Home, home on the...market
November 2, 2013 6:21 PM   Subscribe

Give me your best home selling tips and tricks.

We have a realtor. You are not our realtor.
I've read all I can read online about selling your home. I really want real life examples of experience.
I'm planning on getting mulling spices to make it smell nice without being synthetic. We are de-cluttering. We have 3 cats and a dog and a baby. Planning to do cleaning touch ups every morning. Planning to clean litter box multiple times a day.
What about not being there for showings. Would it be too weird if I just put myself, baby, & dog in the car and waited in the driveway while they look (no way to load up kitties, so they will have to fend/hide)? This is assuming a realtor is present.
How likely are people to show up without a realtor and want to have a look. I would be really uncomfortable with that, but would hate to miss a sale.
We don't know what we don't know. Put us in the know.
posted by MayNicholas to Home & Garden (37 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
If someone shows up without a realtor don't let them in. Direct them to your agent. When I sold my house this past summer, my agent emailed me with every appointment. I left the house for all of them but one. Don't be there (but don't wait in driveway. Go around the block or to the grocery or somewhere.)

The other tricks? Not so great unless you have something to hide.

The single best thing to do to sell your house quickly is to price it right. Price it at a fair price. Don't over reach nor give it away. The Goldilocks price of "just right" is the way to go. Work with your agent on a lot of comps and have that agent have other agents from that office come look and help with the pricing.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:26 PM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

there's a sign you can put on the lawn "no showing without appointment". deploy it and enforce it. johnnygunn's advice is excellent, particularly the first sentence, and the only new thing i would add is: owner financing. short to intermediate term, no more than five years, with a balloon at the end. good luck.
posted by bruce at 6:59 PM on November 2, 2013

I was notably swayed by a particular photograph of my house. Invest heavily in the photography. Look through uglyhousephotos.com for loads of "don'ts."

I would feel really weird about an owner hanging out in the car in the driveway. If I spotted a baby in the car I would rush through the showing and scram.

Minor cosmetic work seems to be the difference between houses that stay on the market for a while and houses that sell quickly where I am; your market may vary. Very minor. New shrubbery, new bedspreads, personal effects in storage = desirable residence, apparently. But I have a neighbour trying to sell and we suspected her agent was a bit of a slacker, so made a discreet inquiry, and it turned out he was too lazy to bother to ask her when the septic system was put in; he just shot out a 'owners don't know' to answer the e-mailed question. Which I had thought was a good question because the septic system is new-ish and it should be a big selling point, but apparently it made so little difference to this guy's commission to sell that that he wasn't even bothered to ask the owners. If you have made upgrades, make sure they are mentioned in the listing, and make sure the agent is actually knowledgeable about your house.

I had thought the agent was a 'slacker' because when I was house-hunting, I e-mailed him a question about one of his listings, and got a 'Thank you for asking! Please call me at [number],' as though his phone number might have been hard to find and I, pawing through dozens of listings, was likely to go out of my way. Had he sent a useful reply I probably would've at least looked at the place in person; instead I just went to the next house on my list. The stupid of taking a day to reply to an e-mail with 'Call me' stuck in my memory. If I was looking for an agent I would look for somebody I suspected thrilled to commission and would interrupt a date to e-mail about a septic system, not somebody I necessarily enjoyed as a person. Beware of recommendations for folk who are nice people but maybe not great estate agents.
posted by kmennie at 7:09 PM on November 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: No clue what owner financing means, but it doesn't sound like something we are in to. We have only owned this place for 2 years and need what we get for the next house (job transfer).
Not worried about pricing. We trust our realtor.
posted by MayNicholas at 7:09 PM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Always leave for showings. Make the realtor call you when they are on the way, so you're not out for hours at a stretch. Don't hang out in the drive way, go to the dog park.

Pack up all unnecessary stuff. I packed up all the entertainment stuff in the kitchen, the books were mostly donated to the library, what stayed, went into boxes. You want everything to look like a model home, and it's cheesy, but it works.

Organize your pantry like you were trying to sell your dry goods. You can only have 1 item on the countertop. Coffee pot or toaster, not both.

Thin out your closets. Pack up your out of season stuff, color coordinate the clothing that remains. Get wooden hangers for everything, think up-scale boutique. When people look in your closet they should covet everything in it.

We had someone come in to do a DEEP cleaning, and I spent weeks before going on the market doing paint touch up, caulking, wiping with TSP, and all sorts of unpleasant stuff.

We put stuff we didn't want to keep on Craigslist. Our treadmill, sofas, etc.

No personal photos anywhere.

Tour model homes for ideas of vignettes.

We got furniture for the cat box so it was pretty invisible. We have it in our apartment now. Love it!

We had notes EVERYWHERE saying "Don't let the cat's (sic) out." Our realtor wrote them and we still laugh about that apostrophe.

It was a ton of work, but we went on the market on a Friday, we had 3 showings and a full price offer by Tuesday.

If it seems cheesy, over the top and goofy, do it. It works.

Also, mulled cider is nice, so are cookies. I used to buy the kind in the refrigerator case. Just peel a few off and bake before a showing. Leave on a plate on the counter for the viewers.

You can also get a St. Joseph statue and do that. Our house sold before I had a chance. I got mine for $1 at our local crystal shop.

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:10 PM on November 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

Use your garage or even consider renting a storage unit so you can aggressively declutter - it really does make the room look bigger to have only a minimal amount of furniture - much less than anyone would really live with. With luck, it won't be on the market too long so you can bring things back once you have a contract. So, books, papers, clothes in the closet, toys and such are all candidates to get out of sight. Also, consider de=personalizing the house as much as possible. Make sure the baby's room is as gender neutral as possible - yes, some people will be put off by a frilly pink room if they only have boys. Spend a little money planting fresh flowers, putting down mulch etc.
(Of course, check with your agent - you don't want to spend too much money fixing things up)

Make sure the bathrooms are really clean and also usable (e.g.. nicely folded towels, pretty soap) and of course, hide everything personal out of sight as much as possible.
posted by metahawk at 7:19 PM on November 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

owner financing is when you carry back a note, secured by a mortgage or deed of trust, for part (most) of the purchase price. i am surprised that your realtor didn't explain this option to you. you should still get a decent-sized downpayment to work with finding a new house (and paying the realtor's commission) and in your new city, sellers that want to sell their houses faster will offer you owner financing. in real estate ads, look for "owc" (owner will carry).
posted by bruce at 7:20 PM on November 2, 2013

Make sure you have plenty of light. Open curtains, turn on lights if need be--anything to make your house look light and spacious.

If you have any walls that are an unusual color--dark red, navy, black, or even strong blues and greens, you might think about painting them a neutral color. It may not be something you'd want to live with, but buyers like neutrals.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:21 PM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, yes. DON'T hang out in the driveway. Have your agent call before they come and call when they leave--dog park, library, coffee shop, wherever--not the driveway.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:22 PM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Check out the competition. Go to some open houses in your immediate area, just looking at ones with the same number of beds and baths as yours has. Buyers are going to be comparing your house to those.

Find out the truth about whether your place has unpleasant odors. Your realtor might not want to offend you by saying there's a pet smell. Ask them point blank if you need to make the house smell better. (Mulling spices can only do so much.)
posted by wryly at 7:31 PM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

We rented a huge storage unit and put tons of stuff in there, including a few items of furniture and about half our clothes. We took down all family photos and all non-neutral art. We also hired a cleaning service before and between open houses so every time the house was showed to a large group of people, it was immaculate. Get the windows washed.
posted by town of cats at 8:01 PM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, and we took our dogs to doggy daycare for all showings too.
posted by town of cats at 8:02 PM on November 2, 2013

Re: Ugly House Photos, specifically look at the Before & After section. I'm working on getting a house ready to sell, and that part of the site has been incredibly inspiring!
posted by limeonaire at 8:03 PM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

The minute you sign with a realtor, get some boxes together and get packing. Have them give you a couple of days (or a week!) to clean house and start packing before listing. Pare way down. Pack up all personal pics and knick knacks. Take *you* out of the place - really! No one cares about your Star Trek plate collection. I know it's hard with little kids, in which case, if you must, keep the kid stuff contained in one room only, and clean up the toys every single day. Pack up the fridge magnets and Mr. Clean Magic Eraser the place. If you have a fish tank CLEAN IT ahead of viewings. Clean your carpets, maybe hire a maid service for the down and dirty stuff.
NEVER be home for viewings. If this is a problem, have your realtor on a schedule you can live with. We were at work during the day, and allowed viewings during that time. Anything after 5 pm was pre-arranged, at which time the husband and I would head out for a bite.
Above all, like others have mentioned - price the house right. Your realtor should have insight on this, and if they are any good, will give you the best advice possible to sell your home in the quickest amount of time.

BTW, When we went to sell our house, our realtor refused to hold an open house, explaining that traditionally they never generated a sale. Don't know if that is true, but I felt comfort in knowing I wouldn't have a crowd of people walking through my house all at once.

Good luck!
posted by MeatheadBrokeMyChair at 8:06 PM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Nthing the major decluttering. We rented a storage unit and packed up books, knick-knacks, clothes, photos etc. Everything that makes it look lived in instead of a model home. Don't just stuff it in the garage, as they will look in there too. When you have showings, pack up the cats and hide litter trays in garage or something. Put cats in whatever box you use to take them to the vet, stick them in the car with you and baby, drive away somewhere. Yes the cats will hate it, but it's for the best.
posted by Joh at 8:31 PM on November 2, 2013

Response by poster: Moving cats for showings is just not an option. No container big enough and car not big enough.
We are massively de-cluttering, but what about the attic? At this point anything that isn't used daily is up there and stored off to a corner. Is this acceptable? It it pretty packed but only takes up 1/3 of the attic.
posted by MayNicholas at 8:35 PM on November 2, 2013

I have never sold a house; however, I am in contract to buy one so I have some very recent experience from the other side. Houses that were empty looked way better than anything where someone lived there, no matter how much they decluttered/staged. If you're moving anyway pack it all up as extreme as possible and store it elsewhere. It's a big thing to be able to look at a place and see just the place.

Two other tips: look at your neighbors yards and consider what effect they might have. One place we saw was okay but with beer cans in the neighbors yard THERE WAS NO WAY WE'D EVER. if it's that bad just offer them money to clean it up. (And if you happen to have an old monkey cage in the back yard please get rid of it...). And: no matter how much you clean the litter box up it'll turn a lot of people off and it does smell. I have two cats and, it just does. If there's anyway you can move them or at least the litter box somewhere (garage?) do it.
posted by marylynn at 8:58 PM on November 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yes, the attic is fine assuming it's not easily accessible. Meaning if it's ladder access no-one will go there during a showing.
posted by Joh at 8:59 PM on November 2, 2013

You're going to be moving anyway so start packing up the attic and everything else now. You can put the boxes in storage for a month or two. People probably won't go up there but why not get it done?

Re the cats, I understand it's a pain to move them, but truly it's not "impossible". By having animals in the house during the showing you probably cost yourself $10-$20K in the price you achieve. Just buy a new carrier for them, you're saving pennies and throwing away dollars!
posted by dave99 at 9:04 PM on November 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also, as others have said, remove every personal item, prospective buyers are picturing themselves in the space, not you, so photos etc are off putting and distract from their "I want to buy this" thought process.

Good luck!
posted by dave99 at 9:07 PM on November 2, 2013

Clean your windows. It lets in more light.
posted by cestmoi15 at 9:25 PM on November 2, 2013

You really really should try to do something with the cats. Board them, have a friend take them for a few days. It will make a huge difference. If you can, remove at least half of your furniture and clear off all surfaces. Repaint your front door. First impressions really matter.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:41 PM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

This may not apply so much with a baby, but a friend of my mother's kept a laundry basket with some toys in the trunk of her car while they were selling the house, so she could just stick the kids in the car and drive to a park when there was a showing without worrying whether they were going to be amused by play equipment for long enough. I'm guessing you probably already have a bag you can just grab for the baby, but maybe stashing extra stuff in your car would relieve stress.

(My non-religious mother totally buried St Joseph in the garden, just in case.)
posted by hoyland at 3:47 AM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Realize that when people say "declutter" that doesn't mean "tidy up", it means "remove 1/2 to 2/3 of your possessions from the house".

I agree that you should figure out how to move the cats. I don't understand what you mean that the car isn't big enough. If your car can hold children how could a cat not fit? Do you have a tiny car and the cats are actually cougars?
posted by medusa at 5:08 AM on November 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Ruthless Bunny has it exactly right upthread.

Do you have a neighbor you can visit when the agent comes over? Don't sit in your driveway, but maybe a neighbor will let you park your car in theirs during showings.

I would add that great photos are very important. Real estate agents are not necessarily good photographers. If you take good pictures, or have a friend who does, look online at houses for sale with good photos and make sure your photos look like those--long sightlines, good lighting, taken from a corner or outside the room. Move furniture so nothing blocks the view. Go from outside view of the house to inside views in the same order as a house tour. You don't need to photograph every room. A dozen excellent photos are all people need to get a feel for your place.

Go to one or two open houses today, if you can, to see what's what. Go to zillow.com and plug in your address. Zillow shows current houses for sale in your area and price range. Take a look at pricing to make sure your agent is in the ballpark. Zillow also shows recent sales in your price and location categories. What did those houses sell for? How were they presented online? What were asking and final selling prices? How long were they on the market?

We sold our house very quickly in a bad market to someone who came in just a hair under the asking price even though someone else made a higher offer. Why? The eventual buyers didn't ask for an inspection. (The house had no issues, but still.) My agent suspected that the high bidder was going to use an inspection to nitpick everything to bring down their offer. This is not uncommon.

Remember, this is not your beautiful house anymore but a model house where potential buyers can project their lives. Don't let your lives get in the way.
posted by Elsie at 5:30 AM on November 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

We had professional photos done of our last house, and the multiple offers we got more than covered the cost, and we sold it in a week.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:44 AM on November 3, 2013

Response by poster: 3 cats, 50lb dog, large rear facing carseat. Small 2 door car. That is what I mean by no room. Sorry but the cats are non negotiable. We are already clearing all surfaces, have removed couches, no personal items in bathroom, special floor mats and towels and bedspread that will only be put out for showings. Can't do a storage unit because company is paying for move, but from only 1 location. Our realtor will come by once we have done everything and advise us about any further things to remove. I won't hang out in the car in the driveway I will just drive around and park down the street if they are still there.
Husband is a professional photographer so we have that covered!
posted by MayNicholas at 5:53 AM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In addition to all the above, some voodoo tricks:

-a bowl of green apples (lots of apples, really nice bowl)
-orchids in beautiful modern/spa like containers (one in bathroom, one in bedroom etc). They last forever.
-as much white/light as you can muster (white towels/linens, white accessories). Get a new white shower curtain from Ikea. White sells.

I sold a house with two cats, it was a feeding frenzy of buyers. People who love cats don't mind, those that don't, well, that is the way the cookie crumbles. Keep them as cute as everything else, go to a fancy pet place and buy new stuff. Cute collars, cute litter box, cute bowls....not kitschy cute, modern cute.

The rule of thumb for decluttering, if it is ugly/average, get it out. You are creating a fantasy.
posted by nanook at 6:06 AM on November 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Personally, I would forgo any scents. During our recent house-hunting, one of the most frustrating things was not being able to tell how houses actually smelled because of sprays, plug-ins, scented cleaners. The mulled spices would certainly be a lot better than Country Fresh Petrochemical. But we wanted to be able to sniff out possible moisture issues, a/c duct problems, pet smells in the carpet that might take a lot of cleanings to get out, that sort of thing, and it was really difficult.
posted by mittens at 6:20 AM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've sold a few places and while you're getting great advice, one of the best things I ever did was have my realtor contract a "Staging" person who was able to go through my things, I gave her a budget of $500 and she bought some pretty but neutral artwork and mats and towels etc.

She moved furniture around and made every place I sold look much more neutral and attractive. If your realtor can get someone to stage your place, it's well worth it. Sometimes the agent pays them, too, and saves you on that expense.

And again about the cats...if you're going to have an agent or public open house, you should absolutely get the cats out of the place. Cats will put some people off. There are a lot of people with serious allergies or just plain cat-dislikers. They're gonna see the cats and just forget about buying your otherwise awesome place. You may want to short-term board them.
posted by kinetic at 6:38 AM on November 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm currently house shopping. Almost all of the advice above applies. At a minimum, massively declutter, but ideally put all your stuff in storage and move into an apartment or extended stay hotel and let the house be shown empty.

You know how your own kids and pets and artwork are beautiful and charming, but other people's are irritating and funny looking? Same thing applies to the house. Kids and pets are smelly, even with frequent cleaning, and make it harder to "see the potential" and imagine oneself living there. As noted above, someone with cat allergies is going to just say "Next!" and move on.

Also, take care of all of the backlog of minor maintenance and repair issues that accumulate. Surprisingly, very few people seem to do this, even though it is ridiculously cheap to buy a couple cans of paint, some caulk and spackle, adhesive for the loose tile, and so on. You stop seeing those minor things when you are living there, but they are incredibly visible to someone walking in for the first time.

Yes, the attic is fine assuming it's not easily accessible. Meaning if it's ladder access no-one will go there during a showing.

Don't count on that. I bring a flashlight and always look into attics and crawlspaces, and I don't think I'm the only one. How else can you spot water and structural issues?
posted by Dip Flash at 6:54 AM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh yeah...tons of colorful flowers planted outside in pretty pots. New doormat. Powerwash the outside steps or entrance. Paint so it looks shiny and new. Actually, paint everywhere. New carpets or floors if you have anything less than almost-new stuff (also, this depends on if you're priced well and how competitive the market is...this is all based on very competitive markets here in Boston)

But curb appeal really matters. Get carpets cleaned if not replaced. POLISH surfaces so they gleam. Clean windows. Stage your bathroom so it's like a swanky spa. Bath salts, stuff like that. Super pretty fluffy towels. PUT AWAY VALUABLES AND TOYS (I had SO much stuff stolen over the years...it really sucked). Big bowl of fruit. Sweep front steps.

Again, curb appeal is HUGE. I've sold homes because I spent $200 of pretty annuals and painted the front door a bright New England red but there was termite damage, leaks in the attic, etc. The place LOOKED good enough that people overlooked the serious investments they'd be making.
posted by kinetic at 7:07 AM on November 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes, the attic is fine assuming it's not easily accessible. Meaning if it's ladder access no-one will go there during a showing.

It depends. We looked at almost 50 houses this past summer and got into as many of the attics as humanly possible - even those that were ladder access only. We found stuff that listing realtors were COMPLETELY unaware of because they had not bothered to go into the attics. We also eliminated any possibility when we couldn't get a good look at the condition of the attic.

I would add that great photos are very important. Real estate agents are not necessarily good photographers. If you take good pictures, or have a friend who does, look online at houses for sale with good photos and make sure your photos look like those--long sightlines, good lighting, taken from a corner or outside the room.

For the love of all is good, please resist the temptation to take wide angle photographs. All that accomplished for us was to piss us off when the spaces were considerably smaller than represented in the photos.

As someone who is currently de-cluttering, excellent timing on your question!
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 7:38 AM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Listen, in the last 7 years I've sold two of my own homes for just over their fair market values and asking prices (both times were in down markets so I FSBO'd, but in an upmarket I'd use a Realtor who is a top seller at their firm, too), and I've also walked through more homes for sale than I care to remember.

Fast, profitable home sellers do what fake sellers won't. They are willing to go the extra mile.* They send the cats away, and they don't wait there in the driveway (or, for that matter, anywhere within a 4 block radius) like a clown car full of kids and animals during an event as important as a Realtor-arranged showing to pre-screened, eligible buyers. You already know those are terrible, pound-foolish ideas, and you won't get permission to engage in false economy from me. Sure, you might get lucky and sell your place for an ok price anyway, but it will be in spite of those obviously poor sales tactics, not because of them.

No one's said this yet, and it's a small gesture that reveals a lot -- one of the best signs of a well-kept home is when there are no hard water stains anywhere on any of the faucets or shower heads (hint: remove those with vinegar); the sinks and showers are spotlessly wiped dry, and there are absolutely no odors, good or bad, coming from any of the drains.

*By "extra mile," I mean go re-read what @Ruthless Bunny said above, and then actually do ALL of those things - yes, ALL of those things. Right down to the fresh baked cookies and the St. Joseph statue discreetly buried in the yard (in a ziploc bag). And then you have to remember to unearth St. Joe and place him on the mantle in your next home. I have no idea why this works, but it's got to be some sort of placebo effect that helps sellers bring their A game.
posted by hush at 8:01 AM on November 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

We kept our cats in the house. It was fine.

Storing stuff in the attic is fine, we kept ours in the unfinished part of the basement. You can store it neatly in the garage too.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:16 AM on November 3, 2013

There was a lovely house I was interested in 2011, but the sellers decided to allow their cat to stay there during the showings, so my husband, who is violently allergic to cats, refused to even enter the place. (I'm sure the house eventually sold though.)

If your cats are hypoallergenic, maybe putting a sign up saying so would bring you more buyers. (But not my husband, ever.) The question of the cats all depends on how serious you are about selling and how much of a real priority this is to you.
posted by hush at 9:16 AM on November 3, 2013

Best answer: Not to worry about the cats. As long as there's no cat stank or cat damage--clawed carpets, drapes, furniture, your house will sell, just not to the people up above who suggested getting them out ;)

For sure crate them up (best) or, at minimum, lock them in a room with a sign on, both to get them out of the way of buyers and for their own safety/stress reduction.

You might have your agent as if anyone is severely allergic to pets.

...curb appeal is HUGE. I've sold homes because I spent $200 of pretty annuals and painted the front door a bright New England red but there was termite damage, leaks in the attic, etc.

You'll have savvy buyers who will look at everything, you'll have people who can't see past the flower beds and fluffy towels. Smart buyers can ignore staging and figure just how small that room is or how little closet space you have. Buyers with a bit of ego will ignore your 'ugly' furniture and think how much nicer they can make the place look.

Remember even the the majority of the houses on uglyhousephotos.com eventually sell.

Oh, yes. Before I forget, if you have hard water buildup on fixtures, spray WD40 on it and walk away for ten minutes. It's amazing.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:06 PM on November 3, 2013

« Older Advice needed for job interview in research...   |   Tumblr reordering acting haywire :/ Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.