If you want to sell your home during this year's spring selling season, now is the time to get moving. Sellers can rest assured that if there's no snow on the ground, homebuyers are already looking.
Today's buyers, particularly younger ones, have high expectations. They are looking for a home in excellent condition, with all its best features showcased.
"It's the HGTV effect," says Tiffany Hardgrave, owner of Masterpiece Staging and Design in Washington, D.C. "People want to walk in and have everything perfect."
With these preferences in mind, the most important things you can do are deep clean and declutter, removing big pieces of furniture. Next comes trimming foliage and sprucing up outdoor areas, including planting flowers if it's not too early.
"As things are turning into spring, it's time to power-wash the house and repaint the front door," says Madison Hildebrand, president of The Malibu Life Team and founding partner of Partners Trust Malibu. He also appears as a real estate agent on "Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles" on Bravo. "Your color can pop at the front door," he adds.
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In addition to getting the house in top condition, you'll want to think about your selling strategy. Are you going to use a traditional real estate agent, sell it yourself or use one of the do-it-yourself services that have sprung up in recent years?
Even if you're thinking of selling yourself, it's helpful to get listing presentations from several agents, along with suggestions on what they think your home needs to be ready to sell. If homes like yours are selling the moment they go on the market, in good or bad condition, putting your best foot forward is less important than it is if your home faces heavy competition.
You also don't have to wait for the real estate agent to consult a staging professional. For $200 to $300, you can consult with an expert who will make recommendations on how to show off your house using the furniture and possessions you already have inside it. Or, for $3,000 to $5,000, you can get a stager to bring in all new furniture and accessories for an empty house. "Invariably, the cost of a stager is much less than the cost of your first price reduction," Hardgrave says.
Whichever option you choose, you'll want to make sure your home gets in front of the maximum number of prospective buyers, which means posting it on all the online portals (some are free while others require a fee if you post yourself) and maybe even creating a website. You'll also want your home on social media, with both you and your agent doing the sharing.
"You want everybody to know you home is for sale because that's how you get the highest price," says Sissy Lappin, a veteran real estate broker in Houston, and founder of ListingDoor.com, which provides marketing tools to sell your home without an agent. "People want the information, and they want it in 15 seconds or less."
Here are 10 things you can do to prepare your home for the spring selling season:
1. Fix all the small stuff. You may or may not want to have your home inspected before you list it, but know that the buyer will have an inspection before the sale is finalized. If they find small problems, they will worry that there are larger maintenance issues that they can't yet detect. "They don't expect to find problems, and when they do they really start to become wary," Hildebrand says. "That can kill a deal."
2. Get rid of oversized and excess furniture. The less furniture you have in your house, the larger it will appear when buyers are touring it. Sell or donate pieces you don't plan to move to your new home, and store large or ugly pieces. You can rent storage pods, fill them yourself and have them delivered to your new home.
3. Clear out all the clutter. That can be everything from magazines on a side table to the kids' boots in the hall to your blender on the kitchen counter. The home needs to look sleek and minimalist. Put everything you can away, but don't overfill closets because prospective buyers will look there, too. "If we have too much stuff around and too much clutter, people want to walk out," Hardgrave says.
4. Depersonalize. Your home may reflect your life, but you want new people to visualize it as their home. That means removing all the family photos, trophies and any political or religious décor items. Strive for a clean slate.
5. Deep clean your home. Everything needs to be cleaned thoroughly, inside and out. You'll want to clean out closets, wash all the windows and have the carpets cleaned. Moving your out-of-season clothing elsewhere will make your closet look twice as big, Hildebrand says.
6. Update and freshen your décor. Many of today's home sellers are baby boomers, while the buyers are millennials, making them essentially a generation younger. Wallpaper, salmon-colored décor and heavy drapes all appear dated to the younger generation, which prefers minimalist and modern. An easy fix is putting brighter light bulbs in all your fixtures to create more light. "This is not the time to be energy-efficient," Lappin says.
7. Focus on curb appeal. Most buyers drive by before they ever ask to come inside. It's time to trim trees, clean gutters, clear out dead landscaping and add new sod and flowers. Consider resurfacing your driveway, getting a new mailbox and numbers and painting your front door. "It's a huge first impression," Hildebrand says. Make sure your home is lighted at night in case prospective buyers drive by after work.
8. Repaint in neutral colors. Builder white and beige look dated, with warm neutrals such as soft gray or pale taupe preferred, Hardgrave says. "Everybody likes their red dining room, but the buyers cannot picture themselves there," Lappin says. If your home is already painted in neutral colors, consider a fresh coat of paint.
9. Get professional photographs. If your home doesn't show well in the photos, people won't bother to visit. Some real estate agents provide professional photos as part of their marketing package. Photos taken with a phone or tablet aren't acceptable, and you may want your stager at your photo shoot. "Great photos don't happen by accident," Hardgrave says.
10. Create a story. Write a paragraph about why you love your home and post it with the listing. Put together information about improvements you've made. Lappin's company hires professional writers to do home descriptions. "Happy homes bring more money," she says. "The power of the story is incredible."
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