I have to sell two houses, and I've already made a lot of mistakes. Here's what the pros tell me I need to do.
A couple of weeks ago, mortgage rates plummeted to all-time lows – 3.67 percent for a 30-year loan and 2.94 for a 15-year loan. They’ve crept up a bit lately, but they’re still a bargain. So why can’t I sell either of my houses?
That’s right, I have two homes to sell: the house I live in now and the house I grew up in. My current home has been on the market for more than a year, and my family home since a month after my mother’s death. But despite showings, open houses, and those historically low mortgage rates, neither has sold.
But I’m confident that will change – because I recently consulted professionals whose advice should help me sell faster. Implementing some of their advice would cost hundreds, but some could be cheap or free…
1. All the world’s a stage
Let’s start with the potentially most expensive. In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson explains what “home staging” is, and how it can cost up to $5,000 a month – or as little as nothing.
As you saw in that video, staging a home is just about making it more like an uncluttered luxury hotel suite and less like your family’s home. Do it on the inside and outside and your home will probably sell faster and for more.
2. Find the right professional
Sometimes you forget the obvious: The best, smartest thing a homeowner can do is find the right real estate agent for them. There are all kinds of pros out there, with all kinds of approaches and personalities. So how do you find the perfect fit? The easiest ways are also free:
- Get referrals. Obviously, the easiest step is simply to ask friends and family. But be careful, because an agent who did well selling your sister’s fixer-upper isn’t necessarily the best one to sell your four-bedroom raised ranch. Agents can specialize not only in geography but also in price ranges.
- Go to open houses. In this case, you aren’t checking out the home, but the agent. And don’t fret that you aren’t interested in the house – smart agents know they’re also selling themselves at open houses.
- Go online. If those first two options aren’t working for you, search sites like RealEstateAgent.com and Realtor.com. When you find a few agents you might like, check them out online before contacting them. Are their websites professional-looking and inviting? Do they promote their properties well? Then call them. If the conversation goes well, set up a meeting. But remember, you have to feel comfortable, because this individual is helping you sell your most expensive possession.
3. Clean and de-clutter
Cleaning is obvious – we shouldn’t even have to mention that a dirty kitchen or bathroom will cost you customers. But clutter is another matter. Step back and try to look at your home the way someone else would for the very first time. The half-dead philodendron? Toss it out. That old ratty hassock? Goodwill.
And what about the garage? If you use it to store everything but your car, clean it out so a prospective buyer can imagine pulling their own vehicle in there. (Although they’ll probably do just like you and use it for storage.)
4. Maximize your home’s curb appeal
Mow the lawn. Trim the shrubs. Buy a new welcome mat. Add a hanging plant next to your entrance, or some large terra-cotta pots filled with colorful blooms. This is crucial – online pictures of your front door will likely be the introduction to prospective buyers.
5. Invest in a friend
If a professional home staging profession is too expensive, ask a friend or your real estate agent to come in and give an honest assessment of your home. Having someone objective look at what you see everyday can yield results regarding items or spaces you as a homeowner have become blind to.
6. Create rooms
Substituting one room’s use for another is a cheap way to transform a three-bedroom home with a den into a four-bedroom home. If it doesn’t have a closet, add an armoire. Or maybe your home has a formal dining room that’s never used. Add doors if it doesn’t have them and a freestanding wardrobe – and you’ve got an instant main floor master bedroom.
Nothing can instantly transform a room like a new coat of paint. That’s especially true if you’re going from something dark and dingy (and scratched and dirty) to something light, bright, and white. Painting is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to change and improve a room’s appearance. Anyone can do it. I know, because I have. A bedroom upstairs and the kitchen and dining room in my main house, and two bedrooms in my parents’ home. HUGE difference.
8. Bring the outdoors in and take the indoors out
Plant the decorative plants not just in the ground around the deck, but inside. Furnish your seating areas outside with things you would normally find indoors, like soft cushions. Bridging the inside and the outdoors expands the feel of your home.
9. Add storage
New homebuyers are always looking for storage space. Maximize what you have by adding a closet storage system, incorporating shelves, two-tiered hangers, and the like. Storage doesn’t have to be deep to be useful. Open up a space between studs and walls, install shelving, and you’ve got the perfect place for a series of small shelves to store CDs and DVDs.
10. Lights, camera, action!
Ceiling fixtures tend to get hung, then forgotten, which means they look dated before long. Inexpensive replacements from a home improvement store can brighten up the interior and make a room look more current.
Don’t assume it’s sold till the cash changes hands…
Last year I had an offer – two, actually – on my home. Both offers were “as is,” meaning with the dark, chipped kitchen floor, the water-stained ceiling in the kitchen, the ugly dirty walls upstairs and down. While awaiting closing, I neglected to paint or fix the floor or do any of the other things I had intended to do, as detailed here. When both those deals fell through, I’d lost an entire summer of traffic. So don’t let your guard down.
Remember, a buyer has some specific needs and desires in mind: neighborhood, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, etc. But beyond that, buying a home is an emotional decision. Welcoming someone to your home – hopefully their new home – means keeping things bright, clean, uncluttered, and friendly.