For Sellers

Prepare Your House For Sale

General Tips
  • Clean everything thoroughly. Ask a friend to help you assess your efforts—especially in sensitive areas such as odor removal.

  • Put out clean towels, new soap, a nice tablecloth and fresh flowers.

  • Don't be at home during a showing or open house. Your absence will put buyers at ease so they'll feel free to linger and ask questions.

  • If you do stay, be polite, but let your sales associate do the talking.

  • Don't apologize for the condition of your home.

  • Make sure kids and pets are out of the house.

  • Un-clutter all areas of your home to create an impression of spaciousness and plentiful storage space. A great way to clear away clutter and make money at the same time is to hold a yard or garage sale.

  • Nothing makes a home look newer faster than a fresh coat of paint. Neutral colors such as beige, white, off-white and gray have a broad appeal to prospective buyers. These colors suggest newness and cleanliness. It's a good idea to stick to neutrals when making any improvements prior to selling your home.

Storage

One of the first things a buyer looks at in a home is the storage it offers. A general rule of thumb for sellers is to take out half of what's in the closets and storage areas to make them look more spacious. Take advantage of the fact that you're preparing to move. This might be the right time to throw out, donate, sell or store things you no longer want. Remove excess furniture, even if only temporarily, to make rooms seem as spacious as possible. Storage areas in your basement, attic, or garage often end up as catchalls. Make sure these areas are well organized and give prospective buyers the impression that there is room for all of their belongings. Don't let a perceived lack of closet and storage space become an objection for a prospective buyer.

Kitchen

Ask homebuyers what area or room of the home they consider most important, and chances are they'll say the kitchen. When prospective buyers look at your kitchen, they will pay particular attention to its cleanliness, layout and storage capacity. If major appliances are being sold with the home, make sure they are spotless, odor-free and in good working condition. Polish chrome surfaces. Fix any leaky faucets; loose cabinet hardware, drawer handles and outdated or inefficient light fixtures. Make efficient use of drawers and cabinets with dividers and cutlery trays.

Windows & Walls

Clean your interior and exterior windows and screens. Repair cracked panes, torn screens, broken sashes, and ropes or cords as well. When your home is being shown, open your curtains to let daylight in, especially if the view is noteworthy. While you're at it, wash all the mirrors in the house too. Launder or dry clean curtains and drapes. Repair any cracks or holes in the walls and ceiling, and repaint if necessary. Strip outdated wallpaper.

Floors & Lighting

Carpeting has a major impact on the look of a home. Vacuum thoroughly or have it steam cleaned. If it is badly worn, outdated or stained, consider having it replaced, despite the expense. Pull up any carpet that is outdated or worn. Check wood floors to see if they need to be refinished. Scrub and wax tile floors, and repair or replace cracked tiles.
Make sure light fixtures, switches, switch plates and outlet covers are clean and in good working order.

Exterior Touch-Ups

Paint: It's true that first impressions are lasting. So take a good look at the paint on the outside of your house. Is it cracking, peeling or chipping?
If it is, a fresh coat for your exterior may cost you a bit of time and money but may elevate your home from "fixer-upper" to "move-in condition."
If you decide your home needs painting, choose colors that are appropriate for the style of your home and that blend in well with your neighborhood.
Roof: Buyers will pay close attention to the condition of your roof. Re-patch or re-shingle where necessary, and fix leaky, corroded downspouts and gutters. Inside, a watermarked ceiling is a sign to buyers that the roof has leaked—even if the damage has been repaired.

Getting Top Dollar For Your Home

Like all sellers, you'd like to command a high price for your home—and every buyer would like to pay as little as possible. The sale depends on many factors, including market conditions, your home's desirability, and how quickly you want to sell. In most real estate transactions, sellers and buyers meet somewhere in the middle—but there are ways to tip the balance in your favor. The urgency to make improvements later on may be prompted by a leaking roof, a change in the size of your household, or the need to convert the basement into the headquarters of a home-based business. You have a number of options to pay for improvements, including paying cash. However, most homeowners favor financing the job, especially if it involves significant remodeling or repair.

Get the facts.

Don't spend money on a formal market appraisal. The best way to determine the value of your house is to get three comparative market analyses from three agents specializing in your area. Not only will the agents take recent sales data and your home's attributes into account, they also will factor your neighborhood into the equation. If you choose to work with an agent to sell your home, select one with a track record of local sales and a good marketing plan.

Set your price judiciously.

Typically, if you set your price 5 percent to 10 percent above market price, you are likely to end up with an offer close to your home's true value. Also try calculating the cost per square foot of your house compared to homes already on the market (divide list price by square footage of livable space). If your house has more features or other desirable qualities, you may want to set a higher price. Finally, follow an old retail maxim for hooking buyers: Set your price just under a whole number, such as $179,900 rather than $180,000.

Don't waste time.

The longer a house sits on the market, the less likely you are to get the best price. Put your house on the market during the spring or fall, when the most buyers are looking; avoid the seasonal slow periods of mid-summer and mid-winter. Remember, you're paying property tax, insurance, and other costs while you're selling. If you've already bought your next home, expenses can quickly add up.

Have your house inspected.

A pre-sale evaluation from a qualified home inspector can save both money and heartache. You'll end up with a list of repairs you can address before you sell. The last thing you want is a surprise during the buyer's home inspection that will force you to lower the price or make costly, last-minute repairs before closing.

Make your home a model home.

Once you've made basic repairs, give your house the model home treatment. Your goal is to dazzle buyers willing to pay for a home in mint condition. Paint, floor polish, new light fixtures and fresh bedding plants are inexpensive ways to take your home from plain to profitable.

Finesse the purchase contract.

In the purchase contract, avoid expensive terms such as paying a buyer's closing costs, and watch out for contingencies that could cost you time off the market. If a buyer wants to close the sale contingent on selling his or her current house, include a kick-out clause that allows you to back out of the deal within 72 hours if you receive an offer that does not contain contingencies.

TIP:

Are you missing out on a better offer if you accept the first one you receive? If the price is in your range, consider market conditions and how quickly you want or need to sell. In a seller’s market with few listings, you may get other offers right away. But in a buyer’s market with many listings, you risk offending the buyer who may then withdraw the offer. If local practice and custom is to entertain all offers as they are received, follow convention and counter at a higher price. If custom dictates that no offers will be accepted until after the first open house, you have a reprieve.

Nothing to Lose

In a buyer's market with many listings, you may be presented with a low offer. Such offers can be annoying, but consider testing the buyer's interest by countering the offer. (The buyer could be testing you, too.) If your home is in a desirable location and in excellent condition, and the buyer is genuinely interested in purchasing a home, you have a golden opportunity to sell. Find out what the buyer really wants and shape the counteroffer accordingly. Signal your flexibility on contract terms or, if you can, offer seller financing in exchange for a higher price.

Sell Your Home in 60 Days

Like a loaf of bread, a house that sits for long tends to get stale. Savvy buyers know they can negotiate a lower price. Saddened sellers get tired or desperate and accept that lower price. So make selling fast your goal. Here are seven ways to do so in 60 days.

1) Set a realistic price.

Check prices of comparable homes in your neighborhood that have been sold within the last six months—those that are similar in square footage, lot size and condition and have approximately the same extras or enhancements, such as a three-car garage, deck or new kitchen. To find this out, look in the newspaper and real estate publications and write down addresses of nearby properties. Drive by and take notes, even snapshots. This will give you a fairly accurate idea of prices for similar homes. You can also gather sales price information from neighbors and the public records at your town hall. Or, ask a realtor to do a free "Comparative Market Analysis" (CMA). This study will list similar properties that are currently for sale, in escrow, were taken off the market or have been sold. A realtor will prepare this report for free, hoping, of course, to get your listing. Alternatively, hire an appraiser who has passed a state-administered exam. Contact your local title company or lender for recommendations.

2) Do a walk through.

Pretend you're a stranger, a buyer. Begin by driving to your house, getting out of the car, looking around and ultimately walking through the front door. Do this with your most honest friend—not your emotionally involved spouse or partner and not your adoring mother—but someone who will be realistic about the impression your property makes on a stranger. Together make a list of everything that doesn't look, feel or act right, such as:

  • Windows that are stuck or missing screens

  • Leaks

  • Toilets that continually run

  • Broken appliances

  • Peeling paint

  • Messy garage

  • Yucky basement

  • Dirty carpets and floors

  • Lights that don't work

  • Missing shingles

  • Squeaky or stuck doors, including the garage door

If something is broken, make repairs immediately. These infractions are not likely to squelch a deal except with the most persnickety buyer, but they definitely give even the casual buyer ammunition to negotiate a seriously lower price. One broken appliance, in fact, gives the impression that your house might be a much dreaded fixer-upper.
Incidentally, the first thing most buyers notice is the carpet or floor in the entrance hallway or the living room. Spend the money and have carpets cleaned and floors polished professionally.
And the number one thing that turns off buyers is a dreadfully damp, dingy, dark basement. Solve that with a dehumidifier, attractively painted sheetrock and soft lighting.

3) Clean up the clutter

Give your house a face lift. Treat it as though it is a stage set in a play, one in which the buyer can imagine living very happily ever after. If you don't have a natural eye for space, color and decorating, hire a real estate enhancement expert to guide you.

Easy ways to create that "buy me!" feeling without spending too much money:

  • Take out one piece of furniture from each room so all of them appear large, spacious and inviting.

  • Empty out your closets so they are half to two-thirds full. Buyers love closet space ... so give it to them. Store your off-season clothes and toys the kids no longer use. In the process, you'll probably find lots of stuff you can donate to charity for a tax deduction!

  • Tip: You're going to be packing up anyway, so why not start now.

  • Hang mirrors. They not only make rooms appear larger but they also capture the light.

  • Remove family pictures. You want buyers to envision living in this house—difficult to do if four generations of your family are on display.

  • Paint any room that is peeling, dreary or dirty. Pick a fairly neutral color—not necessarily a boring beige, but a soft yellow or light blue, Refrain from jazzing up the look with purple, bronze or black; they may be your favorites but appear awful to someone else.

  • Add live plants. Not only can they hide flaws if strategically placed, but they add a great deal of warmth to any room, including the kitchen and bath.

  • Clean off kitchen counters. You want to enhance the amount of work space available to the serious cook. Lots of little appliances, gizmos and gadgets are "counter" productive.

  • Get new slipcovers. You can buy reasonably priced, pre-made ones that cover sofas and chairs of all sizes.

  • Discard shabby drapes and curtains. Unless they're hiding something even more shabby, forget about buying new ones—just wash the windows.

  • Get a boot rack or box. It should be large enough for everyone's snow boots, Wellies and galoshes.

  • Put candles in all candle holders. You don't need to light them, but they, along with flowers, add dramatically to your home's appeal.

Bottom line: Your mini-makeover should give your house or condo a tranquil, work-friendly and child-happy feeling.

4)Accentuate curb appeal

The outside of your house is what gives visitors their first impression. You can boost "curb" appeal by painting your front door, adding a brass knocker, putting up attractive house numbers or installing a lamppost. And, keep in mind that the dullest appearing house gains immediate character (and color) with shutters. Then trim the bushes so that all doors and windows, including the half-basement ones, are vine-free. The lawn should also be mowed and dandelion-free. Set aside time to repair your fence and clean up any utility or potting sheds. If your garage is a catch-all for 20 years' worth of throwaways, you might want to hire someone to help you organize your tools and haul away old tires, non-functioning lawnmowers and rusty barbecues.
Finally, if the trim around the house and on the shutters is worn, scrape and apply a fresh coat of paint.

5)Spread the word

A good real estate broker will do this for you. But you can add to the marketing effort, whether you are using a broker or selling on your own. According to the National Association of Realtors, newspapers are still the most common source of information for buyers, followed closely by the Internet. The three other most popular marketing strategies: a yard sign, an open house and old-fashioned word-of-mouth.

Tip: Make sure your yard sign says "by appointment only." You don't want every Sunday driver ringing your doorbell.

Three inexpensive ways to let people know you're selling: Print flyers about your house for distribution around town and at your own open house. Put up notices on local bulletin boards—your church or synagogue, grocery store, library and YM or YWCA. Don't overlook senior centers—seniors have adult children who are in the buying age category. And, finally tell all your family, friends and colleagues that your house is on the market.

6)Line up lenders

If someone falls in love with your now nearly perfect house, you don't want anything to get in the way of their moving to contract. Getting a mortgage is the most likely obstacle. Although many buyers arrange to be pre-approved for a mortgage, just as many do not and haven't a clue as to where to begin. You can pave the way by contacting mortgage brokers, bankers and other lenders in advance, letting them know your house is for sale. Offer a list of willing lenders to any serious buyer who does not come with a loan in his or her back pocket. Shortening the mortgage process also shortens the time in which the buyer can re-think his or her decision or look at other houses.

Tip: You may be thinking that you'll grant the loan. But proceed very carefully. It is difficult for a private individual to check a buyer's credit. If the buyer becomes delinquent, you may have a hard time collecting. Owner financing should be a last resort, if one at all.

7)Be document ready

Your "within-60-day-sale" is much more likely to happen if you're organized and have assembled the necessary information. Begin by summarizing the annual cost of maintaining the house for prospective buyers. This dollar figure should include:

  • Heat & AC

  • Association dues

  • Water & sewer

  • Electric bills

  • Pool maintenance

  • Trash collection

  • Insurance

  • Property taxes

  • Lawn care & snow removal

  • Septic tank care

And, be prepared to show invoices for a new roof or furnace, remodeling, additions, septic tank cleaning, removal of hazards and other major expenses.
You want to make your house a thing of beauty to those who come to behold it. If you succeed you will sell very quickly, perhaps in less than 60 days!

What to Do if Your Home Isn't Selling

Ten Tips

Whether you're in a bone-dry market or a sizzling selling season, if you haven't received any offers on your home you're probably facing the question of whether to take it off the market. A house that goes too long without selling begins to appear "stale" and can actually damage your future chances of a sale. How long is too long? It's not an exact science, but there are some helpful indicators. In a dry market, a sales period of six months to one year isn't unusual. Look at recent sales reports of similar homes nearby to determine a reasonable selling interval. In a hot seller's market, a house that hasn't sold within one month indicates a problem. In either case, there are several steps you can take before putting up the white flag.

Ten tips to improve your selling karma
  1. Videotape your house, inside and out, and watch the tape as if you were a prospective buyer. Is the lawn weedy or the garden bare? Is your home uncluttered and spotlessly scrubbed? Sparkling-clean houses sell faster than those that look too lived-in or show an abundance of the owner's personality.

  2. Take a second look at your listing price. Visit open houses in your neighborhood. Are similar homes priced lower? Selling prices may have dropped since your first comparative market analysis. In a hot market, if you haven't sold your home within one month, chances are good that you've overpriced it. If you do lower your asking price, consider a figure slightly below those of other comparable homes if you are interested in a speedy sale.

  3. Do whatever it takes to be away from your home during showings and open houses. The presence of sellers makes it difficult for prospective buyers to take their time or talk openly with their partner and agent. Leave some treats out to make potential buyers more comfortable: beverages, nuts, and cookies—anything that won't lose freshness or be too messy.

  4. Ask your listing agent to talk to buyer agents in his or her firm who have shown your home. The feedback from their clients can guide you in making home repairs, toning down your décor, making landscaping improvements, and the like.

  5. Hold an open house on a weeknight. Competition is lower, and you'll attract the interest of buyers who can't make weekend appointments because of other commitments.

  6. Take out some extra newspaper ads or print up flyers, even if your agent is doing a good job with promotions. Look for out-of-the-ordinary places to advertise, such as trade magazines, company newsletters, and other alternative resources. You can even offer perks to buyers, such as a cash bonus or a season ski pass.

  7. Neutralize your color scheme. Most buyers prefer pale, neutral colors that make it easier to imagine a new home as their own. Houses with white exteriors are the highest sellers; for interiors, try whites, off-whites, or pale grays.

  8. If you've had offers but you considered them too "lowball," try readjusting your sights. Determine the lowest price you find acceptable, and consider anything more as icing on the cake. In a longstanding dry market you may even have to sell at a loss, so it's important to take every offer seriously. You don't want to alienate a potential buyer who has solid financing because you've set your sights unrealistically high.

  9. Is your listing agent giving your house adequate attention? If not, start by having a candid talk. If there's no change, discuss the problem with the firm's broker. As a last resort, wait until your listing agreement expires and find an agent with a proven track record in your area. On the other hand, if you have a fabulous agent but the market is underwater, consider offering an increased commission or a bonus for your listing agent as extra incentive. If you do sweeten the pot for your agent, amend your listing contract to reflect the change, and be sure it's added to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) book—buyer agents will also be inspired to give your house extra attention.

  10. Re-list your house to give it a kick-start. When it was listed on the MLS, it was assigned a number reflecting the date and year of the listing. By now it may appear outdated to buyer agents; relisting will provide you with a new number. Check into the policies of your local MLS: You may need to make a change to qualify for re-listing, such as temporarily taking your home off the market, adjusting its price, or changing listing agents or firms.

Taking Your House Off the Market

If you've tried the tips on the previous page, you're confident that your asking price is competitive, you have an ace agent, and you're still not getting any action, it's probably time to take your house off the market. Here are some ways to make the most of it:

Choose your selling season.

If you can afford to do so, re-list during a more dependable selling season. After warming up in late winter, the market typically starts to peak from the ides of April (yep, tax season makes a difference) until June, when longer days and splashes of garden color make homes look their best. In summer, the market slows to a crawl, followed by a second peak from September to Thanksgiving. From then until January, the market tends to be as cold as a Midwestern winter, but it can also be advantageous to list while the competition is sleeping. Research the trends in your area: If you live near a winter resort, for example, winter may be the savviest time to sell.

If you're a senior, consider a reverse mortgage.

Designed to help seniors who have more home equity than they do cash, a reverse mortgage is a loan against your home. The money is disbursed as either a single payment or a monthly sum, and the loan comes due (with interest, of course) only when the house is sold or upon the death of the owner.

Rent until the market bounces back.

If you must leave your home because of a job transfer or other extenuating circumstance, renting is an excellent option as you wait for the market to regain some heat. If you don't have the time or the talent it takes to be a good landlord, contact a reputable company that specializes in screening applicants and managing properties.