Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Get your house market-ready

By Robyn Davis Sekula

I took my mom house-hunting this weekend. We spent two afternoons with a real estate agent (a particularly astute agent near us named Ed Clere) and looked at one-story homes in existing neighborhoods. We were looking mainly at homes $150,000 and under. Mom lives in Virginia, and since I live in Indiana, she's looking at moving closer to us, now that Dad has passed away.

I was struck by how very many homes are on the market. Ed ran a search of homes with our criteria and found more than 100, and he narrowed it down to about 20. Through this process, I've developed a short list of rules for anyone with a house on the market.

Know this guiding principle: the market is flooded with houses, many just like yours. Your home needs to be better than the others, distinguishable in some way, that will help it sell. Since you can't do much at this point about the quality of construction, the only things you can affect are the way the house feels and looks. Understand that although these things are subjective, they make a very big difference in how your home shows to potential buyers.

So, on to my rules:

1. Your house has to be clean. This is true of vacant homes as well as those that are occupied. It needs to look as if a vaccuum has run through it sometime recently, and it shouldn't have cobwebs in the corners, and certainly no dirty sinks or toilets. You'd be amazed at the filth of some of the houses we were in. One of our very favorite houses was a really clean older style ranch house that had just a few nick-nacks and paintings left in it. It really just felt more home-y.

2. Your house should be available. If your house is on the market, and you skip town for vacation without getting it ready to show, shame on you. You've missed a great chance to show it.

3. Your house should smell at least decent. One home we went in had such a heavy odor of smoke that someone had tried to mask with a perfumed spray that it was overpowering. I had to leave. No way would I buy that house; the risk is too great that I'd have to live with it. However, once the front door stood open for even 10 minutes, it made a big difference. Opening the windows some would have really helped, and could have been done in advance of the showing. Also, please don't cook cabbage or fish the day before a showing. Or hey, here's an idea: don't eat either one inside your home until the house sells. Think bread, and brownies.

4. Your house needs to feel comfortable. The best house we went in just felt like you could move in. It showed great - and it was chock-full of furniture. But it had a cozy feeling, mainly thanks to the fact that it was clean, freshly vaccuumed, and not cluttered.

5. Your house has to have any junk out of it, particularly in situations in which you're showing a vacant home that was owned by, say, your mother or grandfather. One house we went in the real estate agent swore was a great house, but it was filled to the brim with junk everywhere, and it all pertained to the various equipment some need in old age - hospital bed, walker, etc. To my mom, it was just plain creepy.

6. Your house should have extra information available in a notebook on a table for people to peruse. Tell us it has a new furnace, new roof, new plumbing - whatever. Those things will matter to a buyer. That cozy house I mentioned earlier had that, and we spent some time looking through it. If mom had wanted a new home with an open floor plan, that definitely would have swayed us in its favor, as all of the information was favorable.

7. Your house needs a real estate agent who is available. This doesn't come from this go-round of house shopping. Eight years ago, when we were moving to Indiana, we wanted to see a particular house, but the real estate agent was not available on weekends. If your agent doesn't work weekends, you don't need them. That's just plain idiotic. That's when most people house-shop, so your agent needs to be available.

So, now that I'm done with my little rant, tell me your rules. What do you think are the dos and don'ts of showing your house?


  1. If you have pets, the people looking at your house shouldn't instantly know it. Keep a clean litter box, deodorize, keep furniture free of pet hair, and for goodness sake, make sure there's a clear walking path through the yard.

    Along with keeping the house free of junk, your basement, garage, and workshop should also be clean and organized.

    When I was house-hunting, I found that lighting was important. Open those heavy drapes and let some light in. And if you have the chance, turn on any accent lighting before people visit.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. You're so right, Laura! No one wants a dark house. That's one of the things that keeps coming up when we discuss the houses we saw and compare them. And yes, basements, garage and workshop should be presentable, and agree with you on the pets.

  4. Having just been through the selling/buying process in the last few months, your rules are all spot-on. Every morning before leaving for work, I would open drapes/shades and make sure all was neat and tidy so that when the inevitable calls came "can I show your house at 2 pm today?" I could always say yes. We spent 2 months on moving extra stuff into storage and doing some small repairs before listing the house and sold it in 4 months. A great suggestion from our Realtor was to have a home inspection done before listing so we could take care of any problems on our terms. Then at contract time, the only issue that arose was one that we knew we hadn't addressed sufficiently, but wasn't a deal-breaker.

  5. One of the "big" things in large markets is "staging" where you hire an interior designer to arrange, accent, and de-clutter the home for showing. Studies show it can make a big difference in the price and length of time before sale.

  6. Lisa, thanks for your comment - I think you're doing things exactly right. Did your house sell?


Family Investment Center Videos