5 Mistakes Homesellers Should Avoid

Homeseller mistakesBy Brendon DeSimone

After years of dead open houses, price reduction after price reduction and failed attempts to sell homes, many real estate markets are picking up. This could be welcome news to someone who has been forced to have kids share a bedroom, suffer through a long commute or any number of reasons why folks would want to sell their home. Even though sales activity is up, sellers still must be ready to do what it takes to get their home sold. It's still not the good old days. Buyers continue to be cautious and don't want to make a bad decision. It's more important than ever to do what it takes to work with potential buyers and prepare as best you can to get your home sold.

Here are five mistakes that serious sellers must avoid when going on the market today.

1. Not taking your first buyer seriously.

Ninety percent of the time, your first buyer is your best buyer. Real estate agents everywhere will tell you that they have seen this happen time and again. Generally speaking, the potential buyer who makes the first offer is highly motivated and ready to do business. The first offer might be lower than you'd like, but that's what negotiations are for.

You can hold off in hopes of better offers, but many times properties sit on the market too long growing "stale" because the seller didn't work with the first buyer. Three months later, the seller ends up taking 5 percent less than the first offer they received. By this time, that first buyer has already bought and moved on. The seller is kicking themselves for not making it work.

2. Offering buyers credits for work you'd rather not do.

Do your back steps have dry rot? Do you know of a leaky faucet and a few windows that won't open or close properly? Does the HVAC system act up sometimes? Then invest the time and money needed to make your home as problem-free as possible before you put it on the market.

Buyers are busy, too. They don't want to deal with repair or maintenance work after they close. What they will do is call out these faults, either with a low offer price or in asking for credits after their property inspection.

Instead of offering credits against the purchase price, invest some money up front and get the work done yourself. Your home will sell faster. And most likely, you'll get your money back and then some, in the form of a higher price. A $500 visit from the plumber or electrician, before going on the market, could save $5,000 in a lower offer or requests for credits down the road.

3. Making highly personal changes to your home.

Recently, a seller of a new construction home in San Francisco was adamant about adding a shiny sealant to his concrete garage floor. Why? Because, for some reason, he'd always wanted a clean garage floor and assumed a new buyer would as well. And yet, he was about to put his house on the market. His real estate agent advised him to skip the shiny sealant because the time and money would be better spent on small kitchen or bath improvements.

So, think carefully about any home project before selling. If you need to make choices on colors or styles, go with something neutral. If you're not sure, ask your agent for a designer or stager referral. Remember, most buyers expect to add their own touch to the home once they close. Don't try to do it for them.

4. Overpricing your house.

When you price your home too high, you're not fooling anyone. Informed buyers know the comps in your neighborhood. And if they don't, you can bet their agent does. If your asking price is too high, your home could sit on the market longer. The longer it sits, the staler it becomes to the marketplace. You may end up having to reduce the price -- sometimes more than once. As agents or buyers flip through listings, they may simply ignore yours because the "days on market" is so high. They'll assume something must be wrong with it and move on to the next listing. If you price your home just right from the beginning, the odds are in your favor that the final sale price will be higher than if you'd priced it too high and reduced it a few times. Plus, you'll have saved yourself months and months of carrying costs, including mortgage payments and property taxes.

5. Making your home difficult to show.

With the market picking up, buyers and their agents are shopping online all the time. If your home is priced right and shows well, chances are you could get showing requests within hours of listing the home with your agent.

A serious seller must make the home easy to show to potential buyers. This means agreeing to broker tours or caravans up front and a few open houses right out of the gates. You should plan on having the home ready to show within 24 hours. Turning away prospective buyers or making it difficult to show sends a negative message -- that you're not motivated or serious about selling. If you have young children or pets or you work from home, plan showing times with your real estate agent up front. If you know you're away on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, let your agent know, and they can work around those times.

Markets change, and buyers and sellers need to adapt to these changes. If you've been on the sidelines waiting for the right time to sell, this could be your chance at getting that number you needed. But it's not as easy as just putting your house on the market. If you're serious about selling, be wary of these mistakes. Hire a good real estate agent and make sure you put your best foot forward.

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Staging Your Home for Sale: Before and After
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5 Mistakes Homesellers Should Avoid

PROBLEM: Staging often requires returning rooms to their intended purpose, rather than reflecting the homeowners' living style. These Charlotte, N.C., homeowners used the living room as a home office, complete with a large desk, office equipment, and many, many books. Though functional for them, it failed to impress buyers.
See More Tips and Advice on Home Staging

SOLUTION: After stager Cheryl Cox moved the existing furniture to other rooms, she removed the dated wallpaper and painted in a neutral color. To call attention to the hardwood floors, she replaced the area rug with a smaller one.
Cost: $705
Stager: Cheryl Cox, StageCoach Home Staging and Design

PROBLEM: The wallpaper in this guest bedroom in a Lake Elsinore, Calif., home was very busy and reflected the homeowner's very specific and personal style. The empty room also didn't help buyers visualize how they could best use the space.
SOLUTION: To appeal to the widest range of buyers, stager Debbie Takahashi removed the wallpaper and painted the room in warm, neutral tones.
Cost: $800, plus furniture and accessories rental
Stager: Debbie Takahashi, Staged by Design, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
PROBLEM: The owners of this home in Sterling Heights, Mich., were updating their kitchen and dining room in preparation for sale. The large dining table with oversized chairs crowded the room and impeded traffic flow. The tile flooring was loose. The homeowners wanted to make the room seem larger and complement the new kitchen.
SOLUTION: Home stager Carolyn Stieger helped the homeowners select new floor tile for the kitchen and dining room, as well as a rich wooden dining table and four sleek chairs.
Cost: $141
Stager: Carolyn Stieger, Images of Elegance, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
PROBLEM: This Atlanta, Ga., home had been totally rehabbed, and the owner wanted it staged for sale. From the front door, buyers could look through the foyer and kitchen to this family room. Stager Jeanne Westmoreland wanted to create a strong focal point, using the fireplace, to pull buyers into the space.
SOLUTION: Westmoreland's strategy was threefold: She showcased the architectural focal points of the room, including the fireplace and the vaulted ceiling.
Cost: Approximately $1,500
Stager: Jeanne Westmoreland (with Arow Flemmer, Lisa Romans and Angel Walker), Staging by the Masters, StagingbytheMasters.com
PROBLEM: Left empty, this Bellevue, Wash., custom-built executive home felt cold and unappealing. The builder asked stager Dana Pedersen to highlight the expansive space and meticulous craftsmanship.
SOLUTION: Pedersen staged the space with natural earth tones and used accents of blues and greens to bring the outdoors inside. Potential buyers now notice the view of Lake Washington and admire the room's craftsmanship and architectural details.
Cost: $450
Stager: Dana Pedersen, Masterful Staging, Issaquah, Wash.
PROBLEM: Clutter obscured this dining room in a home in Surprise, Ariz., making a poor first impression as buyers entered the home.
SOLUTION: Stager Sherri Halvorsen enhanced the room's size by eliminating the clutter and removing the owner's china cabinet and two of the dining chairs.
Cost: $250
Stager: Sherri Halvorsen, Staged to Perfection, LLC
PROBLEM: Buyers found this stark family room in a Yorktown, Va., home unwelcoming and hard to envision living in. They were left wondering: How and where will our furnishings fit? How should the space flow? Will this family room be large enough for our family?
SOLUTION: Stager Therese Robinson created a warm and inviting family room that said to buyers, "Come in, sit down, relax, and enjoy family and friends."
Cost: $210 per month, including the stager's time and the cost of renting furniture and accessories
Stager: Therese Robinson, Staged 2 Sell, Poquoson, Va.
PROBLEM: This Ann Arbor, Mich., townhouse had been sitting on the market, vacant, for a year and a half. Because it was empty, buyers were keying in on small flaws, rather than looking at the property as a whole. They also had difficulty visualizing where they would dine.
LIVING ROOM AFTERSOLUTION: The stager warmed the space, creating strong emotional appeal, and also established two, clearly defined eating areas.Cost: $1,000 to stage the great room (shown), kitchen and two bathroomsStager: Kathi Presutti, RE:STYLE LLC, Brighton. Mich.
PROBLEM: This bathroom in a Charlotte, N.C., home lacked a focal point, balance and color.
SOLUTION: Stager Barb Schwarz, working with staging students, added greenery to frame the bath and splashes of color for a "Wow!" factor.Cost: This bathroom was staged as part of a class in staging, at no cost.Stager: Barb Schwarz, StagedHomes.com, Concord, Calif.

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