The difference between chasing potential buyers away and having multiple offers

Preparing Your Home for Sale

by Gary Foreman


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Preparing your home for sale could make the difference between chasing potential buyers away and having multiple offers for your home. But what does it take to get ready to put your home on the market? How do you know what things are important and which are overkill? To help us answer that question, we contacted Betsy M. Watson. Betsy is a realtor with the Roy Wheeler Realty Company in Charlottesville, VA and has been staging homes for sale for years.

Q: You advise potential home sellers to get rid of clutter prior to putting their home on the market. But one man's clutter is another's 'lived in look'. What's the proper balance?

Betsy Watson: Clutter is tricky. The problem with it is that people look at it instead of your house, and they remember it and not your house. If it stands out and does not blend into your property, it probably needs to be put away. You want your house to present itself without any distractions and you want prospective buyers to imagine they live there, not you. Removal of personal items, paper, and souvenirs are a good place to start. Find a new home for the paper and pack up the others. It will not only give you a head start on moving, but it will help you distance yourself from your home. Sellers need to see their home unemotionally. Those cute growth lines for the children and the dent in the wall from the soccer ball do not give buyers the same feelings that they give you.

Q: You also stress that a home for sale needs to be clean. Is that something that the homeowner can do? Or is it wise to bring in a professional for a one-time cleaning?

Betsy Watson: I would suggest a cleaning service if you can afford it. Sometimes people no longer see the fingermarks and dirty windows. I suggest starting to deep clean at least a month before you put your property on the market. Buyers like to feel that there will be plenty of room for their things. If every storage space is full, they will wonder if it would have enough storage for them. I would recommend Flylady.com. She will keep you on track and she describes how to do panic cleaning and how to move in clear steps.

Q: Are there some smaller upgrades that will more than pay for themselves when you sell? What are they?

Betsy Watson: The small upgrades that I would recommend would be fresh linens for the bedrooms and bathrooms, pretty lotions and soaps, some pots of flowers around the entry and perhaps a new mat. Pretend that your home is a bed and breakfast that you will be staying in. How would you like it to look? That is the look buyers want. They are looking for fresh, clean, and depersonalized.


Q: What about the patio and yard area? We read that "curb appeal" is important. What exactly is curb appeal and how can you make your home more attractive?

Betsy Watson: Every area is different as to vegetation, but no one wants animal droppings or holes in their yard. A clean neat yard with some splashes of color is a start. An arrangement of outdoor furniture in an inviting setting is a big plus. The goal is to make your home look effortless to maintain and that all the new owners will be doing is drinking coffee in comfort without a care in the world.

Q: What's the most common complaint that potential buyers have? Is there anything that sellers can do to make it easier for buyers?

Betsy Watson: One of the most common complaints is that the yard would require too much work and time to keep it up. Odors associated with animals, smoke, and diapers and the scents used to cover them are a big turn off. An owner that is inflexible and will not return calls to their agents is another one. When buyers are ready to go, they are ready to go. Listen to your agent. Agents talk to each other. They are both trying to get the best deal for their clients and are trying to find out what they need to do to make it work. There are a lot of personal details that we cannot share, but we really are putting your interests first, so it comes down to trust. Work with an agent that you trust. You will complicate the process if you are always second guessing your agent.

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Q: What precautions should be taken considering that there will be strangers in your home?

Betsy Watson: Buyers should be pre-qualified for their mortgage before they even start looking. You will be amazed at how much help a mortgage broker can be on fixing your credit or even getting you a higher score. Some of this tweaking takes time, so I suggest that you should start this process at least three to six months before the looking process. Having your paperwork in order and being truthful with your mortgage broker will make the process smoother. I suggest a mortgage broker over a bank as they have more mortgage programs available to them. They also know of programs that can assist special needs or first-time home buyers. They can put together a package for you that is unavailable to banks. However, there are times when it makes sense to use your bank and the mortgage broker can direct you to which is appropriate.

When your property is ready for showing, please put small valuable pieces, such as jewelry, in a secure location. Lock up all medicines. Do not have papers with personal information out in the open. Water, fruit, or small treats are nice to put out for the lookers.

Q: You advise sellers to have a home inspection before putting their home up for sale. Why is that?

Betsy Watson: Most realtors ask the sellers to have a home inspection before they list their property. It is much better to have everything repaired and not have surprises after a contract is offered. You are in a bad negotiating spot at that time.


Betsy Watson was a Grants Specialist for the University of Virginia before she retired. She worked with figures, budgets, and contracts. As with anything dealing with money, it was stressful and time sensitive. When she retired six years ago, she went to her first love, real estate. She had been handling many of the components of a real estate transaction for years, plus buying and staging homes of her own to sell.

Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com. Gary shares his philosophy of money here. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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