliances and fixtures work -- get rid of leaky faucets and frayed cords.
- Leave window shades up about halfway and turn on a few lights, so there is sufficient -- but not glaring -- light. Trim any trees or shrubs that are blocking the light.
- Make sure the place smells good. At very least, hide the kitty litter box. You can also keep some scented potpourri in an attractive container in the bathrooms.
- Put vases of flowers throughout the house -- such as on the kitchen or dining room table, the fireplace mantel, and the bedroom dressers.
- Pleasant (but unobtrusive) background music is a nice touch.
- Take a hard look at your furniture. A faded old armchair may be better off hidden -- and the room will look bigger without it.
|Should You Pay a Professional to "Stage" Your House?
Staging has become the rage lately. It means more than just sprucing up a home for sale. (The term “staging” was created by real estate agent Barb Schwarz in the 1970s.)
What do they do? Professional stagers will do any number of things to sell your home more quickly and at a higher price, including redecorating, renting new furniture to show off the home, painting, and landscaping.
Is staging worth it? The cost might run you anywhere from several thousand dollars to five figures. Although some buyers will look past the décor, others will be wowed and will imagine themselves living in this domestic paradise -- and they may sweeten their offers as a result.
The bottom-line. The bottom-line question, of course, is how much more buyers will pay as a result of the stager’s efforts. Sometimes the increase in the seller’s house price is at least double the amount paid for professional staging. But if you’ve got an eye for decorating, this is a job ready-made for a do-it-yourselfer.
Addressing Structural and Safety Concerns
Consider making needed repairs. You are legally obligated to tell your ultimate buyer pretty much everything you know about the house’s physical condition -- whether it has termites, the state of its roof, walls, and other structural components, and whether its appliances are in operating condition.
It may be worth budgeting some money to make some needed repairs before placing the house on the market, so that the purchase negotiations aren’t weighed down by discussions of who should pay for what.
Make your home injury-free. After that's done, think about how to protect visiting home-seekers from possible injury, and yourself from lawsuits. Walk through your home, checking for and dealing with everything that might cause injury, such as:
- Slippery throw rugs -- take them up.
- Loose steps -- fix them.
- Slick areas, such as front steps -- put down rubber mats.
- Long electrical and phone cords -- make sure they are out of the way.
- Unsafe electrical wires and fixtures -- replace them.
- Potentially dangerous areas in yards -- block them off.
- Decks and pools -- childproof them.
- Medicine, cleaning supplies, or household chemicals that children could get into -- lock them up.
- Pets -- put them in an enclosure, even if they have always been friendly; if they are likely to be noisy, arrange for them to take a brief vacation.
- Excess furniture or clutter -- store it elsewhere.
Protecting Your Safety and Possessions
The unhappy truth is that, while it’s rare, some prospective “buyers” are interested in seeing your home for just one reason: They want to case the joint so they can steal your possessions later. Take reasonable precautions every time your home is to be shown to strangers, be it individually or in larger numbers:
- Don’t display silver, china, expensive art, or other valuable possessions -- especially those which are easily stolen or accidentally broken.
- Make sure items like credit cards, ATM cards, checkbooks, and house keys are either on your person or under lock and key.
- Hide or lock away all prescription or high-priced medications. It’s all too easy for a visitor to pretend to need the bathroom, lock the door, and clean out your cabinet.
- Go through your closets and remove expensive clothing, such as designer dresses or fur coats. Open every accessible drawer in your house and remove or hide whatever valuables, such as jewelry or cameras, might be easily lifted.
- Make sure everyone who visits your home signs a guest register. An experienced thief will simply use a false name, but this sort of organized procedure may make some think twice about victimizing you.
- Consider hiring a private security guard. This costs money, but makes a lot of sense if you own a large luxury home full of valuable objects.
If you'll be showing the house yourself, keep these additional precautions in mind:
- Don’t discuss your personal schedule or lifestyle with strangers. Avoid comments, like “It’s so safe here we leave the back door open!” or “It’s only two blocks from church, and every day I can leave at just a quarter to twelve and be in my pew for noon Mass.” And be particularly careful if a visitor asks probing questions about your personal habits of lifestyle like, “Are you married?”
- Be sure people touring your home can enter and leave through only one door, except, of course, when you are escorting them through another, such as the door to the backyard or garage.
- Escort and accompany prospective buyers. You needn’t be at their side, but do keep them within sight at all times. This is obviously easier to do with one person who made an appointment than with 20 people at an open house. If two people come to an appointment, be alert for a known scam in which one keeps you talking while the other goes through your valuables.
- Draft a few relatives or friends to help control traffic or keep you company if you end up alone with someone creepy. If too many people show up at once, ask some of them to wait for the next “tour.” Don’t be afraid to structure the open house so that you feel comfortable.
If you live in California, an indispensable resource is For Sale By Owner in California, by George Devine, California Real Estate Broker (Nolo). Other states may have self-help resources as well.
Copyright 2009 Nolo