Interview with Dave Stegink from ABI Inspection Services: The Number 1 Issue Home Inspectors Discover on a Walk Through | Fixing and Preventing Mold and Mildew in a Bathroom | Cleaning Up Water Stains On Your Ceiling | Tips for Selling Your House: Interview with Roger Nyhuis from Keller Williams Lakeshore Realty
On today’s episode, Betsy and Dan discuss some tips for those of you who are thinking about putting your homes on the market. Even though homes are selling faster than they have in recent years, there are still some things that you can do to make sure your home sells quickly AND for as much money as possible….
- First Impressions Matter (0:52)
- Start Outside (2:58)
- Organize, De-Clutter and De-Personalize (11:56)
- Make Those Small Repairs (19:58)
- Paint the Walls Neutral? Or Go Bold With Color! (23:42)
My wife and I just bought a new home. And while everything ended well, the process of searching was not without its fair share of stress. However, despite all that, I discovered that touring many different homes and asking questions like “can we live here” was also very interesting and very eye-opening to me.
See, usually, I think and talk about paint and colors and decorating from the perspective of a homeowner who plans on staying in his or her home indefinitely. I generally talk about the importance of decorating with color, about putting your personality into your choices and all that. However, as I toured many of these homes, looking for one to purchase and move my family into, I kept thinking–over and over–how I wished the sellers had potentially put just a little bit less of themselves and their personality into the paint jobs.
As I said earlier, it was a bit of an eye-opener for me–and something that I failed to do myself in my own home–but it made me realize that when it comes to selling your home, neutral beats color almost every time. Here are just a few reasons:
1. Color Often Requires a Repaint
Neutrals never do. Bold, interesting color schemes built around your furniture and decor are tremendously effective ways to infuse a home with life and personality. And if you’re staying there, that’s great. However, if you’re selling your home think about it: the colors are built around your furniture and your personality. New buyers look at them and think: “Wow, almost everything here will need to be repainted before we can put our stuff in here.”
Neutral colors, on the other hand, may not pop with personality or excitement, but neither do they leave a prospective buyer thinking “repaint, repaint, repaint” as she walks from room to room to room.
On the other hand, touring homes with neutral colors, I found myself saying: “We could put some color in this room down the line, but,” (and here’s the money-line), “but, we can move in with it just like it is.”
Repainting a room, in reality, is not a big project, but that doesn’t stop many people from thinking of it has a huge undertaking. When you fill your “For Sale” home with color, many prospective buyers walk out with an idea that a lot of work and expense is required before the home will be ready for their stuff. When you paint with neutrals, the home is move-in ready.
2. Color Is Personal
Neutral, on the other hand, allows for multiple personalities (in a good way). Color reflects our personality, our moods. Colors on the wall of a room help to determine the atmosphere of that room–how we feel about it and how we feel in it. When you decorate your “For Sale” home in colors, you are setting the tone for a given space based on how you feel about it, on your personality.
Decorating in neutrals, however, gives the prospective buyers the complete freedom to customize that room to fit their family, their moods, their personality. Remember: when people go through your home, you want them to feel as if it could be theirs. When you’ve got your personal favorite color combinations spread thickly on every wall, it becomes a little harder for folks to picture themselves in your home. Neutrals on the walls allows the many folks with many different personalities who tour your home to each potentially picture it as theirs.
3. Colors On the Wall Present a Finished Work
Neutrals provide a blank canvas to work on. Don’t assume that neutral colors are boring and that using them means your home won’t have any appeal. You can still introduce color and flair to your decorating through the use of accessories. This is perfect because it shows that your home provides an interesting setting, full of color and life. However, prospective buyers immediately realize that when those items are removed, they’ve got a blank canvas to put their own mark on.
My wife and I saw this over and over. Certain homes we toured had neutral walls and colorful accessories–and while we maybe weren’t interested in the colors used, we spent many nights dreaming about how we could bring our colors into that home in accessories and furniture we bought, painted, or brought with us.
We weren’t thinking about the work of repainting rooms. We were thinking instead about moving in and buying new decor that would help us spread our colors and personality through the home should we buy it. There is a night-and-day difference between those two modes of thinking. If you, as a seller, have people leave your home after a walk-through dreaming about the new decor they can purchase or bring with them, you’re way ahead of the seller who’s prospective buyers leave wondering how much it’s going to cost to cover the lime green bathroom walls.
Of course, color works when selling homes. Of course, neutrals aren’t the only way to go. However, I bring up these points because I was struck over and over by the ease with which I could picture my family and I living in the homes that were largely neutral. Conversely, I was surprised how often we left the homes full of trendy colors and said things like “that house looked cool, but it definitely didn’t fit our personality.”
It’s color–it can be covered over. And I know that. Still, I found it hard to overcome the natural tendency to see someone else’s color scheme as theirs, not mine.
Bottom line? Think about it! If you’re selling your home and you’re repainting, why not opt for some neutral tones? It might help you get your house off the market quicker!
OK, last time, I mentioned something I called The Great Disassociation and how it’s such an important concept when it comes to selling a home. See, when we live in our homes for any length of time, what typically happens is that we become blinded to the condition of the home. They’re our homes. We see them everyday. And as a result, little things kind of slip by us.
For example, I have a wall in my bedroom–and this is embarrassing to admit–that had a nail hole in it. I had tried to hang a picture and I put it in a spot I didn’t like. So, I pulled the nail out, moved the picture and then spackled the nail hole. Impressive, right? Well, not so much. See, that’s as far as I got.
In fact, while that happened over 2 years ago, I just noticed the other day that there’s still a big white spackled spot in the center of the wall that has NEVER BEEN PAINTED! I’ve left that undone for over two years and I never really even noticed it. It became the new normal and it never jumped out at me as something to think about doing. (I told you it was embarrassing).
Another example is this: my basement has a musty odor in the Spring and Fall. If I run a dehumidifier, it goes away and smells fine. However, what usually happens is that we get used to the smell. We walk into our back entry after a day out and it smells like our back entry. I don’t even think about it. But every now and then my mom will stop over. She’ll walk in and say something like “I should get you our dehumidifier–that way you could clear out that musty smell.” She doesn’t mean anything negative–she’s just offering her help. Problem is, she’s offering her help with a problem I didn’t even realize existed. And it’s because I live there. I get used to it. I don’t see it as an area of concern.
That’s what I’m getting at–how we live with certain aspects of our home for so long that we don’t even see them as trouble-zones. And while we’re living in our homes, that’s not such a big issue. But when we’re trying to sell our homes, it becomes enormous. After all, I may not notice the spackle spot on the bedroom wall . . . but new buyers will. I may not notice the musty basement stink . . . but new potential buyers will. And who knows . . . those things might be enough of a turnoff to steer those folks away from my home.
So that’s why the Great Disassociation is so important. It’s all about disassociating yourself from your own home–about forgetting that it’s yours–about looking at it with new eyes–with the eyes of potential new buyers. Doing this is going to help you spotlight some of the areas that are going to need your attention–areas that should be repaired or attended to before you put your home on the market.
So, to do your best to eliminate these little turnoffs, you first need to find them. And to find them, you need to look at your house as if it was somebody elses.
Now, that’s not easy to do . . . so here’s what I recommend. Drive away some night and go out for dinner with your family. Maybe, if you’re brave, invite an honest and good friend of yours along. After dinner . . . and here comes the hard part . . . drive up to your home and do your best to pretend that it’s not yours.
That’s right. Don’t pull into the driveway–because it’s not your house. Don’t pull into the garage–it’s not yours. Don’t get the mail out of the mailbox, don’t pick up the newspaper off the sidewalk . . . treat this house as if it’s one you just drove by, saw the “For Sale” sign, and stopped for a look.
Park on the road–where everybody else would park–and get out of your car. Look at everything–what’s the mailbox look like? Is it rusting away on the post? Will you have to replace it if you buy the home? Will you need to stain the post?
Check out the roof–that’s always one of the first things I look at–what condition are the shingles in? Does it look like you’ll be replacing it in the next couple years should you make the purchase?
What about the trees in the yard? Do they look healthy or are they full of dead branches? And what about the yard? Is it green and growing or brown and dead? Is the grass cut or completely growing out of control?
As you walk up the driveway, pay attention to the cracks or the weeds that are growing there. What about the landscaping in the front? Is that out of control? Are the bushes growing like mad or have they been trimmed nicely? Are there weeds choking out everything else?
Check out the front steps–are they covered with newspapers? Are they littered with flower pots full of dead plants? Are they full of cracks? Is the welcome mat a mess?
What about the front door? What shape is it in? Is it rusting? Is it peeling? Is it faded and boring? Could it use a new color, a new paint job? Are there spiderwebs everywhere? Dead leaves?
You get the idea. Do that . . . analyze your home that way . . . and take notes. Look at it as if you might be purchasing it. What jumps out as you as a neat feature? Would it be better if you did x, y or z to enhance it? What jumps out at you as a big turnoff? Is there anything that you instantly would have to fix if you bought the home?
After you’ve gone around the outside of the home, it’s time to head inside and do the same thing. Analyze everything and keep yourself in the mindset that this isn’t your house. Keep telling yourself that everything you see that’s not perfect is going to have to be repaired by YOU (the new buyer).
Do this walkaround (and through) your home separate from your spouse–and then meet up later and compare notes. What did he or she see that you missed?
And if you’ve got the guts and a thick enough skin . . . ask an honest friend or two to do the same. And don’t chew them out when they let you know what they see either. Ask them to give you their honest opinion of your home as viewed from the road by potential buyers. Ask them not to sugar-coat anything. You want the straight scoop–you want to know what they see.
After you’ve done this, take all this information and analyze it. Some of the things are going to be too big to tackle when you’re trying to sell your home. As nice as a loft in the garage would be, you don’t need to build one to sell the home. But, if the front door looks dirty and old and the mat is worn out and the mailbox is rusting . . . well, those are all little fixes that will go a long way towards your goal: getting people in your house so they can see what’s inside and hopefully fall in love with it. Think about it. And give it a try.
OK, last time we talked about how important it is for your home to give a great first impression when you’re trying to sell it. You need to make sure the outside of the home is appealing from the road. You cannot rely on the quality of the interior. You can’t bank on the fact that the inside of the home is finished so amazingly that people will be flocking in to pile their offers up at your feet. Oh, you may be right–about the interior being amazing–but the hard truth is that if the package isn’t appealing . . . chances are nobody’s going to peer inside long enough to see what’s in there.
So, the first step in moving your house and getting that SOLD sign in the front yard is to fine tune the package. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.
And really, surprisingly, it’s not the work that’s the hard part–it’s not the painting and cleaning and organizing and weeding that’s difficult. Actually, the difficult aspect is distancing yourself enough from the home to actually SEE the painting, cleaning, organizing and weeding that needs to be done.
Oh, you might disagree with that . . . but hold on . . . it’s true–it’s just a fact of human nature. For example . . . and this is horribly embarassing to admit–but, in the pursuit of open, honest discussion, I’ll throw it all on the line. For example, in my home, a year or so ago, I started painting my kitchen cabinets. It was a complicated process and I did it in sections–this chunk of cabinets, then that one, and so on, as I worked my way around the kitchen.
Well, everything went well until I hit late fall last year and the weather turned. I was doing this outside and I decided not to continue until the weather improved in the spring. I had, at that point, half of the kitchen done with the new dark color. The other half was still white.
Well, I just realized the other day that my kitchen is still not completed. And I mean, I just realized it. I’m so used to seeing it the way it is, that it never dawned on me until I was playing with the kids in the kitchen and I laid down on the floor to pretend to be dead. (I was the monster and they had killed me). Well, while I was lying there, I looked around the kitchen noticing how different it looked from this perspective. I was seeing it from a whole new angle.
And that’s when I saw the cabinets and realized how one half of the room was unfinished. Looking at it from a new angle made my mind process what it was seeing completely. When I see things from my usual perspective, I think my brain just glosses over what it’s used to seeing–the cabinets have been unfinished for months . . . so my brain doesn’t pay them any extra attention. However, when I saw them from a new angle, my brain noticed the difference.
I don’t know the psychological or scientific explanation for what happened–but I know that by looking at something–my kitchen–from a new point of view . . . I saw things I literally hadn’t seen for months: I realized I had work to do–that I still had to finish those cabinets.
Well, the same is true with your home. And that’s why I said earlier that seeing the work you need to do is sometimes harder than actually doing it. See, your brain is used to seeing what it sees when you pull up to your home. When you walk in the front door or the back door . . . your brain largely tunes out what it’s seeing–it’s used to it–it’s always there. You don’t notice it.
Haven’t you ever been at somebody’s house that is extremely messy. Haven’t you sat there and looked around at the mess and just felt an overwhelming depression settle in on your soul? Has anybody else felt that or am I a freak? Anyway, I’ve felt that and I’ve been blown away by the fact that the people living there have no concept of the mess. It’s not a mess to them–it’s normal.
Well, that’s what happens with our homes–we become accustomed to certain things and we can’t see them for what they may be: turnoffs to new potential buyers.
But hold on . . . don’t let that get you down. Because there’s good news–there’s a solution to this: you just need to do what I did in my kitchen: you need to look at your home from another perspective. You need to find a way to disassociate yourself from your home. To find a way to forget that you live there. You need to find a way to see it as a place you might buy.
You need to get critical and you need to take notes. It’s not easy, but it can be done. And doing this is going to open your eyes to a world of things that need to be fixed–things I guarantee will surprise you.
It’s called the Great Disassociation and we’ll dig into how you do it in another post.
There’s a house down the road from me that’s for sale (the one in the photo is not it!). Has been for a long time now. We walk past it 2 or 3 times a week on our way to a baseball field where we play epic games that usually end in gloating (on the winner’s side) and crying (on the loser’s).
Anyway, we do that 2 or 3 times a week and every time I walk past that house–whether I’m on the way to the field with 2 happy boys, or on the way home with one really happy boy and one really sad one–I take a look. And every time I look at it, I think the same thought: “that house sure has a lot of potential.”
And it does. It’s a big stone house–looks like something out of a fairy tale. It’s got a lot of character. It’s near the baseball field (so we could go have our battles EVERY night–hooray!). It looks to be a 4 bedroom, 2.5 bath home. (Which is enticing because my home is currently a 3 bedroom, 1 bath home. And with 5 kids, a wife and myself . . . well, that’s easily 2 bathrooms too few).
So every time I walk past the house, I stop and think about the potential. But every time I stop . . . I start back up and continue on my way home, pushing any thought of buying that house out of my mind.
Oh, it’s not the price. In fact, the price started at the top of our price range (still within it, but at the very top) and it’s dropped $30,000 or $40,000 in price since the beginning of the year. No, it’s not the price. We could afford it if we wanted it. And it’s not really the location. It’s right down the road from our other home and it’s right next to our major evening entertainment–the ball field. It’s definitely not the size of the home: all that extra space and the extra bath and a half would be almost perceived as a gift from heaven.
No. It’s none of those things that keep us away. None of those things that get our legs moving again after we’ve stopped to “window shop.”
No, what gets us moving again is what’s probably kept everybody else moving as well: the house gives a bad first impression.
I’ve never seen much of the inside–not up close anyway–but I’ve got a feeling I know what I’m going to find. See, the outside of a home is a window to the interior. A poorly maintained exterior is a warning many home buyers heed.
We walk up to this house and look at the beautiful aspects: the stone walls, the 4 bedrooms . . . the 2.5 baths. But despite all that, I can’t get past the poorly maintained front door. The overgrown landscaping. The rotting and flaking fences. The windows that are filthy. The blinds that hang crooked and bent.
The one room you can see from the driveway shows that either there was water damage or the family before had a dog. A vicious, baseboard-attacking dog who took out his puppyhood rage on the floor trim of that poor little room.
All in all, despite the nice aspects of the house, the obviously visible negative stuff just turns me off. I’m afraid that something that looks that bad on the outside is only going to be worse inside. And so, every night that we stop . . . we look for a few minutes and continue walking, shaking our heads . . . unable to muster up the interest to call the number on the sign.
Now, I know this house is owned by the bank (or something). It’s empty and has been for a while–so I understand some of the reason for the dilapidated, unkempt look of the exterior. I understand that whoever currently owns it doesn’t want to spend the money or time to keep up on the exterior work. They probably figure it’s too expensive.
However, I can’t help but think that when we started looking, the house was about $179,000. If I’m not mistaken, the current price is either $149,000 or $139,000. It’s dropped anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000 in price and still hasn’t moved.
I’ve written about first impressions here on this blog before. First impressions can make all the difference in the world when it comes to relationships and new jobs. They also play a huge role when it comes to selling a house. Create a great first impression with your home . . . and chances are, even in a down economy, you won’t be sitting on it for too long. Let the importance of that first impression slip down on your list of “things to do” and you’re going to have a situation like the folks who own that house I walk by a couple times a week: you’re going to be lowering your price as you try to make people see past the obvious faults.
When you get to that point: trying to make people see past the faults and focus on the price, you’ve lost your bargaining ground. You want people to want the house because they HAVE to have it–they see themselves living there and can’t picture themselves living somewhere else. When that happens, price becomes a secondary determiner. It’s still important, but it’s not the first thing we check.
When we see a house that shows well, the first thing we do is get out of our car and look around. We imagine our kids playing on the yard. We see ourselves snowblowing the driveway in the winter. We picture cookouts on the grill and all the other fun things that go with life. After that, we cautiously and nervously approach the little info box, hoping against hope that the house is within our range.
On the other hand, when people see the house I walk past every other night, I’d put money on the fact that the only thing they see or imagine is exactly what I imagine: a lot of work. They then probably do what we do and walk straight up to the info box and look at the price.
The big difference between the two scenarios is what happens at the info box: in the first case, we’re looking at the price, hoping it’s within our range. Our heart’s beating a little harder . . . were nervous, excited, hopeful. In the second scenario, none of that’s happening. We’re simply looking to see if the price is low enough to justify any thought whatsoever into purchasing the home.
In the first scenario, if the price is even within $20,000 of your range, chances are you call the realtor–you want to look into it, to dig, to discover if there’s some way you could swing it. You love the house, you want it. Or at least you want to look into it further. In the second scenario . . . if the price isn’t low enough to generate a little interest, you’re walking. You probably stuff that little info slip back into the box with a laugh, or you bring it home and throw it out.
In the first case, the house sells itself–price is of secondary (though still important) consideration. In the second situation, the price is everything: if it’s not low, low, low . . . the first impression of the house doesn’t leave a potential buyer with enough interest to warrant any further consideration.
So all that to say: if you’re trying to sell your home . . . don’t make that mistake. First impressions matter. In the next few posts, we’ll flesh this idea out and I’ll throw out a number of easy, low-cost fixes you can accomplish in a weekend that will help you make sure your house gets people stopping and talking.