If you are thinking about putting your home on the market in 2017, it’s not too soon to start preparing. Since you are probably aiming to get the best possible price with the least possible time on the market, here’s a primer of what you absolutely must do and what you should do if at all possible.
“Start early,” recommends Judy Drayer, a REALTOR® with Long & Foster. “The best thing to do is talk to a REALTOR® a couple months ahead of when you plan to list your place. There may be things to do you didn’t even think of. It serves everybody well.”
Things You Must Do
“It’s critically important to have a house show well when it’s time to sell,” declares REALTOR® Byrd Abbott with Roy Wheeler Realty Co. Keep in mind that most buyers these days are looking for “turnkey” properties. This means they want a place that is fresh and clean and—above all— move-in ready. Even with a “cash allowance” buyers don’t want to repaint, replace the carpet, or remodel the kitchen. Instead, they are willing to spend more to have things in good order.
Remember, too, you will be competing with all the other properties for sale in your price range, so a key is to know the optimum price for your place. The way to arrive at this—and evaluate potential REALTORS® at the same time—is to arrange for two or three agents to visit your property and make recommendations. (REALTORS® understand that most sellers talk with several agents.)
Most agents will prepare a CMA (Comparative Market Analysis) of homes in your area that have sold in the past few months. While you can ferret out this information on the internet, a REALTOR® is likely to have actually been inside the homes and know which ones had updated kitchens and baths and which had dated rugs and wall coverings.
Some of these real estate specialists may also have suggestions for tweaking your property to look its best. Research shows some house hunters won’t even get out of the car if a place isn’t attractive from the outside. This is where “curb appeal” comes into play.
“The best way to achieve curb appeal is to highlight the features your home already possesses,” advises REALTOR® Janet Matthews, with I & J Realty, Inc. “If you have tired shutters, get out the paint brush. Keep clutter off the front lawn, driveway, porches, and entry. This includes children’s toys, bikes, garden tools, and especially trashcans. Neat and tidy is always appealing!”
Once a potential buyer steps through the front door, the house absolutely must be sparkling and clutter-free. In fact, clutter is often one of the biggest problems when preparing a house for sale because it makes any place feel crowded. Store extra things elsewhere. Gift things. Sell things. Donate things.
“Staging” means presenting a property as clean, fresh, spacious, and ready for a new family to make its own. Staging may not increase the selling price, but it makes a place stand out among the competition and may well reduce its time on the market. It also means removing big displays of family portraits and mementoes. Painting is an economical investment in freshening any house and the best strategy is to stay neutral so the buyer can feel right at home. There are hundreds of shades of white and, these days, pale greys and greens are also deemed neutral.
Most potential buyers don’t hesitate to inspect closets, so be sure to eliminate musty odors and demonstrate adequate storage by minimizing items so there is empty space on shelves and clothes aren’t jammed together. (One buyer told the sellers at closing that the faint scent of fresh paint in the closets convinced them the house was in great shape.)
The good news is that many of these must-do actions don’t take a lot of money. Even if you’re not going to put your place on the market for several months, start now and enjoy a fresher, tidier house. (One family, after a month of determined spiffing up, decided not to sell after all.)
Things You Should Do
“From the seller’s point of view, I suggest a pre-list inspection,” counsels Drayer. “This helps because the buyer won’t be blindsided and the seller has time to get things fixed which saves a lot of worry and possible renegotiations later.” Depending on the size of the house, inspections in our area average $350 – $450. “It is often money well spent,” she says.
For example, prior to listing their house, one couple’s professional inspection revealed dry rot on two sections of the eaves, a problem in the electrical service box, and a leak under the dishwasher. They paid an electrician $200 to fix the service box problem and the husband was able to replace the dry-rotted eaves and the leaking dishwasher hose. A re-inspection gave the place a perfect “bill of health” which they left on the kitchen counter for potential buyers to see. It made “all the difference” to the eventual buyer.
Have exact figures about mortgage balance and monthly payments, second mortgages or liens, property taxes, insurance costs, and homeowner association dues. Even if the house is owned outright, it’s still helpful to have figures for taxes and other monthly payments. Some prospective buyers will also be interested in utility bills.
Marilyn Pribus and her husband live in Albemarle County. When they sold their California house, they started preparing almost a year in advance. They donated about 1,000 books to the local library, cleaned out the closets, and got to enjoy the fresh paint and new carpeting themselves before moving.