Monday, April 14, 2014

Fixer-Upper Before you Sell

I always smile when I talk to sellers who are convinced that the second we put a sign on their property, offers will come in from all corners. Mostly they have been living with their home for some years, and now that they have taken the “plunge” to get the house on the market, they are prepared to deal with buyers, starting on day one.

But really, not so fast. First you have to get the house ready. And by getting it ready, I mean not just signing a listing agreement, but cleaning it and painting and making the home what Realtors like to call “plain vanilla”. I say “first things first, let’s sell this home first and then you’ll have the money in hand to spend on your next home.”

Sometimes sellers follow their Realtor’s suggestions and really make the house like a new home. Some believe every suggestion as a criticism of how they have let the house dip into disrepair, and just get uncooperative.  The highest 1% may even bring in “stagers” who will move furniture, paintings, carpets and mirrors, change traffic patterns and shampoo rugs to make an older home seem like new, and to give potential buyers a sense of home and how the house will work for them.

Stagers and Decorators sometimes will paint or update tile, trim shrubs and fix gardens and even buy new furniture to make the home better than new—they’ll make an older home appear to be a “model home”. They do not provide these services for free however, and so can depending on the home, they can be pricey.

Other times sellers say, “there’s no sense in fixing the house up, it’s been good enough for us and it’s move-in ready.” Buyers may not share that opinion, especially if they don't want a fixer-upper.

And so I say, usually they are wrong. You don’t need a big budget to fix up a house, what you need is a sense of what’s wrong and the time and willingness to make the necessary changes—and the commitment to repair whatever you break while you are fixing what needs to be corrected.

Used homes can be like used cars. They can be low mileage creampuffs or dented and worn out beaters that still have the smell of their prior owners. Sometimes the prior owner smoked cigars, sometimes the prior owner wore perfume—but when you are the seller you’ll soon understand why God invented Fabrize.

I always tell my listing clients that we Realtors will manage the marketing and the sale of a property, but the homeowner needs to manage the condition. And the better the condition, the better a house will show and sooner it will sell. Think for a moment how buyers see houses.

Usually they see internet photos, so the property needs to look good. Then when they come to actually see the home in real life, they might be seeing 3 or 4 homes in a day (sometimes more than that) so each house needs to be at it’s best for the visit.

And you (and your house) only have once chance to make a good first impression. So as the clients first see the house from the street or driveway, they are already making up their mind. If the yard is a mess, or they see old bicycles and trash, or even a rusty front door, you are starting with one strike against you—before they even come in.

When that door is opened, what they notice next needs to be very appealing, or you are soon to have strike two. Be sure there are no barking dogs (even in expensive kennels), no cat or dog smells, no loose or dirty carpets, and no dishes in the sink or family photos on the fridge. The idea is to de-personalize the home so the buyers can visualize the house as their own. If you can, get cardboard boxes and start packing all the loose stuff—you’re going to move anyway, might as well get started. Clean out bookcases, put away bric-a-brac, get rid of half the clothes that fill the closets (and don’t fit anyway).

Sweep the garage or carport, if the floors are raw concrete or painted, repaint them, there’s nothing easier than painting a floor with a roller. Clean the kitchen cabinet doors and the appliances. It’s amazing all the dirt we just don’t see. And here’s a hint, take photos of your home, all around. Then look closely at what your house looks like to the camera, you’ll see finger prints, chipped paint, peeling wallpaper and all the flaws that you just don’t notice because you live there.

I have made these suggestions to hundreds of sellers, some took my advice, and some didn’t. Most of the houses I’ve listed over the years sold, but I can promise you this, the cleanest ones sold quickly and for the most money.

Mostly it’s just paint, but if you are earnest about selling think new screen and doors, and door hardware. Make the first impression one of newness. Have the carpets shampooed and wax or polish the floors. (Who still waxes floors? But what a difference gleaming floors make).

So marketing really does work, and the more a seller and a Realtor can work as a team, the more likely a house will sell for the most money in the least amount of time.

Dane Hahn is a real estate professional serving Sarasota and Charlotte Counties from his office at Sarasota Realty Associates in Venice. You can reach him at 942-681-0312 or by email at



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