Preparing Your House for Sale

by Gary Foreman


Last year over 4 million homes were sold in the US. Some sold quickly while others languished on the market for a seeming eternity. Why was that so? Why would one house sell more quickly than another. Naturally, price makes a difference. But how a house looks to a prospective buyer certainly plays a part.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. It's true when a person is meeting you for the first time. It's also true when a person is meeting your house for the first time.

Realtors will tell you that summer is the most active time for home sales. For many families a summer move allows their children to change schools more smoothly. No matter why, if you're planning on selling your house this summer, now is the time to begin preparations.

How do you make your house more attractive to a stranger who's seeing it for the first time? Let's explore the advice of experts in the field. They suggest a number of strategies that can be summed up by clean up / fix up, clear out and be conscious.

Clean up and fix up. It always seemed funny to me that we would live with a problem for years and then fix it just months before selling the house and with it the problem. But that's the exact right thing to do. Remember when you were buying your home. Unless you were looking for a `fixer upper', you were mentally keeping track of all the repairs you'd have to make. And they caused you to lower your offer, if you made one at all.

Take the time to fix windows, doors and eliminate squeaks. You may have a window that you haven't opened for years, but you can bet that it will be the first one that a looker opens. Check them all. Oil door hinges so your house doesn't sound like it's haunted!

Unless you're unusually good about routine maintenance, you'll want to plan on doing a little painting. Any sign of flaking or peeling will cost you money. Even if the paint just looks old or weather-beaten the wise move is to put on a fresh coat. Paint is a cheap way to improve the looks of your castle.

One area that you'll want to inspect carefully is the front entrance. Make sure your front door is looking sharp. It may be time to replace an old doorbell, knocker, or latchset.

While we're outside, don't forget to inspect your fences. Are any repairs needed? How about a some paint? You might even want to do a little work on a neighbor's fence that adjoins your property. Of course, you'll want to get their approval first.

Ok, I admit it. It seems that no matter how hard I try, it's impossible to get caught up with the yard work. And being frugal, I don't really want to have anyone do it for me. But when you're getting ready to sell your house, you need to catch up or hire it out. Make sure your trees are trimmed. Edging grass along walkways, drives and fences is easy to do and important to the visual impact your yard makes.

Savvy homebuyers will notice weeds. They'll also assume that the presence of weeds in your grass is a sign that although routine maintenance may be done, everything might not be in `top notch' shape. It may be time to hire your kids or a neighbor kid who's trying to save money for a class trip. I know, you don't like paying for things, but don't be penny wise and pound foolish.

You'll also want to wash those windows. Sunlight flooding into a room makes it look inviting and warm. Dirty windows have a way of ruining that effect!

Carpets may require a cleaning. If they're worn or soiled you may even want to consider replacing them. Low end carpeting may not look good for the long haul, but you just need a few months to sell this spruced up home!

Clear Out. There are a number of things that you'll want to clear out or eliminate from your home when you're showing it to prospective buyers. You'll hear professional real estate sales people tell you that it's good for lookers to be able to `picture' their family in a home.

Your inclination may be to let the house have that `lived in' look. Fight the inclination. Let's face it, regular day to day life creates clutter. Today's mail and paper are normal to you, but they're a distraction to your buyer. You want them to be able to visualize their family living there without any discordant notes.

Begin by moving out some large items. Does your garage contain a large workbench and a chair waiting to be reupholstered? It's time to rent temporary storage and move them there. Take a look at your rooms. Maybe some of those extra chairs that you use for holiday gatherings are storage candidates. You get the idea.

Renting some temporary storage is not as strange as it first seems. It will allow you to pack up some extra stuff from closets, bedrooms, the kitchen and utility room. You'll want all of these places to appear spacious. If you pack up some extra things now, it will also make your actual move that much easier.

It's probably a good time to have a garage sale. You'll clear out some of the clutter that makes your house less attractive. You'll also have less stuff to pack and move in a few months. And the money you'll make can be applied to renting that temporary storage!

This next advice will probably upset some of you. But it's not an attack on how anyone lives, just an acknowledgment that there are different kinds of people in this world. There are some things that you need to eliminate from the picture when prospects are present. Pets bring joy to many families. But you don't want them home when you're trying to sell the house. More than one buyer has been surprised, frightened or was just allergic to Snoopy or Fluffy.

TV and loud music are another no-no. There's no reason to distract your prospect's daydream with the evening news or your teen's latest CD. In fact, some experts suggest soft elevator-type music as a good background. Personally, I'd draw the line at elevator music, but...

How typical is your decor? If you have truly unusual furniture it may prove distracting to buyers. Some may enjoy your unique style. But there will be others with less taste than you will have a hard time picturing their furniture in your home.

Our final category requires us to be conscious of how the home appears to prospects. Think of it as a dinner party for important guests. Some even suggest having a friend or relative do an inspection as if they were a prospective buyer.

Lighting has an important effect on how we see things. Think of the last time you visited a museum or a lighting center. Experts suggest that you have plenty of light in your home when it's being shown. Drapes should be open and lights turned on. Plenty of light has a positive effect on your visitors.

Smells also play an important part in our emotions. And make no mistake about it, many buyers are acutely effected by their emotions. You may want to place a bouquet of fresh flowers on the dining room table. A moderate use of pot pourri in the bath might be a good idea. Some even suggest a loaf of fresh baked bread in the kitchen as a way to invoke happy memories. Be careful not to overdo it.

Remember that last minute tidy-up effort. You may have just finished a quick soft drink, but the glass belongs in the dishwasher, not in the sink. Beds should be made and clothes put away.

Sure it's a lot of work. And yes, you'll sell your house without doing it. But you'll never know exactly how much the sale price was lowered. And when you're selling your most expensive asset it pays to go the extra mile.


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 and he's a regular contributor to CreditCards.com. 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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