Real Estate

Top five seller fix-ups

So, thinking about selling your home? Just throw it on the market and see what happens.

Wait for it. There it is—the sound of Realtors all over the Triangle coughing up their breakfast at the very idea. You’re courting disaster with that willy-nilly approach, but, unfortunately, that’s how many would-be sellers start out.

“If you haven’t taken care of the condition of your home before you list it, you’re in trouble because you’ve already shown your property to people looking online, and they’ve already discounted your property off their list because you didn’t do the things up front,” says Keith Bliss, owner of The Bliss Real Estate Group, a team with Keller Williams Realty in Cary.

Isn’t that what feedback is for, you ask. Why not fix the things you get negative feedback on and ask the potential buyers to come back? It won’t work. Your dirty, cluttered house with its cooking odors and loud colors (those are the biggest buyer turnoffs) gives off a bad vibe. Your buyers are moving on.

The truth is, you’ve got to put your best foot forward the very first second your home is on the market. In 2011, nearly 600 real estate professionals nationwide were surveyed (HomeGain’s 2011 Home Sale Maximizer Survey) to discover which do-it-yourself improvement projects brought the biggest return on investment. Here are five, with good feedback from both local sellers and Realtors.

1: Finish Projects

Bliss recently listed Kristy and Craig Brown’s 1,700-square-foot Apex home for $225,000, but not before the couple, with two young sons, completed a few assignments.

“We were fortunate to find a great contractor who did pretty much all of the things we needed to get our house market-ready, which included finishing projects — little things like putting a railing on the front porch, replacing the front steps, replacing recessed lighting fixtures that were outdated, painting and removing outdated florescent lighting in the kitchen and master closet,” says Kristy Brown.

2: Paint

Donald and Janice Jones, formerly of Apex, spent about $1,500 to get their home market-ready. The majority was spent on painting.

“I painted outside and inside but also had the help of a professional painter,” says Donald Jones. “The painting bill was about $1,300 but that covered all the doors, door frames, base boards and the majority of rooms. I do think it helped. The house showed as if it had been kept lovingly and it was. I think that makes an impression on the buyers and helps them envision doing the same.”

The 2,100-square-foot Jones home sold fast, spending just 33 days on the market and selling for nearly full price at $234,000. “Janice and Donald were very diligent in a minimal amount of time with lots of elbow grease and effort,” says Mary Krabacher, the listing agent for the home and a Realtor with Fonville Morisey/Long & Foster Realtors.

3: Clean, de-clutter and 

This costs nothing but time, a little money and probably a sore back.

Getting a house clean is one thing. Keeping it that way is an entirely different matter. Both the Joneses and the Browns moved out of their homes before putting them on the market, avoiding that issue altogether.

The Joneses also paid for a deep-cleaning once they moved out. The Browns moved in with family and cleared out all the kids’ toys and personal family items but left the big furniture for staging purposes. “Not having to worry about getting the dogs and kids loaded up and cleaning up whatever messy toddler craft project we might be working on at that time is a big relief,” says Brown. “We wanted to make the viewing of our home as convenient and easy for the buyer as we would want it to be. We think this will help sell our home, hopefully.”

One word of advice on this front, too. If your home is not clean and ready to show, then don’t show it, says Bliss. You can say no.

4: Staging

“The key piece is that people today want to see homes look like a model home,” says Bliss. In other words, don’t live in your home like you usually do.

Most would-be buyers search on their own before asking to see a home, using photos to make their decision. “Photos are extremely important because you want that buyer to say ‘Wow; I want to see this one,’” says Bliss.

When it comes to staging, Krabacher suggests arranging furniture in a way that maximizes space. You may have to put oversized pieces in storage. You want each room to look spacious, clean and welcoming.

Bliss advises clients to invest $100 or less in a nice bedding set for the master bedroom. People like to come into a home and see a really nice master bedroom,” he says.

#5 Landscaping

Krabacher received great feedback on the Joneses yard. And Craig Brown laid mulch one morning in 19-degree weather to get his home on the market. Landscaping really is important.

“People are looking at curb appeal right from the street — from edging your property to fresh mulch,” says Bliss. “You can’t just throw a little bit of seed out there either. You’ve got to really get a professional out there getting your yard looking really good. That’s another expense, but how many people are actually going to take 12 to 30 hours to do their landscaping before the house goes on the market?” One compromise: Get the major stuff out of the way and then work on it yourself.

Last but not least: pricing

What if you’ve spent a little money and a lot of time and your house still isn’t selling? “If you get ten showings with no offers or you go two weeks with no showings, and we’ve taken care of the marketing and you’ve taken care of the condition, then we know its price,” says Bliss.

“Really what it comes down to is price, condition and then location,” Bliss continues. “It used to be location, location, location. But the market has shifted so much that buyers are really looking for the best price first. I’ve got agents coming from further and further away to show my listings than ever before.”

Krabacher agrees that sellers must price appropriately. The Joneses did so and had multiple offers, not common in this market, but they still had to negotiate. “While this home sold for near asking price, the sellers agreed to pay towards the buyers’ closing costs and a home warranty,” she says. “Qualified buyers are enjoying the current interest rates, available inventory of homes and are looking for a good deal.”