May 07, 2015

The Top Ten Things I Learned from Selling a House

Credit: Stuart Miles at
Selling a house as you are buying a house often go in tandem, and I’m happy to report I’m once again the happy owner of only one home! A few weeks ago I shared with you the Top Ten Things I learned from Buying a House, and a number of you were quite interested. With that in mind and not wanting to shortchange any soon-to-be sellers out there, I now offer some tips based on my recent experience of selling a house.
  1. First impressions count. I can tell you as a recent buyer that first impressions count. One of the agents that took my wife and me through several homes told us that within 30 seconds to a minute we would either have that “aha” moment or we would not. I think she is right and, as a seller, you need to know this. The house you are trying to sell obviously needs to look nice on the inside, but the buyer’s “aha clock” starts from the curb or the driveway! Make sure paths and stairs are swept, mats are clean, the yard is well manicured, and maybe even hang one of those pretty seasonal wreaths on the door to help things get off to a good start.
  2. Set a reasonable price. Go ahead and reach for the stars, but don’t be foolish. Do a little research on comparable houses and give yourself a little wiggle room to go down and still get what you want. Keep in mind that an appraiser is going to have to feel comfortable with the property being worth what the buyer is borrowing before the bank is willing to play ball; so if you are looking for a sucker, you’re going to need two: the buyer and their appraiser (unless, of course, the buyer is paying cash)!
  3. Remove evidence of your pets. I’m fonder of certain animals than others, and some of your potential buyers aren’t going to be fond of any pets at all, so keep this in mind. Fido may be cute to you, but if he scares away a perfectly good and willing buyer because there are chew toys all over the house, Fido and Fido’s possessions may need to be strategically relocated when someone is looking at your home.
  4. Declutter. Speaking of strategically relocating things… hide your stuff! In all seriousness, no one wants to see all your stuff. Pretend you are hosting Thanksgiving. Pretend you will be eating dinner off the floor. Pretend a volcanic eruption is coming and every bit of your stuff that is out will be melted by the molten magma. Imagine whatever it takes to make you declutter! Have your possessions displayed neatly, and less of them displayed than you normally would.
  5. Hire a real estate photographer to take photos. Photos matter. Our photographer made our house look like Southern Living, and I think that really helped us sell our home pretty quickly. Put simply, there is a good chance a photographer’s camera is better than yours, their experience manipulating light is better than yours, and their ability to Photoshop themselves out of mirrors is better than yours. Hire a photographer and pay them. It won’t take many days of you not selling your house for it to be worth their fee!
  6. Do minor repairs before the inspection. If you know you have a scratch on the wall, try a Magic Eraser. If you haven’t changed your air filters in ages, change them. Please, please make sure you don’t have any lightbulbs that are out. I can’t tell you how many houses we looked at that were in need of copious amounts of lightbulbs. Minor things may not be “deal breakers,” but they can make your prospective buyers wonder how well you have really taken care of your house.
  7. Differentiate your home from others. I’m talking fresh flowers on the table, a little soft music on in the background, maybe even a bowl of candy or some bottles of water available to your visitors. You want visitors to see how serious you are about selling your home and how precise and thoughtful you have been.
  8. Sweeten the deal. It has amazed me how many people I know were drawn to houses that “left them things.” In our own case, our willingness to leave our refrigerator as opposed to taking it with us was what actually sealed the deal. Whether it is leaving behind appliances and deck furniture, or going ahead and paying HOA fees for the rest of the year, consider little things you are willing to do for a buyer to make it easier for them to move in. Buying a house and moving is an expensive time, and all I’m trying to say is that not having to go pick out and pay for a washer or a dryer may be worth a lot more to your buyer than you might think.
  9. Be responsive. When buyers or their agents inquire, be responsive. Can they visit? Yes. Will you send the Seller’s Disclosure? Done. Will you send the Neighborhood Covenant? Yes (as soon as you find it). Buyers are anxious and you need to strike when the iron is hot. I know a lot of people that do things at the last minute, and it works for them; but in a situation where you’re trying to woo someone into giving you a whole lot of money, please don’t be a “buzzer beater.” They will appreciate it. So much so, they might even buy your house!
  10. Write a letter. This is my seller’s secret sauce: write a letter. I know it sounds crazy, it sounds cheesy, and lots of people will tell you that you need to depersonalize your house in every way possible, but I disagree. Okay, take some of those obnoxious family pictures off the refrigerator, but my wife and I were undoubtedly drawn to houses that felt like homes. We wrote a letter that we left on the counter to our prospective buyers, and I can tell you they went quickly, so I think other people like them, too. Introduce yourself, say why you’re moving, why you love your house, and thank them for coming. It’s human, it’s real, it’s a keepsake. If someone is visiting 17 houses on a Saturday, it might just cause them to remember yours. Maybe it could rub someone the wrong way, but, personally, I think it can do a lot more good than bad.

If you’re getting ready to sell your home, I wish you the best. It’s easy to think, “Why fix that?” and “Why put money into something I’m not going to enjoy?” but I urge you to think more along the lines of making your house look and feel like the kind of home you’d want to live in.

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