In-focus grass in front of out of focus house

Presentation is Everything

If you’re planning to sell your home, there are many online tips to get it sold quickly and for the most money. What follows here are the best of those suggestions, and some of my own.

MARKETING

If you want to brave the “for sale by owner” maze, Dirty Harry might say “you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’” If you do, also ask:

1) How will I know my home is priced correctly?
2) How will I qualify potential buyers?
3) How will I field inquiries to set up showings?
4) What is my liability if the property disclosure is incorrect?
5) Do I know how to negotiate a terms of purchase and sale, and know what is binding and what is not?
6) How will I handle home inspection findings?
7) Am I willing to pay a commission to buyer agents?
8) Where and how will I market the property for sale?
9) How will I handle the earnest money deposit and know the legalities of returning it?

Answer all of these to your own satisfaction before you take the FSBO route. It’s a lot of work, there are many pitfalls, and you haven’t even looked at the rest of this article! Remember 92% of FSBOs eventually list with a Realtor®.

Save yourself a boatload of trouble, time and money and find a great agent who knows this stuff inside and out and will do all the marketing for you. You will save the hassle and put much more money in your pocket if you do. There’s plenty more for your to do. See below.

STAGING

Working with an agent lets you focus on the other vital piece: the presentation, which includes everything in the house that needs attention either visually or operationally. 

The buyer’s first impression happens within 10 seconds of laying eyes on your house, and curb appeal is the first and most important feature that creates that impression. Every home has it for better or worse, but you have the make the most of what you have either way. Make sure the front door looks inviting, maybe with a new coat of paint or new hardware; fix all items that attract negative attention – exterior siding and trim missing, rotted or in need of paint.

If there’s a yard, make sure shrubs are cut back if they are overgrown, and the flower beds are mulched. Buy some inexpensive annuals to fill bare spots in flower beds. Keep the lawn mowed. Power-wash the roof, deck and areas where there’s dirt or algae. Paint where the walls or trim don’t look fresh. Replace any broken fixtures or cabinet hardware. Clean all the windows inside and out. You tired yet?

Regarding the “stuff” in your home, it’s very important to de-clutter as much as possible. This means removing all personal items, photos, knick-knacks, and all “polarizing items” such as anything political or religious. The buyer is likely to be distracted by these things, instead of focusing on physical attributes. Remove items in closets to make them look 1/3 empty (it leaves the impression there is plenty of enough closet space) and remove as much furniture as possible to maximize the spaciousness in all the rooms. Rent storage space, if necessary. It will be well worth the minimal cost. Paint walls and trim that don’t look fresh and do a thorough deep-cleaning.

Order a professional home inspection. This will cost $300-$450 (add $200 or so for a septic inspection) but will identify things that will come up in the course of a transaction’s home inspection anyway. If you have a septic system, I strongly suggest getting that inspected too. Replacing a septic is always expensive, and usually an untimely surprise that could derail a transaction. Much better to deal with it ahead of time (in Massachusetts this is a requirement for good reason). Doing this will also be a marketing plus and let buyers know you are pro-active and upfront about the home’s condition.

Be sure your boiler or furnace has been serviced within the last 12 months, as that will likely be requested from a buyer anyway. If there are any undesirable odors in the house, make sure you’ve done all you can to eliminate them. Buyers are quickly turned off by odors regardless of whatever positives the home may showcase. Clean the carpets – that could help with odors too.

Taking the opportunity to fix these items will give the impression to the buyer that your home is very well maintained, paving the way for a smoother transaction and a higher offer.

SELLING

If you do all of the above, you will separate from the competition, which means a faster sale at a higher price. If you’ve priced it at or slightly below market, a multiple offer situation becomes more likely. After doing this preparation, it’s equally important that all showings reveal your hard work, and that takes a little more work. I’m starting to get tired.

Buyers will open kitchen and other cabinets. Make sure they are neatly organized. Wipe down counters; vacuum and clean mirrors daily. Keep a laundry basket handy for the stuff you’ll quickly stow before a showing. Using large trays to put your coffee table stuff on, like remotes, mail, magazines etc. It’s a quick way to move them out of sight. And, when there’s a showing you can freshen the air without a perfumed smell by boiling lemons or cinnamon on the stove.

It’s hard to live in a home when you have to keep it in “show ready” condition, but it will pay big dividends if you do. Heeding all of the above, or most of it, will mean you’ll have to endure the inconvenience for minimal time. Then it’s time for another fun task – moving out! 

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