In selling residential real estate for more than 10 years, I’ve been in a lot of properties of all shapes and sizes.
• Lose your emotions. This is a tough one, so I put it first. When I sit down with sellers for the first time (often months ahead of our prospective list date), I regularly start by saying something like “this is no longer your home, rather this has to become your product.” I mean this.
It’s not easy to leverage any commodity unless you are prepared to approach the transaction with an unemotional or non-romantic notion of the process. Selling a primary residence (or even an investment property) comes with loads of memories and emotions, but unfortunately for most sellers, these two factors can be largest barriers to success.
By allowing them to be present (or even worse — a driving force) in the preparation and sales process, you are diminishing your chances of making proper decisions that support your goal, which again is to get the most possible from the right buyer. So let go early and often while allowing those who are not emotionally involved to have a say in the process. With the right mindset, you will be taking a giant step toward achieving your goals.
• Create clean spaces and clear vision. Yes, literally in many cases that means open up the rooms in your property by getting rid of personal belongings and cleaning. Learn to live like a Spartan while your home is on the market by only keeping things you need for that period.
You would be surprised to learn how many people skip this critical step, and just how much of an impact doing so has on the showing experience. Believe me, I am the one at your open house listening to people’s criticism as they walk through cluttered rooms full of children’s toys or dog hair telling themselves how much work needs to be done when in reality a storage locker and a vacuum would do the trick.
Decluttering and cleaning is not a sophisticated process but requires long hours of dedicated labor and effort. Sound fun? That’s exactly why it’s an easy one to skip. But take a few weekends and do it anyway because it probably will have more impact on your life than those missed episodes of “House of Cards.”
Then it’s time to create a clear vision. If you’ve properly purged your stuff and grime, you still have work to do. Remember this — fresh paint, new floors and adequate lighting go a long way. Most properties I visit badly need all three, but the sellers just don’t think so. Think of it like this — neutralize the space to optimize the showing experience.
This includes getting one neutral paint color on all of the walls and white ceilings/trim so they too stand out in the right way. Make sure the floors match the walls in look and feel. Specifically, refinishing existing wood floors can make a huge difference. Also replacing weathered carpets with new types of neutral flooring wherever needed will do wonders to clear space.
Once you have fresh walls and floors make sure you have adequate lighting to show off your new spaces. Spend a few hundred dollars getting an electrician to install versatile light fixtures or recessed lighting in dark walk-through rooms and watch your home become a much more inviting space where buyers want to stay. More buyers liking your property literally means more money come sale time.
• Your property has a story — make sure it gets told. I would argue this last step is the most misunderstood of the three, so I want to be careful in explaining exactly what I mean. Realize, however, this only matters if you’ve properly executed on the first two steps, because if you haven’t, it loses nearly all effectiveness.
Your property has an appeal to a certain buying demographic. Fair housing laws prevent real estate professionals from discriminating against any buyer who shows interest in the property, but as you know a millennial bachelor versus a family with three kids are going to have different opinions on what constitutes a good buy, which is how housing prices are established.
As the owner, it is your job to appeal to your most probable demographic whenever and wherever possible. Specifically, this means your staging and marketing efforts should be geared toward reaching the emotions of your target demographic. I say this because home buying is an emotional decision for most buyers, and if you hit them in the heart you will succeed.
For example, if your property is a one bedroom in Logan Circle, consider advertising a guaranteed closing cost credit or home warranty protection plan — both designed to save money for cash strapped first-time buyers. Additionally, you could consider having an evening open house that serves alcohol while highlighting the roof top city views.
On the other side, if your neighborhood is crawling in school-aged children, you will want to highlight the school activities or neighborhood amenities (such as community pools) by leaving out brochures and information that a potential buyer may never uncover on their own. They may be surprised to learn (because you provided them information) just how much your property will suit their needs.
Also consider staging that same property with fun furniture such as bunk beds and TV room space, even if you never used the space in that way. Give your target buyer a visual of what life with the kids could look like in your house. Know your target and try to hit them with a deliberate strategy that will help you stand out from the crowd.
When buyers enter your property, they will quickly move through your space room by room and make brief emotional opinions based on the experience they get. If you’ve done your job correctly, they will reward you for how they “felt” and what they “saw” as they toured your house.
Only after will they inquire about the age of the roof, or whether the furnace is in good condition. By that time, you’ve already hooked them.
Jonathan Fox, a real estate agent and principal of the Fox Group with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Dupont/Logan, writes an occasional column about Washington-area housing issues.