Before you hire a real estate agent to market your home or you stick that "For Sale by Owner" sign into the front yard, do your due diligence. Take off your seller's hat, put on your buyer's hat, and evaluate your home. If you don't like what you see, neither will the buyer. Here's what to fix.
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Is Your Home a Junkyard?
Unlicensed, uninspected junked cars strewn around the property are a definite no. Even if you have an old car that is your pride and joy, move it around back, put it in the shop, or park it somewhere else but get it out of sight. First impressions are very important. If the first thing your buyer sees when they pull up and get out of their vehicle is a junked car, it sets the tone for the rest of the viewing.
This same principle applies to tricycles, bicycles and other children’s toys that often clutter the outside of a home for sale. Enlist the help of everyone in the family to do a quick pick up and policing of the exterior before your prospects arrive.
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Eliminate or Repair Water Damage and Stains
Visible water damage such as stains on the ceilings or walls usually indicate other major problems lurking beneath the surface. These defects need fixing because they can be a real turnoff for a prospective buyer. Although water damage and stains in and of themselves are not necessarily bad, the unknown and unseen factor is frightening to the potential buyer.
In fact, fear of unknown and undisclosed defects is probably the biggest fear of any buyer, and these are why it is important to have home inspections and pest inspections. These allow you to address objections and questions head on and prevent the unknown fear factor from ruining your sale.
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Peeling Paint Hurts Curb Appeal
Peeling paint, whether it is on the exterior or interior, sends a message that you really do not want to communicate. This is a maintenance issue and to the flipper, the contractor, or the investor, peeling paint is a good thing because it makes the house look bad and devalues the property. He or she knows how much it will cost to repaint and whether or it can be fixed.
On the other hand, to the prospective buyer, it is an indicator that you have not maintained the property. If you have not taken care of the visible part of the house, what else is there that has not been maintained? Here again, you risk feeding that unknown fear factor and ruining your deal.
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Broken Windows are Deal Breakers
Broken windows equal broken deals in many cases. This falls into the same category as peeling paint—maintenance—and may raise the following question in the prospect’s mind. "If this guy can’t even fix a broken window when he knows I’m coming to look at the house, what else is there that he hasn’t fixed?"
Your best move is to fix or replace broken windows, burned-out light bulbs, and other small defects in the home’s appearance. While some sellers lower the asking price or include an incentive package to cover the cost of repair or replacement of these items, if the prospect cannot overcome the negative impressions these defects made, the sale is lost.
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Did You Make the Bed?
Anything you do to make a house look tidy makes it look more presentable. This means at a minimum you make the beds, wash any dirty dishes and put them away, wipe down the countertops and appliances, and sweep or vacuum the floors.
Neat is good; clutter is bad. For example, imagine you are selling the finest Mercedes-Benz in the world. However, when a prospective buyer comes to look at it, if there is trash on the floor, sticky goo all over everything, and the seats are torn, it does not matter how good it is mechanically. The buyer will be wary and wonder what else could be wrong.
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How Does Your Home Smell?
How does your house really smell? If you own pets, you may or may not be aware of any pet odors that linger even after a thorough cleaning. Enlist the help of a friend or relative, and ask them to do a walk through and alert you to the presence of unpleasant odors.
Refrain from cooking onions, garlic or other odoriferous foods prior to a viewing. While you do not want to go overboard and burn heavily scented candles in every room of the house, you do want your prospects to be met with a pleasant aroma when they enter your home.
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Does Your Home Need a Little Landscaping?
Making sure the property and home is neat and tidy outside is just as important as it is inside. A well-kept, well-maintained lawn presents the potential buyers with a visual image of how good the property and home look. It does not put them in the awkward position of trying to imagine how good it could look if it were pristine and in like new condition.
If there is a garden or flower beds on the premises, make sure to keep them weeded. Nip the dead heads off flowers and replace mulch or gravel if necessary to present the most attractive appearance.
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How's That Curb Appeal Coming?
When someone uses the term curb appeal, it means all the little details we have already discussed. The focus is on every little thing you can do to enhance the appearance of the house. The lawn, the landscaping, the painting, and the overall appearance of the home must be picture perfect.
What you want to do is go out to the curb or the road and take a picture of your house. Now say to yourself, “This is the first thing that buyers are going to see. What’s wrong with this picture?" If you see anything that does not fit or is out-of-place, correct it. When you do this, you achieve ultimate curb appeal.
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Working Appliances Are a Must
If you include any appliances in the sale of the house, they must work. This is not a negotiable issue. It goes right back to the whole issue of maintenance. One big concern for potential buyers is finances. When they are thinking about purchasing a home, they are looking at their finances carefully. They ask questions like:
How much am I going to have to put down?
How much will my payments be?
Can I afford this new house when I am paying more than I used to?
The last thing they want to have to face is the additional expense of buying or repairing appliances and other things.
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What Happens When You Open the Garage Door?
While we do not want to appear to be sexist, generally speaking, women tend to be impressed by a home’s kitchen and bathrooms, while men seem to gravitate to garages and basements. When he sees that man cave, he is likely to make a judgment about the previous owner.
Traditionally, although women are also involved in home maintenance and upkeep, areas such as garages, basements and attics have fallen into the male’s purview. Because it is viewed as a man’s area, he is going to want to know that the seller took as good care of everything else in the house as he or she did that garage.
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Get the Look of the Success
Before you schedule that showing, view the interior and exterior of your home as if you were the buyer rather than the seller. Take some photos and evaluate what you see. Is the home enticing? How do the kitchens and bathrooms look? Is there a fragrant aroma in the air and is everything neat and tidy?
If you want a brutally honest opinion of how your house looks, invite someone who is unbiased to do a walk through and make suggestions. (This eliminates your parents and close friends, but it does get you quality feedback.) Decide in advance to set your emotions aside and heed their advice. It could be the most profitable things you ever do.
The author is a former licensed real estate agent in the state of Virginia. She is co-authoring the book Buying Your First Home? Insider Secrets You Must Know About Home Buying with her father, who is a licensed associate broker.