How do I get the most money for my home? That’s probably the biggest question on every seller’s mind once they decide to sell their home. While there are many different ways to accomplish this, I’ve found again and again that it boils down to focusing on just a few key points. Despite this, I’m always amazed at how many sellers are willing to leave thousands of dollars on the table by ignoring these basic concepts. In fact, it’s so common that I decided to create this series in an effort to help anyone who might be interested in selling their home.
To make things easy and actionable, I’ve broken down How to Get the Most for Your Home into seven parts. The first three focus on preparing your home for the market. Chapters four and five focus on showing your home and handling negotiations. In the sixth installment, we’ll discuss a few “surprises” that can occur once a house is under contract and ways to avoid any problems. After that, we’ll wrap things up by taking a look at agent performance and we’ll establish a few guidelines to help you avoid selecting the wrong agent.
Regardless of how you approach selling your home, my hope is you’ll get something out of this series that will save you thousands of dollars and perhaps countless headaches.
Change your focus and think about things through the eyes of a buyer…
One common theme to keep in mind throughout this process is to think about your home through the eyes of a buyer. A quick caveat here, a few of the points in this series can be hard for some people to swallow, because our homes are often extensions of ourselves, and the very things that make a house a home to each of us, also have the potential to alienate buyers. If it helps, try to start focusing on your next home and begin to think of your current house as someone else’s.
Preparing your home for the market – The first of the 4 P’s in our real estate “marketing mix”
First impressions matter in real estate and one of the keys to getting the most for your home is doing as much preparation as possible so your house looks its best when it hits the market. The good news is you typically don’t have to do as much as you might think. It may sound simplistic, but the things that yield the highest return are actually pretty straightforward and often cost little (or nothing) to implement. However, you’d be amazed how often sellers ignore this advice …to their own detriment.
Preparing your home for the market – Decluttering and depersonalizing your home
Let’s start with the basics. While it’s not particularly exciting, decluttering and depersonalizing your home will set the stage for all of our future success. Here are a few tips that will make the process easier:
Why declutter? Simply put – when there’s too much “stuff” packed into a home, it’s distracting and it makes the home look crowded, stuffy, and dirty even when it’s not. Many buyers also have trouble visualizing how their furniture and possessions would look in a house that’s highly personalized, or stuffed to the brim with “junk” – which is really what most of our clutter is if we’re honest with ourselves.
Look for opportunities to clear out knickknacks. Anything that’s just laying around, like off-season clothes, shoe collections, books, old furniture, etc. – it all needs to be tucked, stored, or thrown away. You want your home to be as open and airy as possible.
Look for opportunities to “neutralize” rooms so buyers can see themselves living in your home. This means putting away personal pictures, clearing the refrigerator of magnets and drawings, and maybe removing that tacky painting you felt obligated to hang because it was a housewarming gift from your uncle.
Consider repainting any areas that are scuffed or scraped, as well as any rooms that have unusual paint colors. By “unusual” colors, I mean anything that isn’t a neutral tone, like beige or gray (preferably the latter). While your bright red dining room may look wonderful to you, it can be very distracting to some people. Again, the key is “neutralizing” your home so that the largest amount of people can visualize themselves living there.
Start Boxing – It may be inconvenient to start packing now but you’re going to have to do it anyway once you sell your house. Think of it as the first step towards moving into your new home. I know the thought of this can be a little overwhelming, but clutter and messiness can eliminate your home the moment a buyer walks in the door.
Pro Tip: If you have a spare room, closet, or even a corner, you can begin moving items there as a “staging area” for packing and/or discarding. I recently went through a move and filled up half of the garage with old furniture, boxes, and other junk. I used Yelp! to find a disposal service that was happy to come out and load everything onto the truck themselves. The whole process took less than 20 minutes and cost less than $200. Goodwill is also another great resource as they’ll take just about anything that’s in working order.
Preparing your home for the market – Cleaning
Again, this one should be filed under common sense but after walking through thousands of homes, I’ve seen hundreds of sellers ignore this step. Think about it as “detailing” your home, in the same way you’d get your car detailed. Remember how nice it is when you pick up your car and it has that brand-new feel? You want buyers to have that same sensation when they walk into your home.
Remember, buyers see everything …and I mean everything
That dust ball in the corner and those tiny nicks on the wall that you’ve been walking by every day and never noticed? They’ll immediately jump out to a buyer. I’m constantly amazed how often people point out the smallest things as we walk through a home. And they’re often the type of thing that they’d never notice in their own home. Now is the time to address all of those areas that always get overlooked – like floorboards, ceiling fans, under the sink, behind bathroom doors, the blinds and window treatments, etc. I can go on-and-on, but I’m sure you get the point. You simply cannot overdo it when it comes to cleaning.
Pro Tip: Remove all of your window screens and stack them neatly in the garage or a basement corner.
They tend to make windows look dark and dirty when you’re trying to sell your home.
Don’t forget the sense of smell
Visible cleanliness isn’t the only thing that matters; you also need to make sure your home smells clean. You’ll want to start eliminating any type of odor now. There is nothing worse than walking into a house that smells like a kennel or rotting garbage …and you’d be amazed how frequently this happens.
Pro Tip: I recommend Febreze air freshener. It was engineered to molecularly bond with and neutralize odors, instead of just covering them up. The original or unscented versions work wonders.
Pro Tip: Hire a cleaner. If you’re in the Atlanta area, check out Hux.com. They’ve got a great system that matches your needs with multiple cleaners. It’s complete with pricing and reviews, and you can book directly through the site with the click of a button. A deep clean will typically run $200-$400, and while it won’t cure everything, it’ll get a lot of the heavy lifting out of the way.
Preparing your home for the market – Staging
Staging is simply optimizing every room in your home so that it appeals to the largest amount of buyers. It can involve moving or removing furniture, adjusting lighting, replacing fixtures, organizing closets, etc. Ask you agent to advise you on what changes need to be made and whether or not you should bring in a professional stager.
Pro Tip: Open and airy is in so try to arrange your furniture in a way that opens up a room or space. Lighting can also open up a room so consider adding extra lighting to any room that is dark or poorly lit. Bright, well-lit homes show a thousand times better than dark ones so be sure to replace every burnt-out bulb.
Preparing your home for the market – Repairs
This is also the time you’ll want to address all those little nagging maintenance items you’ve been avoiding. A good agent will be able to point out what should be repaired (cosmetically and mechanically), but you know your home better than anyone and now is the time to fix all those little items, even if your agent doesn’t notice them immediately.
Remember, buyers see everything…
That tiny water stain under the kitchen sink you’ve covered up with cleaning supplies? It will get noticed. It’s best to get in front of any repairs right now because they will be discovered – either by the buyer or their inspector. Buyers also have the tendency to assume any repairs will cost 2 to 3 times more than they actually do …and they’ll factor that into negotiations.
Check for things like loose door handles, loose fixtures, worn floorboards, scuffed cabinets, cracked tile – anything that seems like an imperfection. Every item that’s left unrepaired will create the impression your home hasn’t been maintained properly.
Preparing your home for the market – Renovations
As you’re deciding what needs to be done, a good rule of thumb is – repairs yes, renovations no. The problem with any renovation is that you’ll almost never get a full return on your money. And there’s always the chance a buyer may not like the new bathroom or kitchen remodel that you just sank thousands into.
There are however a few exceptions that fall somewhere between repairs and renovations. One of the most common is carpeting. Sellers always ask if they should replace their carpet. The answer is – it depends. Unless your carpeting is noticeably stained or worn, I don’t recommend changing it. I’ve represented several buyers who have ripped out all of the carpeting, even though the sellers had just replaced it. That’s why, unless the carpet is dirty and cannot be cleaned, I recommend not replacing it. It’s one of the most common items buyers immediately swap out. That said, if it’s frayed or looks even remotely dirty, it’s got to go.
Pro Tip: Ask your agent to refer a few painters and handyman. For a few hundred bucks they can generally knock out most minor repairs in a matter of hours, and it will save you thousands in terms of getting the most for your home.
In the next installment of How to Get the Most for Your Home we’ll discuss the next two P’s in our real estate marketing mix – Positioning and Promoting your home. We’ll talk about what you should know about the competition and the importance of understanding the type of buyer who’s most likely to purchase your home. We’ll also spend some time outlining several techniques that will make your home stand out in a crowded market.
Considering buying or selling a home? Here are a few resources and related articles:
Atlanta Real Estate Predictions for 2017
Why Photography is so Important in Atlanta’s Real Estate Market
Dear Real Estate Agent, What Were You Thinking? How to NOT sell your home…
How to Get the Most for Your Home – Part 2: Positioning and Promoting your Home
First-time Homebuyer’s Guide
Atlanta Homebuyer FAQs
5 Tips for Buying a New Construction Home
Atlanta Real Estate Predictions for 2017
Are You Being Watched? …Buyers Beware