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Ready! Set! How to sell your home now

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | January 28, 2015

In many parts of the country, the housing market started to pick up again at the end of 2014. For the sixth time in seven months, the annual pace of existing home sales exceeded 5 million in December 2014, with homes on the market an average of 66 days.

If you hope to jump in and sell your home in 2015 for a fair price and in a reasonable amount of time, you may be thinking it's going to magically be easier than it's been in years. But with credit still tight for first time home buyers and investors less enthusiastic about rising home prices, you would be wise to follow the advice real estate agents have been giving sellers for years.

Tips for how to sell your home to picky buyers

Don't count on "location, location, location" alone to sell your home. Today's buyers may have only enough scraped together for a down payment and closing costs -- they may not be able to afford to upgrade your poorly maintained 1990's fixer-upper, your 1980's Goth castle, or your 1970's disco den with original shag carpets. They may not relish living in them, either.

No matter how the real estate agent counters their objections by extolling the virtues of the home's ideal neighborhood, excellent school district, and great bones, home buyers don't typically have the creative vision of interior designers to look past the defects to see your home's potential. They will just say, "Nooooo! Not this one," and turn tail.

You may have heard the following real estate advice before and objected viscerally to most of it. Many sellers react emotionally to being told to erase their own identity from the house before putting it on the market. So until it sinks in, here it is again: Potential buyers need to see a clean slate, and that means neutral, average and maybe a little boring. If that's not your taste, that's okay. You don't plan to live there very much longer, correct?

4 priority open house tips

If you want your house sold in less than two months, get into the mindset that you are moving. Period.

1. Declutter. Start by getting rid of the clutter you've been accumulating -- or worse yet, moving with you from house to house over the years. Now is the perfect time to eliminate anything you don't use, need, or even like anymore. If you are so paralyzed by the thought of throwing anything out, there are organization experts that can help you get the job done. Just google "professional organizers" and the name of your city. Otherwise, plan to put a good deal of your personal possessions in storage for a couple of months while your house is on the market. Many storage facilities give you a deal on the first three months. Take it and let the clock start ticking as an incentive to get serious about selling your home. Buyers want to see plenty of space for their own possessions. They cannot even imagine it if the closets are full to bursting and your furniture and tsotchkes dominate every room. Keep a minimal number of pieces just to stage the home and keep it functional for yourself until you sell it.

2. No one lives here. For the open house, tips like making sure signs of anything and anyone that personalizes your home is temporarily gone -- yourself, children, pets, mother-in-law, and even the aroma of last night's meal -- should be taken very seriously. Unless you are selling Grantham Manor, that means your family portraits, too. Make sure the house is spotless. Hire a cleaning service before your open house if need be. Attention to these details can truly make or break a buyer's interest. A clean, odorless home is what a buyer wants to move into with his or her own family. Give them a "model home" that makes them feel as if they will be the first to live there, even if it's been in your family for generations. Some people have allergies and other sensitivities. Don't give them a reason to walk away from a great home that you want to sell. Cleanliness gives the impression that it's been properly maintained, and that is a strong selling point for many buyers who want "move-in ready."

3. Check your curb appeal. Does your front yard look like the Garden of Eden? You may like it that way, but the buyers shouldn't need to hack their way to your front door with a machete to get inside. Cut back the overgrown shrubs and trees. Let there be light in your home, and for about $1,200, get a nice, new steel front door if need be. It's the least expensive of the home upgrades buyers want, and can return as much as 101.8 percent ROI, according to the Remodeling 2015 Cost vs. Value Report (www.costvsvalue.com). First impressions are lasting. Think of your open house as speed dating. You can often tell in under a few minutes -- even a few seconds -- if you want to date someone. The buyer feels the same way about your home. She or he has a whole list of potential houses to see and has no time to waste on the one that's a turn off before setting foot inside.

4. Beige is always the new black. If your home is trendy, you may think the right buyer will fall in love with it. They probably would -- if you had all the time in the world to wait for them to turn up. But by then, your once trendy house might be passé. Here are some enduringly popular upgrades that most home buyers are looking for. If your home is lucky enough to have several of the other top items on their wish list, a couple of these modifications can often help seal the deal.

  • Fresh coats of wall paint in neutral colors
  • Brushed nickel hardware and fixtures
  • Granite countertops and stainless steel appliances
  • Hardwood floors, preferably in a dark color, or new, neutral carpeting

Remember the saying "one man's meat is another man's poison"? For everyone who likes your tastes and habits, their is another who strongly objects. However, if you make your home as bland as possible, there can be a lot less to which they might object. Of the five million plus home buyers in the U.S. this year, you want the ones who walk into your house to be able to see it as their own and fall in love with it. Give them a blank canvas to imagine the possibilities. If you're still resistant to this tried and true advice, you might want to ask yourself whether you truly want to sell your home.

Photo credit to Nam Phan

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.