How to make or break your home sale

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | July 27, 2015

It happens all over the U.S., in every neighborhood: Two houses go up for sale at about the same time. One house sells within weeks. The other sits on the market for months, the price goes down, it still sits - and eventually the owners give up. What made the first house sell so quickly while the other languished on the market?

It comes down to common problems that can nix your house from a buyer's list of potential homes, as well as the most sought-after upgrades that can take your home from "nice" to "perfect." Which one of these categories does your house fall into?

The most common problems that turn buyers off

A good real estate agent can walk through a house and immediately pinpoint the problems that homeowners might have learned to live with or have completely overlooked. Some of the most common problems include:

  1. Pet odors or stains. There is a reason that some people completely avoid homes where pets have resided. Pet stains can be tough to clean out of carpets, and pet odors are even more notorious for hanging around. Unfortunately, you might not notice the odors because you have lived with them for so long - and even the slightest whiff of an odor can make some potential buyers head straight for the door.
  2. Anything the new buyer will have to fix. Move-in ready homes are a must in order to stay competitive in the housing market. New homeowners want the freedom to simply move their things in if they so choose. If they have to fix the septic tank or the water heater or even that closet door, they might balk.
  3. You need more curb appeal. First impressions matter, and when a buyer sees a home with rusted gutters, overgrown weeds or peeling paint, they immediately wonder what is falling apart on the inside. In their mind, that means more to fix, which means dollar signs. That can be enough to make them take a pass.
  4. Your home is overpriced. This is the most common reason why buyers walk away. It happens most often among those who are selling their home without the help of a realtor, as they might not have a realistic view of what their home is actually worth. Though it can sting to learn that your home isn't among the most expensive on the block, it is a necessary pain when you're serious about selling your home.

The best upgrades that bring in the offers

Some houses are in such high demand that the owners begin juggling offers within a few weeks of putting it on the market. What did they do right? There are plenty of ways in which they might have taken the house from "just okay" to "wow." Here are the most common tricks that pull buyers in:

  1. The new and improved kitchen. There is a saying in real estate: The kitchen sells the house. An upgraded "heart of the home" definitely gets attention, but make sure it's upgrades that everyone will love. Don't go with something too personal. Instead, plan on shiny new appliances, new countertops in a popular style, or adding in a breakfast nook.
  2. The spa-like bathroom. A bathroom should be an oasis at the end of a long, hard day. One that includes a whirlpool tub, double sinks, luxurious countertops, and a nice seating area might be what makes buyers leap off the fence and put in an offer.
  3. Enhanced curb appeal. A home that looks gorgeous and well-kept can make the sale. Pour some time into your landscaping, keep the yard looking nice, replace that old front door with a handsome new one, and get a professional to clean the siding until it looks good as new.
  4. Make it less about "you." When someone walks through a home for sale, they try to envision themselves in it. They see where they will put their own furniture, hang their own artwork, and have dinner with their friends and family. The more neutral you can make your home, the more likely someone will be to picture themselves there -- and that can mean that they will be more keen on buying the place.

If your home has been sitting on the market for a long while, maybe it is time to reevaluate. Start sprucing things up, including the best upgrades you can reasonably afford, and make sure everything about the house is appealing. Enlist the help of friends who will be blunt with their assessments. You might be surprised by how easily changing just a few key points will bump your house to the top of the "must have" list for many buyers.

Photo credit to Myryah Shea

About the Author

Shannon Lee is a freelance writer and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.