When Selling a Home its the Details that count

Empathy. We stepped outside for the moment to envision how our interview candidate would look to prospective buyers. Over the years, she’d gotten used to the loose handle on the front door and always liked to tell the story about an obscure dark stain on the well-used living room carpet. Her fondness for her home reflected in her eyes as she recalled the story about how her two-year old had managed to knock the lid off a safety mug.

She looked at me quizzically as I removed my shoes before opening the door lock, but she followed suit quickly realizing that she preferred anyone seeing the home to do the same. We could see the children next door playing tag in the living room, but we hadn’t heard them from the inside because of the quality of the materials shielding the two homes from each other.

I turned to her and smiled. “It would be a shame if people didn’t know how well your home is constructed,” I whispered as I turned the key and, with only a gentle touch, rattled the handle making an ugly clanking sound as its screws rattled against their sockets. Fortunately, the screwdriver on my Swiss Army Knife was just small enough to solve the issue.

It was one more step towards her goal of getting the home on the market as quickly as possible, minimizing any out-of-pocket expenses required to do so, and enticing people to want her home more than anyone else’s virtually identical home in this Silicon Valley neighborhood.

The Extra Polish for the Interview

How much more confident would you be paying more for a well-constructed duplex or condominium than a hastily thrown-together apartment conversion? It sounds trivial, but when a rattling door handle can obscure the quality of a well-constructed home, how much money and time on the market could that cost?

There is a clause that makes things easier, but there was no guarantee we’d get one. It’s a common contingency waiver in Silicon Valley, but a lot of buyers are reluctant to sign as-is clauses on the purchase of a home. And even as-is, the buyer could still negotiate some items (read: money) back if there were an inspection contingency in the offer. Besides, savvy real estate buyers will often say they’ll ignore the little nits that bother them, but then price them into the offer. The disparity is that a collection of little $50 nits turns into an offer 1 or 2 percent lower than it could have been.

Of course, a squeaky hinge or loose doorknob is no big deal. But, in the scheme of things, neither is a typo. Would you email your resume with one on it? Perception trumps any semblance of reality and there are a number of common areas (beyond the traditional cleaning) that have a great impact but can be improved at only an incremental cost.

1) Tubs and Showers
Ewww. You could eat off the floor in her kitchen. Every crevice glistened in the sunlight coming in from the patio. But while the cleanliness of the kitchen could literally inspire medieval bards to song, the bathrooms weighed down the home with rusty water stains lining the edges of all the tubs. They made the home feel old and used, and the cleaning service she used didn’t remove the stains. Fortunately, a Clorox bleach pen whitens those hard-to-clean areas very conveniently.

2) Carpets
Nothing kills a showing faster than smells and, over time, most scents get trapped in the carpet, even when after regular vacuuming. And frankly, after years of living in the same home, the carpet generally takes on the scent of the people living there (something completely unnoticeable to most sellers).

The issue is psychological: buyers need to be able to envision your house as their own, and they can’t do that as easily if their instincts tell them they’re in someone else’s house. Getting a professional carpet cleaning can help a carpet look “younger” and eliminate any non-neutral scents in the house. Folex carpet spray works wonders on eliminating individual spot stains.

3) Light Bulbs
Obviously broken ones need to be replaced, but why replace perfectly good light bulbs? Whether it’s because of the large oak in the front yard or the office building across the street, some homes just don’t get that much light, even during the day. This raises a red flag with a lot of folks. Replacing light bulbs with ones rated for the highest wattage safe and suitable for that outlet will subtly increase the brightness and appeal of your home.

4) Insects
Owners are usually extremely conscientious of getting rid of cobwebs and ants inside the home knowing that buyers don’t want to see insects. After all, many people have a very strong innate reaction to things that crawl or buzz around. But they often don’t check for trails of ants marching their way into a home through cracks from the outside, or mosquitoes hovering around a porch lamp at night, or even wasps that have made their home in a nondescript corner of an overhang.

There are a number of natural remedies for ants and you can often keep flying insects of the porch using a special outdoor light bulb that generates light invisible to bugs. Eliminating wasp nests is potentially dangerous but there are techniques for differentiating them from bees nests then eliminating any threat.

5) Doors
Imagine being at a car dealership and walking up to what you really hope is going to be your next car, but as you’re about to get into the driver’s seat, you can’t get the door open. In fact, you have to lean your weight back and give it a good pull before it begins to budge, and when it finally does you’re thrown backwards in surprise.

That happens all the time in houses for sale. Sometimes a stuck door is an indication of structural changes in the house and that the foundation needs to be checked. Silicon Valley is earthquake country and mild settling occurs frequently; humidity and moisture variation, among other things, can also cause this issue. But often times, the problem can be fixed simply by tightening or replacing the door’s hinges. The most drastic measure is planing the door by sanding or cutting it to allow smooth operation. Opinions on when to plane doors vary.

6) Wood
Particularly on kitchen cabinets but often in bathrooms as well. Having cabinets that glow from their cleanliness before a showing helps improve the overall appearance of your home and there are some relatively simple recommendations for fixing minor cosmetic problems. Even a simple treatment with a cleaner like Cabinet Magic or Pledge can give many wood cabinets or fireplace mantles a deeper, richer, much improved look that lasts for a few days.

7) Scuff Marks on Floors and PaintEveryone understands there are going to be scuff marks. What happens, though, particularly with dark scuffs, is that they tend to take the focus away from the more important aspects of your house. And, on the other extreme, some buyers envision themselves putting a lot of work into removing these marks and are less than about the idea. This type of buyer values the ability to move in trouble-free.

Advice on removing scuffs on walls and floors varies, but the general consensus is that minor stains can be eliminated pretty easily — and you can help buyers focus on how great the condition of your home is.

Availability For Showing Is Everything

It was the undiscovered country. The downtown market in this Silicon Valley city was heating up and even homes that were structurally sound but had serious functional flaws were selling quickly — and for well over the asking price. Their schedule was clear, though. No showings on weekends, only Monday through Thursday between 9:30 and 5pm. No exceptions.

I had to feel for the listing agent because our story had to have been typical. Like everyone else in Silicon Valley, particularly the tech industry, my client really wanted to see homes in Sunday, maybe Saturday if the home was right enough. Weekdays during the day were out of the question, even during lunch because it just wasn’t practical to drive all that way, see a place, eat something and get back to work in an hour.

I did see the place myself. It’s one thing for me to preview the property, send video, and document my opinions on a property, but this was where my client was going to be living as his primary residence and I didn’t feel comfortable with him making an offer on a first home he hadn’t seen.

After four months on the market, at a reasonable price for the area, the listing was cancelled. They obviously didn’t want any intrusion onto their personal lives. It could have been that the property owners weren’t serious about selling; it could have been that they valued their time with their newborn more than upgrading to a new place.

From a business standpoint, the comparables would have supported offers over the asking price, but given the difficult showings and lack on online disclosures, there was no convenient way to make an informed offer. This was an extreme case, but it’s a clear illustration of what can happen if buyers can’t see the product they’re putting anywhere between a few hundred thousand and several million dollars on.

Putting Your Best Foot Forward to Sell Faster and For More

There’s a reason why developers use model homes to entice people to buy homes in their communities. To ensure a faster sale, it is generally best to have moved out of the home. Professional staging helps paint a better picture than a vacant home, but vacancy does have the advantage (and disadvantage) of allowing a closer look at the property itself, without being colored by furniture. This isn’t always practical so here are some subtle ways to help your home sell if you need to live in the home you’re selling.

1) Vigilance
Opportunities present themselves to people who are ready for them. Agents and their clients sometimes have to act within tight windows of time, whether it’s during a quick lunch break or a lull because their daughter’s soccer game ran long. Either way, it’s a last-minute call. Is it a scramble or do you know that your toothbrush isn’t on the bathroom counter and that the bathrooms are all presentable? I know it’s an imposition, but if — while you’re both living in and selling it — you treat your home as if it didn’t have curtains, you’ll sell it faster.

2) Absence
A lot of buyers don’t mind if the owners are there. All buyers don’t mind if the owners aren’t there. The reason isn’t personal. Buyers don’t want to hurt the feelings of their hosts, the home owners, so they’ll often mute their honest opinions or stay longer than they actually want to.

The unintended consequence is that, because they don’t communicate what they’re really thinking, it’s difficult to immediately address any negative issues that arise. After all, if the carpet is dirty, most people won’t want to say that within earshot of the owner — because it’s considered rude. But they’ll say it without reservations to me because we’ll figure out a way of solving that problem, whether through a sellers credit, price negotiation, or simply hiring a good carpet cleaner.

3) Post-It Notes

The reason why some owners want to attend showings is because they want to play up their favorite features. I usually accomplish this by adding small notes to draw attention to areas of particular quality or interest that might be missed during a casual viewing. One note per room, up to a maximum of seven per home (seven being a psychological maximum for memory in studies), prevents information overload and acts to highlight the best features of a home. After all, if every feature were a “best” feature, who would remember any one of them?

4) Livable Staging

Most furniture used in staging is meant for show and not use. Some of it is lighter so that it’s easier to move. Other pieces serve no useful purpose other than decoration, or to draw the attention to or away from particular features of a home. Many professional stagers, however, can completely makeover your home using furniture and accents that you can actually use for daily living, combining the advantages of making your house look like a model home and allowing you to live there — provided you’re vigilant about keeping it in model condition.

Every showing is a job interview and by paying attention to what the condition of your home implies to buyers and how readily available the house is to show, you can help your home sell faster and for more than the one next door.

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