Un-cluttering the House
This is the hardest thing for most people to do because they are emotionally attached to everything in the house. After years of living in the same home, clutter collects in such a way that may not be evident to the homeowner. However, it does affect the way buyers see the home, even if you do not realize it.
Clutter collects on shelves, counter tops, drawers, closets, garages, attics, and basements. You want as much open clear space as possible, so every extra little thing needs to be cleared away.
Take a step back and pretend you are a buyer. Let a friend help point out areas of clutter, as long as you can accept their views without getting defensive. Let your agent help you, too.
The kitchen is a good place to start removing clutter, because it is an easy place to start.
First, get everything off the counters. Everything. Even the toaster. Put the toaster in a cabinet and take it out when you use it. Find a place where you can store everything in cabinets and drawers. Of course, you may notice that you do not have cabinet space to put everything. Clean them out. The dishes, pots and pans that rarely get used? Put them in a box and put that box in storage.
You see, homebuyers will open all your cabinets and drawers, especially in the kitchen. They want to be sure there is enough room for their “stuff.” If your kitchen cabinets, pantries, and drawers look jammed full, it sends a negative message to the buyer and does not promote an image of plentiful storage space. The best way to do that is to have as much “empty space” as possible.
For that reason, if you have a “junk drawer,” get rid of the junk. If you have a rarely used crock pot, put it in storage. Do this with every cabinet and drawer. Create open space.
If you have a large amount of foodstuffs crammed into the shelves or pantry, begin using them – especially canned goods. Canned goods are heavy and you don’t want to be lugging them to a new house, anyway – or paying a mover to do so. Let what you have on the shelves determine your menus and use up as much as you can.
Beneath the sink is very critical, too. Make sure the area beneath the sink is as empty as possible, removing all extra cleaning supplies. You should scrub the area down as well, and determine if there are any tell-tale signs of water leaks that may cause a homebuyer to hesitate in buying your home.
Closets are great for accumulating clutter, though you may not think of it as clutter. We are talking about extra clothes and shoes – things you rarely wear but cannot bear to be without. Do without these items for a couple of months by putting them in a box, because these items can make your closets look “crammed full.” Sometimes there are shoe boxes full of “stuff” or other accumulated personal items, too.
Many people have too much furniture in certain rooms – not too much for your own personal living needs – but too much to give the illusion of space that a homebuyer would like to see. You may want to tour some builders’ models to see how they place furniture in the model homes. Observe how they place furniture in the models so you get some ideas on what to remove and what to leave in your house.
Storage Area Clutter
Basements, garages, attics, and sheds accumulate not only clutter, but junk. These areas should be as empty as possible so that buyers can imagine what they would do with the space. Remove anything that is not essential and take it to the storage area. Or have a garage sale.
Do not do anything expensive, such as remodeling. If possible, use savings to pay for any repairs and improvements – do not go charging up credit cards or obtaining new loans. Remember that part of selling a house is also preparing to buy your next home. You do not want to do anything that will affect your credit scores or hurt your ability to qualify for your next mortgage.
When looking at a house, prospective home buyers often do not really know what to do. So they play with things. They flick light switches. They open everything with a handle. They turn on all the faucets and flush all the toilets. Having nice shiny fixtures makes an impression.
All your sink fixtures should look shiny and new. If this cannot be accomplished by cleaning, buy new ones. If you don’t buy something fancy, this can be accomplished inexpensively. Make sure all the hot and cold water knobs are easy to turn and that the faucets do not leak. If they do, replace the washers.
It sounds like hard work, but it’s pretty easy — even for the inexperienced.
Check to make sure you have good water pressure and that there are no stains on any of the porcelain. If you have a difficult stain to remove, one trick is to hire a cleaning crew to go through and clean your home on a one-time basis. They seem to be wonderful at making stains go away.
Check all the ceilings for water stains, whether the leak is caused by plumbing or a faulty roof. Find the leak and repair it and make sure a proper job is done. Nothing irritates a buyer more than finding out – after the fact – about plumbing or roofing leaks. They will be talking about calling a lawyer faster than your car engine starts when you turn the ignition key.
If a water stain is left after something you have already repaired, do the cosmetic work necessary to improve the desirability of your home. That means painting.
You may have to paint anyway, especially if dirt has accumulated in spots or you have an outdated color scheme. Painting makes a home look fresh and new on the inside and never fails to impress.
Painting can be your best investment when selling your home. It is not a very expensive operation and often you can do it yourself. Do not choose colors based on your own preferences, but based on what would appeal to the widest possible number of buyers. You should almost always choose an off-white color because white helps your rooms appear bright and spacious.
Unless your carpet appears old and worn, or it is definitely an outdated style or color, you probably should do nothing more than hire a good carpet cleaner. If you do choose to replace it, do so with something inexpensive in a fairly neutral color.
Repair or replace broken floor tiles, but do not spend a lot of money on anything. Remember, you are not fixing up the place for yourself. You want to move. Your goal is simply to have few negative impressions upon those who may want to purchase your property.
Check all of your windows to make sure they open and close easily. If not, a spray of WD40 often helps. Make sure there are no cracked or broken windowpanes. If there are, replace them before you begin showing your home.
Do the same things with the doors – make sure they open and close properly, without creaking. If they do, a shot of WD40 on the hinges usually makes the creak go away. Be sure the doorknobs turn easily, and that they are cleaned and polished to look sharp. As buyers go from room to room, someone opens each door and you want to do everything necessary to create a positive impression.
For those who smoke, you might want to minimize smoking indoors while trying to sell your home. Actually, it is best to move smoking outside. You could also purchase an ozone spray that helps to remove odors without creating a masking odor.
Apologies to pet owners, but pets come with odors. You may have become used to them, but they are immediately noticeable to those with more finely tuned olfactory senses.
For those with cats, be sure to empty kitty litter boxes daily and use plenty of baking soda. For dog owners, keep the dog outdoors as much as possible, even those adorable lovable little dogs. You might also try sprinkling carpet freshener on the carpet on a periodic basis.
Most real estate advice tells you to work on the outside of the house first, but unless there is a major project involved, it is probably best to save it for last. There are two main reasons for this. First, the first steps in preparing the interior of the house are easier. They also help develop the proper mind set required for selling – beginning to think of your “home” as a marketable commodity. Second, the exterior is the most important.
A homebuyer’s first impression is based on his or her view of the house from the real estate agent’s car. They call that first impression “curb appeal.”
So take a walk across the street and take a good look at your house. Look at nearby houses, too, and see how yours compares. Then it may be time to go to work.
Is your landscaping at least average for the neighborhood? If it is not, buy a few bushes and plant them. Do not put in trees. Mature trees are expensive, and you will not get back your investment. Also, immature trees do not really add much to the appearance value of the home.
If you have an area for flowers, buy mature colorful flowers and plant them. They add a splash of vibrancy and color, creating a favorable first impression. Do not buy bulbs or seeds and plant them. They will not mature fast enough to create the desired effect and you certainly don’t want a patch of brown earth for homebuyers to view.
Your lawn should be evenly cut, freshly edged, well watered, and free of brown spots. If there are problems with your lawn, you should probably take care of them before working on the inside of your home. This is because certain areas may need to be re-sod, and you want to give it a chance to grow so that re-sod areas are not immediately apparent. Plus, you might want to give fertilizer enough time to be effective.
Always rake up loose leaves and grass cuttings.
The back yard should be tidy. If you have a pool or spa, keep it freshly maintained and constantly cleaned. For those that have dogs, be sure to constantly keep the area clear of “debris.” If you have swing sets or anything elaborate for your kids, it probably makes more sense to remove them than to leave them in place. They take up room, and you want your back yard to appear as spacious as possible, especially in newer homes where the yards are not as large.
The front door should be especially sharp, since it is the entryway into the house. Polish the door fixture so it gleams. If the door needs refinishing or repainting, make sure to get that done.
If you have a cute little plaque or shingle with your family name on it, remove it. Even if it is just on the mailbox. You can always put it up again once you move. Get a new plush door mat, too. This is something else you can take with you once you move.
Make sure the lock works easily and the key fits properly. When a homebuyer comes to visit your home, the agent uses the key from the lock box to unlock the door. If there is trouble working the lock while everyone else stands around twiddling their thumbs, this sends a negative first impression to prospective homebuyers.
Want to start off with a High Sales Price?
So you’ve decided to sell your home and have a fairly good idea of what you think it is worth. Being a sensible home seller, you schedule appointments with three local listing agents who’ve been hanging stuff on your front doorknob for years. Each Realtor comes prepared with a “Competitive Market Analysis” on fancy paper and they each recommend a specific sales price.
Amazingly, a couple of the Realtors have come up with prices that are lower than you expected. Although they back up their recommendations with recent sales data of similar homes, you remain convinced your house is worth more.
When you interview the third agent’s figures, they are much more in line with your own anticipated value, or maybe even higher. Suddenly, you are a happy and excited home seller, already counting the money.
If you’re like many people, you pick Realtor number three. This is an agent who seems willing to listen to your input and work with you. This is an agent that cares about putting the most money in your pocket. This is an agent that is willing to start out at your price and if you need to drop the price later, you can do that easily, right?
After all, everyone else does it!
The truth is that you may have just met an agent engaging in a questionable sales practice called “buying a listing.” He “bought” the listing by suggesting you might be able to get a higher sales price than the other agents recommended. Most likely, he is quite doubtful that your home will actually sell at that price. The intention from the beginning is to eventually talk you into lowering the price.
Why do some agents “buy” listings this way?
There are basically two reasons. A well-meaning and hard working agent can feel pressure from a homeowner who has an inflated perception of his home’s value. On the other hand, there are some agents who engage in this sales practice routinely.
If you start out with a high sales price, then drop it later — your house is “old news.” You will never be able to recapture that flurry of initial activity you would have had with a realistic price. Your house could take longer to sell.
Even if you do successfully sell at an above market price to an uninformed buyer, your buyer will need a mortgage. The mortgage lender requires an appraisal. If comparable sales for the last six months and current market conditions do not support your sales price, the house won’t appraise. Your deal falls apart. Of course, you can always attempt to renegotiate the price, but only if the buyer is willing to listen.
Your house could go “back on the market.”
Once your home has fallen out of escrow or sits on the market awhile, it is harder to get a good offer. Potential buyers will think you might be getting desperate, so they will make lower offers. By overpricing your home in the beginning, you could actually end up settling for a lower price than you would have normally received.
Details of a Listing Contract
When setting the terms of sale, the main thing you are concerned with is the price. You should have a basic idea of what your home is worth by keeping track of other sales in the neighborhood. Plus, you have probably interviewed at least two real estate agents and they have given you their own ideas. Exercise great care in determining your asking price, making sure not to set it too high or too low. In addition to the price, you will disclose what personal property, if any, goes with the house when you sell it. Personal property is anything that is not attached or fixed to the home, such as washers, dryers, refrigerators, and so on.
There may be some item that is considered “real property” that you do not intend to include in the sale. Real property is anything that is attached to the home. For example, you may have a chandelier that has been in your family for generations and you take it from home to home when you move. Since the chandelier is attached to the house, it is considered “real property” and a reasonable buyer would normally expect it to go with the house. The listing contract should make clear that it does not, and your agent should also enter this information with the Multiple Listing Service.
In most areas there is a “customary” percentage that real estate agents and companies expect to earn as a commission. The percentage varies from region to region, and depending upon whether it is residential real estate or commercial real estate. However, just like anything else in real estate, this amount is negotiable. When completing the listing agreement, you and your agent will agree on the amount of the real estate commission.
The listing contract also specifies when the commission is earned. This is important and you should pay close attention:
If a ready, willing and able buyer presents an offer that meets your listing price and terms, the agent has effectively earned the commission at that time. If a buyer presents an offer and you reach agreement on price and terms through counter-offers, the agent has also earned his or her commission.
Sellers occasionally get cold feet, just like buyers do. If this is going to happen to you – make sure you consider it before you agree to terms with a buyer.
Once you reach terms with a buyer, you have incurred two contractual obligations. One is to the buyer and the other is to your agent. if you should decide to cancel just because you’ve changed your mind about moving — the agent has earned their commission according to the terms of most contracts. They will probably want to be paid.
Your listing contract should specify whether or not the house will be listed with the local MLS (multiple listing service). It is definitely in your interest to have the house listed. This is because your sales force is automatically multiplied by however many agents are members of the local MLS. If your house is not listed, then you only have one agent working for you instead of many.
This is where selling “by owner” generally fails.
Owners see that an agent puts a sign in the yard, prepares brochures, holds open houses, advertises in the paper and on the internet, and they think this is how houses are sold. It is easy to understand why owners believe that, but it just isn’t so.
Listing agents do those things for three main reasons. First, because the owners expect them to. Second, because it shows other sellers how much they do to market a home, and it gets more listings. Third, because it brings in clients who want to buy “some” house – though it probably will not be yours.
Practically no one buys the house in the ad or a home they visit during an open house. Think about your own experiences when you bought the house you are now selling. How did you find it? Probably through your agent, who found it in the Multiple Listing Service.
The MLS is a huge network and practically every local agent is a member — and those agents have clients looking to buy a home. That network is what sells your house.
Many people think of the real estate agent as a salesperson. Many agents (perhaps most agents) would jump at the chance to be “just” a salesperson. But they aren’t just a salesperson. Most states have legislated it so that real estate agents are also — agents.
An agent is “responsible” to their clients. They have a duty, called a “fiduciary duty.” This means the agent is responsible to act in the best interests of their client. A car salesman does not have to act in your best interests — they just have to sell the car. It isn’t that simple for real estate agents.
Real estate agents not only have to sell the house, they have to be responsible. That involves a lot of liability, which is one reason for all the disclosures and the pages and pages of contracts, and why they want to be paid for being more than “just” a salesman.
The listing contract will specify that your agent is acting as a “seller’s agent.” This means that, in the sale of your house, they are working for you and only you — and looking out for your best interests.
However, there may be times when your listing agent has a client who wants to buy your home. For that reason, there is a little “wiggle room” in the listing contract. If your agent also represents the buyer, the listing contract should specify that they provide an additional disclosure that details whether they continue to act as your agent or assume the duties of a dual agent.
The contract also provides permission for your listing agent to act as an agent for others on other transactions. They can continue to list other properties, and represent buyers looking at other homes besides yours.
A lockbox is a basically a padlock with a cavity inside where a key to your home can be placed. Only someone with a key (electronic or mechanical) or the combination can get into the lockbox and access the key to your home. Having a lockbox available at your house makes it easy for other agents to get access to your house.
Without the lockbox, agents representing buyers would have to set appointments to meet you or your agent at the house so they could gain access and view the home. This would be inconvenient. Since almost every other house does have a lockbox available, if you do not allow one most agents will simply not show your property. You will miss out on lots of potential buyers.
The listing contract specifies whether you allow a lockbox or not. It is locked into place, usually on the front door and cannot be removed. Only other agents can access the key that is located within the lockbox.
Listing Commissions and Related Issues
In most areas there is a customary percentage that real estate agents expect to earn as a commission. When completing the listing agreement, you and your agent will negotiate and agree on the amount of the real estate commission.
When you agree to a commission with a listing agent, you should keep in mind that there are usually two agents involved in most transactions. Most of the time, only part of the commission goes to the listing agent’s company. The other portion goes to the company representing the buyer.
Some commission-related questions you could ask:
Will your property be listed in the Multiple Listing Service?
Being listed in the MLS expands your sales force. Every agent is invited to bring potential buyers to your property. This larger supply of buyers effects your pricing power and the ability to sell your home more quickly.
What is the effect on the company representing the buyer?
Since part of the commission usually goes to the company representing the buyer, you may want to ask whether that portion of the commission offers the customary amount. As mentioned above, the more agents that show your property, the more pricing power you have and the more quickly your home will sell.
What is the effect on marketing?
Very few properties are sold through advertising or open houses, but it does happen. Most often, those ads generate calls from potential buyers or sellers, who end up as clients for real estate agents — and you want agents to bring potential buyers to your property. Advertising your property to other agents has a higher impact than direct advertising to consumers.
Will you be tied in to other services?
A real estate company with bundled services has more income opportunity which may allow them to offer lower prices. However, there are a few companies whose additional services are not priced competitively with opportunities you can find on the open market. You should be sure to ask lots of questions and determine whether you are limited to certain choices or you have the freedom to also explore the open market.
Your listing contract specifies a listing price. Your agent’s job is to bring a “ready, willing and able” buyer to present an offer. If you reach agreement with the buyer, then the agent has done his job and earned the commission. Once the sale has closed, the real estate broker gets paid from the proceeds of the sale.
If the buyer proves unable or unwilling to conclude the sale, the house is placed back on the market and the agent has to begin earning his or her commission all over again.
However, if the seller backs out or does not accept an offer that meets the price and terms of the listing agreement, the listing broker has still earned the commission. They may want to be paid, even though you did not actually sell your home. Therefore, it is very important to carefully consider every detail when completing your listing contract and accepting an offer to buy your property.
The Listing Agent & Basic Marketing
It seems fairly obvious that when you put your house up for sale that your agent will put a “for sale” sign in the front yard. The sign will identify the agent’s company, the agent, and have a phone number so prospective buyers can call and get information.
Signs are great at generating phone calls, even if very few actually purchase the home they call about. However, you might be one of the lucky ones. For that reason, you should determine what happens when someone calls the number on the sign. Does a live person answer the phone or does the call go to a voicemail or recorder?
You want someone to answer the phone while the caller is “hot.” When buyers call the number on the sign, the call should go to a live person who can answer questions immediately. A potential buyer may be on the street outside your home, placing the call using a cell phone.
Also, take a look at the sign and see if it seems more interested in generating calls from buyers, or if it seems more oriented toward advertising your agent’s listing services to your neighbors.
Your agent should prepare a brochure that displays a photo of the exterior of the home and several interior photos and it should also provide details about your house. There should also be a phone number so buyers can contact your agent to get additional information. The brochures should be displayed in a prominent location in your home like on the kitchen counter or a dining room table.
The brochure box is convenient for those buyers who drive by and just happen to see the “for sale” sign in front of your house. We tend not to use them on most of our properties because most of the time when drive by lookers pull that flyer out of the brochure box they don’t tend to call us to get any more information on the property. If we just place the for sale sign in the yard with our direct numbers on it we can try and talk them into coming inside to look at the home.
The Listing Agent – Marketing Your House to Other Agents
Even before the sign is up and the brochures are ready, your agent should list your property with the local MLS (Multiple Listing Service). The MLS is a database of all the homes listed by local real estate agents who are members of the service, which is practically all of the local agents.
Important information about your property is listed here, from general data such as square footage and number of rooms, to such details as whether you have central air conditioning or hard wood flooring. There should also be a photo, and a short verbal description of what makes your house “special.”
Agents search the database for homes that fit the price range and needs of their clients. They pay special attention to homes that have been recently placed on the market, which is one reason you get a lot of attention when your house is first listed. Many agents will want to preview the home before they show it to their clients.
The main point about having your house listed in the MLS is that you expand your sales force by the number of local MLS members. Instead of having just one agent working for you, now you may have hundreds or more, depending on the size of your community.
The listing agent’s main job to make sure that the other MLS members know about your house. This is accomplished through listing your house in the Multiple Listing Service, broker previews and advertising targeted toward other agents, not homebuyers.
Realtor Open House is very similar to what used to be known as Caravan, except it is open to all the members of the local multiple listing service and not just the office that has your home listed.
Though it may seem funny, nothing seems to attract a real estate agent like the offer of free food. So if your agent offers “free eats” at a realtor open house, you are likely to get more visitors than if nothing is offered.
Of course, some agents will actually come to look at your house, too – whether food is offered or not.
This does get your house in their minds though. If they have buyers coming in and they have already previewed your home, it helps the realtors to know if this would be the PERFECT home for their potential buyer.
The Listing Agent – Marketing your House to Homebuyers
Every home seller likes to be assured that their listing agent or the real estate company will run ads featuring their home. Newspaper ads could be large display ads with lots of listings or small classified ads featuring just your property. Ads may also appear in local real estate magazines and your listing will also show up on the Internet.
Of course the agents and companies will run ads featuring your house, but not for the reasons you expect.
You see, the main job of advertising is not to sell your house directly. Advertising creates phone calls and some of those callers become clients of the agents answering the calls. This builds up a pool of homebuyers looking for property in general, all represented by selling agents (buyer’s agents). Multiply this by all the agents and companies who also advertise homes, and there is a large pool of homebuyers in the market at any given time – all of whom are represented by selling agents.
The agents representing those homebuyers know about your home because it is listed in the Multiple Listing Service, has been on office and broker preview, and because your agent may have also sent flyers to all the local real estate offices.
The agents match up their clients with available homes, one of which may be yours. Then they show the homes to their clients, who eventually make an offer on one. That is how your house gets sold.
Ads create a pool of clients, one of which buys your home. Ads do not usually sell your house directly.
An open house when your property is placed on the market can be very important, but not for the reasons most homeowners think. Just like with advertising, most visitors to open houses rarely buy the house they come to look at. They may not even know the price of your home when they stop by to visit – they probably just followed an “Open House” sign to your door.
An open house performs a similar function to the neighborhood announcements – it lets all of your neighbors know that your house is for sale, and it practically invites them to come “take a look.” Being generally nosy, a lot of your neighbors will take advantage of the invitation.
And they may tell their friends about your house, creating more “word of mouth” advertising.
Of course, there are other reasons for holding open houses, too. Listing agents who “farm” a particular neighborhood use them as an opportunity to meet with other local homeowners who will someday be selling their home. Your agent may hope to list their homes in the future.
Showing Your House to Home Buyers
Your house should always be available for show, even though it may occasionally be inconvenient for you. Let your listing agent put a lock box in a convenient place to make it easy for other agents to show your home to homebuyers. Otherwise, agents will have to schedule appointments, which is an inconvenience. Most will just skip your home to show the house of someone else who is more cooperative.
Most agents will call and give you at least a couple of hours notice before showing your property. If you refuse to let them show it at that time, they will just skip your house. Even if they come back another time, it will probably be with different buyers and you may have just lost a chance to sell your home.
Homebuyers will feel like intruders if you are home when they visit, and they might not be as receptive toward viewing your home. Visit the local coffee house, yogurt shop, or take the kids to the local park. If you absolutely cannot leave, try to remain in an out of they way area of the house and do not move from room to room. Do not volunteer any information, but answer any questions the agent may ask.
When you know someone is coming by to tour your home, turn on all the indoor and outdoor lights – even during the day. At night, a lit house gives a “homey” impression when viewed from the street. During the daytime, turning on the lights prevents harsh shadows from sunlight and it brightens up any dim areas. Your house looks more homey and cheerful with the lights on.
Do not use scented sprays to prepare for visitors. It is too obvious and many people find the smells of those sprays offensive, not to mention that some may be allergic. If you want to have a pleasant aroma in your house, have a potpourri pot or something natural. Or turn on a stove burner (or the oven) for a moment and put a drop of vanilla extract on it. It will smell like you have been cooking
If you have pets, make sure your listing agent puts a notice with your listing in the multiple listing service. The last thing you want is to have your pet running out the front door and getting lost. If you know someone is coming, it would be best to try to take the pets with you while the homebuyers tour your home. If you cannot do that, It is best to keep dogs in a penned area in the back yard. Try to keep indoor cats in a specific room when you expect visitors, and put a sign on the door. Most of the time, an indoor cat will hide when buyers come to view your property, but they may panic and try to escape.
Especially if your kitchen trash can does not have a lid, make sure you empty it every time someone comes to look at your home – even if your trash can is kept under the kitchen sink. Remember that you want to send a positive image about every aspect of your home. Kitchen trash does not send a positive message. You may go through more plastic bags than usual, but it will be worth it.
Not everyone makes his or her bed every day, but when selling a home it is recommended that you develop the habit. Pick up papers, do not leave empty glasses in the family room, keep everything freshly dusted and vacuumed. Try your best to have it look like a model home – a home with furniture but nobody really lives there.
If you are thinking about selling your home in the near future, call us today to find out how much your home is worth. We will be glad to provide you with a free Certified Market Analysis of your home.
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