Let’s be candid, having your home for sale is dreadfully inconvenient and invasive. Who lives like that– keeping a home in showplace condition within an hour’s notice? You do, if your home is for sale! Your payback for all that inconvenience is a higher price and faster sale.
Most homes represent an Owner’s greatest asset. People don’t have cavalier or casual attitudes about their financial statements, so why do so many people fail to maximize the potential of their greatest asset? Maybe the answer is that a “Home” represents the Owner’s intimate and casual space, a place to be offstage, oneself, and comfortable.
It is too easy to forget financial implications when the reason for selling is because the Owner has been coping with unpleasant realities, age, incapacities, or has made a willing or unwilling change in job or family structure. The result is that the Owner is moving on but the asset is clinging on, as though the asset is supposed to understand and adapt to the Owner’s new circumstances. Well, the asset cannot take initiative, does not stand accountable, the Owner must.
While the Owner’s dreams for this particular property have faded or disappeared, there are Buyers who may want to stake their claim on this particular new dream.
And there is the crux of the dilemma: The Seller has become disenchanted, oftentimes even angry at the “House”, while Buyers are hoping to become enchanted, maybe with this “House”. It was a “Home” not long ago but the energy in it now says it is a “House”.
During the course of the Owner’s transition, what has happened to the “House” that used to be a “Home”?
It has grown older, general maintenance upkeep has not been as sharp as it used to be when everything about it mattered to the Owner. It is showing wear and tear that the Owner doesn’t want to mess with anymore and is now deeming these blemishes as “normal wear & tear”. “House” has accumulated lots of clutter attributed to the Owner’s family, pets, and hobbies. The Owner’s likes and dislikes are oh so apparent. “House”, over time, has taken on the Owner’s personality and idiosyncrasies. And that personality is evident throughout– to the point where the personality may be overwhelming and way too specific for Buyers on the hunt for their dream “Home”.
Not many Buyers have imagination in 3D. Buyers often have extreme difficulty envisioning the absence of the Owner’s clutter and the introduction of their own dreams. Consider the homes of a few friends and recall how critical or judgmental you may be about their tastes, style, and level of care. Why is your situation different?
Now, it is true that many Buyers have absolutely fallen in love with Sellers’ homes because they totally relate to their taste and style. Such is a win-win for all concerned, but not typical. If it were typical, why would so many Agents generally prefer a vacant, clean, neutral house to show?
First impressions are memorable, lasting impressions. First impressions promote recall, which will be either positive or negative. Whatever the first impression, be assured that it is burned into the Buyer’s and Agent’s memory upon first sight. Your property needs to be as close to looking like a showhome as possible, realizing that it’s the space you are selling, not your furnishings.
A home that shows well and leaves a positive imprint upon the Buyer’s and Agent’s memory is a house that sells quickly. If it’s not comfortable, not a feel good “I’m glad I’m here” place, the showing will be flat and quick.
There is a significant difference between decorating property vs merchandising it. Merchandising means that you are preparing your home in a way that will cause it to appeal to certain target markets. You are dressing your property to enhance the basic structure, the architecture, the floor plan, the relationship of the indoors to the outdoors. You are displaying it in such a way that it opens possibilities for Buyer’s to imagine how they might occupy this space and adapt it to their own tastes and lifestyle. They don’t have to like what you did with your space and they don’t have to like your taste. They may choose to undo what you just did by rehabbing this plan that worked well for you over many years.
Let it go. It’s their choice. What difference does it make, so long as you have defined what you want from a transaction? You don’t need their praise or their approval for what you did or how you did it.
I’ve had people say: “Well, this has been just fine for me for 30 years.” Oftentimes, the Buyer may be 15-30 yrs younger than the Seller and has different tastes and expectations than the Seller had at that age. This is not a time to be insulted but a time to recognize that your ultimate objective is to sell your home quickly for the most amount of money possible. That implies you might have to get out of your own way. Accept that what appeals to you may not be what appeals to today’s Buyers. That doesn’t make you wrong and the Buyer right. It just places the Buyer in the driver’s seat. The Buyer is your client. The main event is the property and what will remain when the Seller has vacated.
17 Tips to Enhance First Impressions
- Decide in advance what you want to imprint upon Buyer’s and Agent’s memory.
There are no perfect homes for Buyers. Determine what features of your home are the best, most unique features and then embellish those. Accentuate and enhance the best of what you have.
- A property needs to show well from the curb or it’s tough to get Buyers excited about going inside. Memory begins with the condition of the landscaping and the condition of the structure. Don’t overlook the condition of fencing. Apply fresh, thick, natural mulch (not the dyed mulch), have the shrubs and trees pruned to look like natural growth, not squared or rounded off. Crisp edging, a healthy looking lawn, no weeds in the beds will pay off.
- Agents avoid showing homes that have security alarms engaged. Unless the neighborhood is a high crime area, leave the alarm off. Arming the system suggests there’s a problem.
- Some Buyers and Agents have pet allergies, some have fear or aversion to pets. You may think your pet is darling but the Buyer and the Agent should not be preoccupied with, distracted or concerned by the pet(s) in any way.
- Use no artificial scents. Allergies react to sprays and can make people miserable with headaches, sinus irritation, and respiratory problems.
- Leave background music on softly or turn on a cable music station on your TV. Be careful about your program choices. You want totally innocuous music.
- The more light streaming through the windows, the larger the home appears.
Too many homes are all closed up, dark and uninviting.
- All lamps should be turned on; lamps should have 100 watt bulbs if the lamp will tolerate it, Do not turn on overhead lights except for kitchens and baths. Lighted lamps cause a room to appear larger and feel homier.
- Ceiling fans should be turned at the lowest setting. AC should be 72-73 degrees; heat should be about 66-68 degrees. In winter, people are wearing jackets or coats inside; in summer, people are coming in from the heat. You want the Buyers and Agents to be glad they’re there. “Wow, this feels good!” If a Buyer is too warm inside, they feel closed in and want to run out the door, especially if the Agent is attempting to close on the sale.
- The property, inside and outside, must be exceptionally, impeccably clean.
Clean Defined: wash down the baseboards, all heating/cooling registers and cold air returns;
Bathroom toilets, tub, shower/shower doors, sinks, floor all need to be sparkling with no soap residue. I realize you need to use these facilities before and after showings but first impressions are not forgiving. Kitchens and bathrooms need to be showhome clean. The Seller must do whatever is necessary to mitigate a “used” look and nowhere is “used” more apparent than bathrooms.
- Have the windows washed inside and outside.
All window sills and window frames need to be immaculate.
Window screens should be in top condition, no holes or tears in the screens, no bent frames.
Broken window seals will leave a cloudy window or condensation inside the panes. You don’t need a new window, you need a glass company to repair the seal.
- Appliances clean inside and out.
- Steam clean carpeting. If you have dirty ceramic tile grout, have it professionally cleaned and the grout repaired, then sealed. Wash the floors so they are shiny clean.
- Wash the cabinetry, do not apply shine products that make the finish sticky. Just scrub them super clean. If they need to be re-stained, do it.
- A closed blind, or window treatment that is closed, arouses suspicion and curiosity. It also creates a visual dead-end to a room and prevents the room from having a relationship with the exterior environment. Open the blinds, keeping them completely horizontal. If you must close blinds, only close them partially. What are you hiding? Never close blinds in a way that causes slats to point downwards. If you need to partially close blinds, have slats point upwards from the inside.
- Less is More
Remove Clutter: When people are prepping their homes, they tend to add “stuff” in the name of decorating. The best way to prep is to remove “stuff”. Clear the countertops, table tops, and minimize the small items intended as decorator treatments. Little items placed about cause a room to appear smaller, cluttered & crowded. Walls with a lot of small, framed photos have the same affect. A large piece of art causes a room to have focus and can cause it to look special, whereas, small frames cause a room to look crowded.
- Dried flowers & silk plants are dust collectors and can show telltale signs of age. If it isn’t new, totally dust free, in up to date colors, get rid of it.
Buyers and Agents refer to properties as: the one with the broken garage door; the one with the broken concrete driveway, the one with the missing roof shingles, the house that needed painting, the house that needed trim boards replaced, the house with broken window seals, the house that needs the wood floor refinished, the house with the pink tile. The house that was so immaculate, the house with the updated bathrooms, the house that was so bright and cheery, the house that was so meticulously maintained, the house that had that fabulous back yard.
Sellers who have prepped their homes well for market often laugh and say “It looks so good now. we have regrets about selling it.” “It looks so good that I’m reminded why I bought it all those years ago.” Pride becomes evident in the degree of care.
You decide what you want the memory of your home to be, then, cash in on that memory.
Carol Ann Cardella is an expert stager and merchandiser who stands ready to assist you in prepping your home for sale in meaningful ways that will bring you a return in higher value and faster sale.