Secrets that Sell
Thursday, October 4, 2007; 11:00 AM
With a current real estate market that's unpredictable, what's in store for would-be buyers or those thinking about selling? The Post's special feature, Property Values: The Market & You, helps forecast what to expect in the coming months.
HGTV's " Secrets That Sell" features mother-daughter home staging duo Donna and Shannon Freeman. Together, they use their witty expertise to accurately size up a home that won't sell and help the owners make a profit.
Today, they'll discuss what it really takes to sell a home in today's market.
For more on local real estate, visit washingtonpost.com's Real Estate section.
The transcript follows.
Alexandria, Va.: I have two cats, but keep a very clean home. If trying to sell my home, should I remove my cats from the premises and all traces of their existence? Or would it not matter as long as I maintain a tidy place? Thank you.
Shannon Freeman: oh this is such a tough one because my mom and i both have cats. Unfortunately, every cat owner thinks their cats do not have an odor (including us) but they do. Short answer, keep the cats at the house, have all of your carpets cleaned, furniture and drapes cleaned and keep thir food and litter box absolutely out of sight and immaculately clean. Be sure to remove any carpet cat trees, framed photos of your cats, toys, etc. You will have to run the vacuum twice as much as you normally do. Just know that if my mom or I ever decided to sell our houses we would have to do the exact same thing!
Alexandria, Va.: I love watching your show- you both crack me up!
What's been the biggest challenge in dealing with sellers? Do they have a hard time accepting your opinions because they're wedded to the ivy wallpaper border in the kitchen or the yellow tile in the bathroom?
Donna Freeman: Hey...thanks so much for watching the show and just know that we have lots of fun doing it. let's see, the biggest challenge in dealing w/sellers...i think for them seeing their home through a buyers eyes. usually they have lived there for so long they become used to the clutter, piles of toys and droopy drapes that they think they can just put a sign out and people will fall all over themselves trying to write offers. and another huge obstacle is the sellers not wanting to change their lifestyle one bit to make the home attract buyers (put dirty clothes somewhere else, fresh towels in the bathroom, tv OUT of the small living room.) i think you get the idea.
Syracuse, NY: What small improvements can you make to increase the value of your home and see a decent return on investment?
Donna Freeman: That is an excellent question. Paint is a very good investment...looks good, freshens smell. Make sure you pick a very neutral color. another small improvement is curb appeal. with the market as it is now, we want prospective buyers to drive by and look at your home and hope that is the one for sale. spiff up the outside and make the home welcoming to buyers. your home shoud almost shout "Thanks for coming" as they pull up and remember, clean, clean, clean. as far as return on investment, put money in the kitchen and master bath first. it will pay off in your bottom line.
Alexandria, Va.: We are in a townhouse in Alexandria -how do you make a 10-year-old house that two kids and two adults live in look like one that a young dual income working couple might buy? Our house has no yard work involved, great public transpiration options and a direct route to D.C., which is ideal for working professionals
What colors, types of floors, kitchen countertops appeal to those looking for those who spend little time in their house?
Donna Freeman: You are certainly on the right track to take a look at potential buyers and give them what you think they might be looking for. not knowing what your home currently looks like, i will give general information that we have seen across the country. first of all (i know i sound like a broken record), clean like you have never cleaned and then clean again. there is nothing worse that other peoples mess. look at your master bedding. make your bedroom look like a beautiful 5 star hotel suite. go to a bedding store and purchase light colored solid bedding and fresh pillows. replace all towels in your immaculate bathroom with white fluffy towels. purchase a plant and put it in the bathroom. professional people want to know they can come home and feel like their bedroom is a respite from their hectic day. de-child your home as much as you can. if possible, neutralize the child's room to allow the prospective buyer to see it as a possible office or guest room. do the buyers work for them and it will pay off for you. good luck. hope i have helped.
Charlotte, N.C.: The Charlotte area hasn't been hit as hard by the housing problems as some other areas of the country. Most homes in my admittedly upscale neighborhood go in less than 60 days at asking price. But I wondered what we would need to do to ours if we were to sell. We have a little over 4,000 square feet in a nice, open floor plan, and all but one room downstairs is hardwood. Looks great, until the sun hits it and you can see all the scratches that are inevitable when you have two dogs who weigh a combined 260 pounds. One realtor we spoke to casually suggested housing the dogs in the garage for the 60 days we'd likely be showing the house. I'm guessing he's not a dog person. Our boys are family. So we would either include a floor allowance for repairs or offer to have them repaired ourselves after a move. I know neither is ideal, but what option is better? Or is there a third we haven't thought of yet? Kicking my dogs out of their home is not an option.
Shannon Freeman: This is a tough one - it really boils down to what your priorities are. I do not blame you that you don't want to house your dogs in the garage for 60 days. What I do know is that you cannot have 260 pounds of dog in your house when buyers are walking through. The dogs have to be out of the house when buyers are in the house. And not just the dogs, the beds, bowls and toys too. I am assuming that there is going to be a lockbox on the house and I am also assuming that agents who are going to be showing the house will call to give you advance notice. Before they come over you need to clean up all the dog stuff and take the boys for a walk- EVERY SINGLE TIME. Offer a credit for the floors.
Douglas, Mich.: We're selling an upper value four bedroom home for about $800,00 through MLS on the Lake Michigan shoreline but there were very few lookers, for our home, or for others, this summer.
The house is 10 years old, located in a unique location in wooded dunes, in excellent condition, and priced at replacement cost. About three hours from Chicago.
We expect to sell to a second-home buyer, or possibly a retiring couple. How should we best advertise the home to the potential market?
Donna Freeman: again, another good question. first of all, i assume your home is listed with a realtor and the realtor is doing all of the work required to expose your property and to assign the correct value (be realitic about the value, VERY important). also, you must look at your home thru the eyes of the buyer. In our book, 7 Steps to Sold (Amazon.com) we list some of the buyers out there and specifically what they are looking for and how to address their needs. look at other homes in the area that are on the market and make sure yours looks better any of the others. ask yourself why would a potential buyer pick your home. ask your realtor how they are marketing to your specific buyer.
Bowie, Md.: My 'condo-town home' has been on the market for four months at which time other similar homes, within eyesight, are now on sale. We've de-cluttered, cleaned and lowered our price but still no offers in hand. The home is in great condition although no granite, or wood floors. We're getting lots of traffic at our open houses and there seems to be a lot of interest but still nothing.
What do I do?
Shannon Freeman: We are coming into the holiday season now where typically the real estate market slows which is not going to help matters at all. Sounds like you have done everything right as far as de-cluttering. Assuming you are using an agent I would ask your agent to give you an honest evaluation about the appearance of your house. Lots of times agents fear telling their sellers the truth because they are afraid of losing the listing or insulting their clients. Another thing you need to consider is "getting ahead of the market" price-wise. With more competition out there now, price is going to be what motivates buyers to make an offer on your house and not your neighbor's. Price your house so buyer's can't ignore it. Get ahead of the curve and yours should be the first to sell.
Woodbridge Va.: Where do I get the biggest bang for my buck--putting new siding on the house or redoing the bathrooms?
Shannon Freeman: Without seeing your house....I would say put it into the bathrooms. A bathroom remodel is overwhelming to a buyer and they will appreciate that work being done for them prior to move-in.
Washington, D.C.: I am a renter looking for a two-bedroom apartment with two parking spaces for less than $3,000 a month near a red-line metro for work reasons. I can't seem to find this winning combination anywhere. Any suggestions when a good time to look is? Am I asking for too much? Is it worth getting a hiring agent to help? Thank you!
Shannon Freeman: If an agent can help you find this, I think absolutely utilize their services! Make a list of your wants and needs and put them in order of importance- you may have to give something up.
Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Donna and Shannon. Love the show (and I really enjoyed you on Designed to Sell).
We are going to renovate our kitchen, which is quite outdated. It is a fairly large eat-in kitchen in a 75-year old stone house. We will keep the hardwood floors, but the rest is up in the air. We expect to stay in this home for five to10 more years, so we want to do the renovation in a way that will help boost the home's value for resale.
We are thinking about natural cherry cabinets, granite counters and stainless steel appliances. I know that this look is "in" now, but will it become dated? Any suggestions for colors or materials choices would be appreciated.
Shannon Freeman: I would really advise you to use a designer when putting a kitchen together. It is such an important part of the house, not only will it be better for you when you are living there, but it will be better when you sell. A designer will help you make the look of the room cohesive and make sure that it blends in with the rest of the house. They will also be able to give you direction on trends and the best place to put your money. Most people hesitate using a designer but I think it saves you money in the long run.
Arlington, Va.: I have been trying to sell a property in Miami (a condo) for a while. 12 months and three price cuts later, the place is not moving. Other, similar apartments in the same building have sold for the same amount that I am asking for.
What I am doing wrong? Should I take it off the market and rent it out instead? Is the real-estate market in Miami that bad that an apartment cannot be sold at all?
Donna Freeman: Wow!! nothing i like better than a challenge. twelve months...that is WAY to long to have your property on the market. Let's take a look at your place and see how it compares to the others that have sold. Be honest. how does yours look compared to the others. there is some reason that buyers are picking other properties. for instance, do you have a great location in the complex? if not you need to adjust your price. secondly, have you done any updates compared to the others? the thing is you have to make your place be hot, hot, hot compared to the others on the market. make the buyer walk away and remember your place (in a good way, of course!) do what ever it takes to make your place memorable, new door mat, live plants, fresh pillows on beds and couches, clean like you have never done. make the buyer feel special when they come to your home. make your home say "hello, i was expecting you". good luck to you. i'm actually exhausted thinking of keeping a house clean for potential buyers for 12 months. roll up your sleeves and get that place sold!!
What should a seller's focus on improving in kitchen and baths when trying to make a sale if a full-scale renovation is not in the budget?
Shannon Freeman: Floors and countertops are always a good bet. Paint on cabinets can be a miracle, new drawer pulls add so much for so little money. Add a new faucet to make it bright and shiny.
Washington D.C.: What does the condition of a neighbor's house home have to do with the quick sale of a home? We live in a quiet neighborhood, with homes in good condition except for one neighbor who has a built a fountain in his front yard whose scale is not proportioned with the size of the home and whose lawn is not always in the best condition (not mowed regularly) I know I can't do anything about the fountain, but do you have any suggestions about the lawn?
Donna Freeman: another challanging problem...let's see. how friendly are you with the neighbors? i would recommend you get friendly if you aren't already. then, in a neighborly way, offer lawn service to that neighbor until your home sells. someone looking at your home always looks at the neighbors and at the neighborhood. i'm sure your neighbor wants you to get top dollar for your home. after all, the more you sell your home for, the more valuable it makes his.
Alexandria, Va.: Love your new show on HGTV. But I'm wondering, should the inside of every home for sale be neutral? There are some homes that are painted in very lovely, calm and interesting colors (other than some variation of beige). Would you recommend that a homeowner paint even those walls in a neutral color when trying to sell? When I see a "white box", there is nothing that endears me to that home because it is not filled with any warmth or personality. What's to distinguish it from the next white box? Thanks!
Shannon Freeman: This is so hard. Calm, lovely and interesting colors to one person are horrid to the next person. White walls are usually not a good idea, you really can't go wrong with the beige family. Colors are just risky because buyers are so influenced by them. We can't tell you how many buyers we have been with who are so turned off by the colors in a house and we say to them "but you can paint over it" . Does not matter to them- they just can't see past it. If the color on the wall is going to stay, the seller should get some very honest people over to the house to give opinions.
Rockville, Md.: Any tips on how to find a good staging planner? And how important is it that I use one?
Shannon Freeman: There are some national organizations for staging- check on the internet. If you think you need a staging professional and it is in your budget, then absolutely get one. It can only help with your sale.
Zionsville, Ind.: Our home has been on the market since April and has not had any bites so far. Realtors and prospects all tell us that it is a great house, but so far, we've lowered our price by $40,000 and still nothing. It is now vacant since we've already moved. Is a vacant home less appealing to buyers? Do you have any suggestions for how to make the home more appealing? Thank you.
Donna Freeman: we have found that people don't always tell the truth about what they think of your home for fear of hurting feelings. and while i can appreciate that, it certainly doesn't help you. get someone to be honest with you about the condition of your home and how it compares to others on the market in your area. also it doesn't matter how much you reduce your price, it only matters if you have it priced correctly and that your are in line with others in your area. also vacant homes do sell. warm it up with a few well placed plants to make it seem a little softer. and make sure it is absolutely immaculate. get a cleaning crew thru and really make it sparkle. look at open houses in your area and make sure yours will be the one buyers walk away remembering.
Washington, DC: I sold my place in Northern Virginia recently and found out after the fact, that about 90 percent of what I was told to do to my home to make it more appealing to buyers, was false. It seems as though all I really need to do was clean up, give it a fair price and be honest. Is it true that realtors ask sellers to really spiffy-up their places (and spend a ton of money) because they'll get a bigger commission? What is a reasonable amount of money to spend on home renovations?
Shannon Freeman: The amount of commission increase that an agent would see based on a spiffed-up house is minimal. What a spiffed-up house would do for the agent is help it sell faster, which really benefits the seller more than anyone.
Shannon Freeman: Thanks so much for all of the great questions, my mom and I wish we could come to each of your houses, roll up our sleeves and help to get all of these issues taken care of!
Donna Freeman: this has been great. i really hate to stop as i wanted to answer all the questions. Frankly, i would say that all these questions are covered in our book, "7 Steps to Sold".
it's amazing that most sellers have the same issues and i say a big Good Luck to all sellers out there.
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