12 Ways to Botch Your Home Sale

Home sellers often make the mistake of thinking their home will sell itself. There’s lots you can do — for very little money — to help your home sell quickly and for top dollar.

If you are thinking of selling your home, now might be the moment. In the first quarter of this year, home prices rose 10.3 percent, on average, compared with the same time last year, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index.

Here’s one key to getting top dollar: Sell it quickly. The longer your home stays on the market, the greater the chance that you’ll have to drop the price. Your job, as a home seller, is to make your home as appealing as possible. And yet, some homeowners ignore even the basics.

That’s why Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson, in the video below, tells homeowners — tongue-in-cheek — how not to sell their homes. After you’ve watched it, read on for more turnoffs to prospective buyers, how to fix them, and the related costs.

Here are 12 ways home sellers often shoot themselves in the foot:

1. Dirt and neglect

Many buyers want a home in move-in condition. Few things are less appealing than inheriting someone’s dirty home. So, make a great impression by cleaning up the place until it sparkles and replacing missing or broken hardware and old toilet seats.

Do this: Imagine your home through a buyer’s eyes as you:

  • Scrub every cranny, cupboard and baseboard from basement to attic. Scour kitchen grease and dirt and dust around and under appliances.
  • Clean tile and grout.
  • Install fresh drawer liners.
  • Replace old drawer pulls (Ikea has good-looking, cheap ones).

Cost: Elbow grease and $200 to $400 for cleaning supplies, hardware, toilet seats and drawer paper.

2. Odors

Smells are a serious turnoff. Many real estate agents tell clients to avoid cooking fish or frying food while the home is up for sale.

Pet odors can be most offensive of all. Julie Dana, co-author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Staging Your Home to Sell,” told Bankrate she has clients not only banish litter boxes and smelly dog beds but remove any evidence of pets, including the pets themselves, while a home is for sale.

Do this: Clean thoroughly, rip out carpets (see below), clean the refrigerator, freezer, stove and oven. Scrub toilets thoroughly. Use baking soda in drains, including the garbage disposal. Remove trash and kitchen waste daily and before a showing.

Tuck lavender sachets in drawers and put fresh flowers here and there, changing them frequently. Don’t try masking bad smells. Get rid of them with enzyme cleaning products or by removing the problem. Avoid chemical fragrances that may offend buyers or trigger allergies.

Cost: Your labor plus the cost of boarding pets, which can range from $20 to $70 per day per pet, depending on where you live.

3. Clutter

Real estate shoppers are trying to envision themselves living in your home. The less of your stuff they see, the better. Also, minimal furnishings makes your home look larger.

Do this: Remove and store items visible on counters, floors, furniture, tables and under beds. Remove photos and collections on walls, shelves and bookcases. Keep art and decor clean, minimal and attractive but impersonal. Make it look like a fancy hotel.

Cost: A $403 investment (presumably for organizing materials or perhaps for a storage facility) returns a $2,024 price boost, according to a survey of real estate agents by HomeGain, which sells marketing programs to real estate professionals. The survey asked for agents’ top 10 recommendations for low-cost, do-it-yourself improvements that boost sale prices.

4. No curb appeal

Curb appeal is that all-important first impression of your home. Neglect it and buyers will drive past and never get a look inside. You’ll boost your home’s sale price by up to 4 or 5 percent by upgrading the curb appeal, says the National Association of Realtors.

Do this: Trim lawns, pull weeds, plant trees or perennial plants near the front door, scrub the porch and add some planted pots or baskets. Add a new walkway or edge garden beds. Put fresh gravel on the driveway and repair cracks in asphalt or cement. Put a fresh coat of paint on the front door.

Cost: A budget of $1,000 will go a long way toward improving your home’s curb appeal. A gallon of exterior paint starts at under $20.

Just $540 spent on landscaping improvements can yield a $1,932 price increase on average, HomeGain’s survey says.

5. No home inspection

You might think, “Why pay for an inspection? Let the buyer do it.”

But hiring someone to inspect your home before selling lets you spot and address problems and anticipate concerns buyers might have — and avoid buyers niggling over issues that their inspection turns up. Also, a positive report is a marketing tool.

Do this: Pay for a professional inspection of a home before putting it on the market.

Cost: $300 to $750 and up, depending on where you live.

6. A cave-like atmosphere

Buyers like to open blinds and turn on lights when touring for-sale homes. They need to get a good look at a property. A dark or dimly lit home appears musty and untended.

Do this:

  • Trim shrubs and prune trees near windows.
  • Dust blinds, drapes and shutters. Even better, remove and clean them or have them professionally cleaned.
  • Replace dated or old window treatments and wipe down light fixtures and switch plates.
  • Clean windows and skylights, inside and out.
  • Clean, polish and repair interior and exterior light fixtures.
  • Replace old or damaged lamp shades, light fixtures and dead bulbs.
  • Upgrade the wattage of bulbs in lamps or fixtures where more light is needed.
  • Install dimmer switches in bedrooms, living room and dining room for added drama.
  • Repair stuck windows so they open easily.
  • Replace torn screens.

Cost: HomeGain found that investing $375 in projects like these improves sale price by $1,550 on average.

7. Old carpeting

Ninety-nine percent of agents surveyed by HomeGain recommended replacing carpeting.

Do this: Choose light, neutral colors. If you can’t replace carpets, clean them thoroughly.

Cost: HomeGain estimates that spending $671, on average, results in a price increase of $1,746.

8. Ugly paint

Dingy or peeling exterior paint probably won’t stop a home from selling. But buyers are likely to calculate the cost of the job and want it deducted from your sale price.

Do this: Repaint, if possible. If not, for a quick fix, clean the exterior thoroughly with a power washer.

Cost: Renting a power washer runs about $60 a day. Spending $1,406 on repainting improves sale prices by an average of $2,176, HomeGain’s survey found.

9. Undone repairs

Home shoppers like to turn on lights, flush toilets and run the water. If these basic things don’t work, they may assume you’ve skipped other maintenance. Homes that appear neglected aren’t likely to fetch top price.

Do this: Make simple fixes to missing caulk or tile, broken or missing hardware, leaky faucets and creaky drawers. Make sure everything in the house works. Agents surveyed by HomeGain singled out electrical and plumbing repairs as especially important.

Cost: Spending $535 on plumbing and electric repairs will earn back roughly a $1,505 increase in the home’s price, HomeGain says. Other simple repairs cost only time and a few dollars for hardware parts.

10. A too-high price

An excessive price is the kiss of death, even in a hot market. As Realty Times explains:

The problem with overpricing your home is that the buyers who are qualified to buy your home won’t see it because they’re shopping in a lower price range. The buyers who do (see) it will quickly realize that there are other homes in the same price range that offer more value.

List your home too high and you’ll probably have to drop the price, which creates an air of desperation, encouraging buyers to try bargaining you down.

Do this: Attend five or six open houses in your price range to get a close look at what buyers in your bracket can expect for the money.

Cost: A few weekend afternoons.

11. Popcorn ceilings

Not only are these relics unattractive dust magnets but, in homes built in the mid-1980s and before, they could contain asbestos, a flame-retardant insulation that’s a carcinogen.

“People just hate them,” Janet Keller, an accredited buyer’s representative with Windermere Real Estate in Bellevue, Wash., told MSN Real Estate about popcorn ceilings. “It gives the house a dated appearance.”

If the ceiling isn’t crumbling, leave it alone, says the Environmental Protection Agency. However, even if you cover it up, state law may require you to disclose the presence of asbestos when you sell. That could discount your home’s value.

Asbestos removal costs are steep but may be worth it, depending on the home and the market. Ask a local agent for advice.

Do this: If you decide to remove an asbestos ceiling, it’s best to hire specialists. Exposure is dangerous. If you decide to do it yourself, contact your state or local health department for laws and guidelines on removal and disposal.

Cost: Seattle Asbestos Test Inc., for one example, charges $50 to $1,200 for a test, depending on the location, scope of the test and possible air monitoring. MSN Real Estate says prices vary, but you can expect to pay a certified asbestos-abatement company $3,000 to $5,000 to remove the finish, re-texture and paint in a 15-by-20-foot room.

12. Brass

Brass fixtures – light fixtures, hinges, door handles and knobs, kitchen and bathroom fixtures – once marked a tasteful home. Now they’re thought by fashionistas to be undesirable. Shiny is out. Duller finishes, like brushed nickel, are very in.

Grand Rapids, Mich., Realtor Pat Vredevoogd Combs says:

When a buyer looks at [a] home with brass fixtures it pretty much screams, “I need to be updated,” and buyers take notice of that. They will factor in an updating value when preparing an offer. The cost (of replacing brass) is far less than a major remodel and it makes good sense to de-brass before you put your house on the market.

Do this: De-brass your home. (I kid you not, this is a word. It may not be in the dictionary but home-improvement buffs and real estate agents use it.) Hire someone or take a weekend to do it yourself.

Cost: Combs de-brassed her house. “I believe it cost me about $2,000 for a handyman to change out all the door knobs, hinges, strike plates, etc., to brushed nickel from brass,” she says.

We’d love to hear your stories of for-sale homes and the mistakes owners make in trying to sell them. Post a comment below or at Money Talks News’ Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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  • Y2KJillian

    I have a brochure from decades ago, 57 Tips to Help Sell Your House– some of them were in this article, and are very good advice. Here are three CHEAP & easy ones from that brochure:
    1. brew a pot of coffee just before would-be buyers come to look.
    2. Have yellow flowers by the front door (on both sides) AND somewhere in the house–such as yellow potted mum plants.
    3. Light a fire in the fireplace. Set a container of long matches nearby (not where they’ll catch fire) — talk about homey!

    Fresh coffee, a fire, and yellow flowers? It’s HOME!

    All the other advice should be heeded, too, but these are really quick, easy, and cheap. And effective.

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