How to Avoid the Top 3 Emotional Mistakes Most Sellers Make

Transitioning a principal residence is an emotional, financial and physical challenge. While the journey is different for everyone, the home transition process is the same and needs to be anchored in hope, humility and humor.

Be warned… as most Realtors® know, when it comes to life’s major stressors, selling a home and moving, even once, lands in the top 5, along with death, divorce, illness and loss of a job. The good news for sellers is that you can rely on a good Realtor to help you through but understand you must also help yourself. I refer to it as “emotional ivy”. Like English ivy clinging to brick, your “emotional ivy” – the way you’ve made your house a home throughout the years – is so pervasive that it affects every decision you make about the upcoming move. You’ll have to rip the “ivy” out of every nook and cranny and off each surface to which it clings and that’s not easy.

The top 3 emotional mistakes most sellers make as they get ready to list are:

  1. Not being able to let go of personal items.
    Some of us refuse to let go of our things, even if we really don’t want them or use them. We look at some item and think “work of art”, while someone else thinks “garage sale”. According to the LA Times, most households in America have over 300,000 things stored in them and many people also rent off-site storage units filled with more stuff. Bottom line: we are all treasure hunters and ultimately you are the decision maker on what to keep or let go, but one thing I know for sure is the BUYER doesn’t care about any of it. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your house is the exception to the rule and a buyer will look past your things.
  2. Not removing your personal footprint.
    Remember, it’s important to remove personal photos, tombstones, diplomas, and the like, because all that does is distract the buyer.
  3. Not understanding what the BUYER values.
    The buyer wants the ability to move in and do nothing for one year. Think white, beige or light grey walls, with white trim and ceilings. New carpet and floors in pristine condition. Here is a simple key to understand the buyer: they will walk through and give themselves less than 10 minutes to decide if this could be “it”. Many will only devote four to five minutes and make a snap decision – yes or no. This means they will fly through the rooms in a minute or two and if they are distracted and a few things seem odd or cause them to pause, you have lost their attention. You do not want to leave an impression that it’s too big a “project” for them to consider or pay for.

Remember, touch everything you own once. Clean and sort the entire house and remove your personal footprint. Our “stuff” produces a great amount of stress, anxiety and expense when we try to pack, store and move it. A smart seller will realize they have four choices when it comes to every item in the home:

  1. Pack it
  2. Sell it
  3. Donate it
  4. Dump it

Procrastination and delayed decision-making is not a strategy. Remember that you are staging your home to sell, while packing for your move at the same time.

Read more about how to Brace for Impact in my book: SMART MOVES: How to Save Time and Money While Transitioning Your Home and Life. Be A Smart Mover!

Would You Pay Top Dollar for Your Own House?

If the answer is a resounding yes, you’re ready to list. If the answer is no, you’ll need to understand why it is a no and create a strategic plan of attack to create a yes. Realtors are often called upon to outline exactly what a seller may need to do to get their house ready to sell at top dollar. Do you know what to do to get your own house ready to list?

Most sellers realize they are expected to do a few things to “spruce up” their home before they sell. Do you understand exactly what you need to do and why? This information is vital to understand to positively position your house to sell. This is just one part of the larger “total home transition”, but a critical part that will directly affect the list price, DOM (days on market) and ultimate sales price of your house. The biggest mistake sellers make is not looking at their house through the eyes of the BUYER and not making the necessary visual and cosmetic updates in order to meet BUYER expectations. Ask yourself, would you pay top dollar for your own house? If not, you need to understand why not and what to do about it.

We strongly encourage sellers to do a thorough (buyer-based) interior and exterior assessment of the house and property, in order to determine what “negative” issues need to be addressed to entice todays buyers. Be objective and non-emotional when you do the assessment to create a task list and remain in control of the process. Gather the estimates to make a decision on which items will create the most positive impression and ensure the highest ROI (rate of return) on your investment. Don’t get overwhelmed or be discouraged, it’s just a list. You have control of what you will ultimately decide what you will do and what you are willing to spend to do it. Understanding the financial impact of the decisions you will make is part of the process.

The next step in the Total Home Transition process is to create your 5-step plan of attack to turn your home into a marketable asset that is ready to list and sell at top dollar:

  1. Determine a launch schedule and define the scope of work to be completed.
    Download a blank calendar to use as a planning tool and create a transition binder for yourself to stay organized during this part of the sales process. Decide on the date the house will be listed with your REALTOR and work backward on the calendar to schedule the work that needs to be done and add all key dates, notes, vendor estimates, meetings, receipts, etc. This binder is a critical part of the organizational process and you will refer to it frequently throughout the course of your home transition.
  2. What can I afford to do? What can’t I afford NOT to do?
    Once you have compiled the task list of items to be addressed, sellers tend to look at the list from a financial point of view only and have likely pre-determined the cost of what is “fair” to prepare their house to sell. Fight this basic instinct to save money or hassle in the short-term and prioritize the list by visual and physical impact to the buyer. If funds are limited, consider painting the walls white and installing new neutral carpeting and repair or replace flooring that is old, scratched, peeling, cracked or generally in disrepair.
  3. Working with a Pro and dealing with the Trades.
    You will need to hire professionals for most if not all the work that needs to be done. If you don’t have a list of the required trades at your fingertips, your REALTOR, friends and neighbors can make trusted recommendations. Don’t rush. Get several estimates to compare apples to apples, check for online reviews, ask for licenses and inquire about Workman’s Compensation insurance. Do your homework. Establish deadlines and financial consequences for not meeting them. Expect to pay a deposit and hold the balance payment until the contracted work is completed.
  4. Decide to stage or not to stage.
    Will you be using your own furniture, rugs, lamps, artwork and accessories to accentuate the width and depth of each room and highlight the unique assets of the house for the buyer? Or, will you hire a staging company to install a more updated color palette with right-sized furniture? Don’t make the mistake of believing that you can and should stage only the main floor of the house to save money. This is NOT a smart move. While you may save money in the short term, the positive visual impression does not last when the buyer goes to the second floor and sees vacant or sparsely furnished rooms. The energy drop is often negative and creates needless questions in the mind of the buyer.
  5. The Roller Coaster Ride Continues.
    You have identified the timeline, task list, budget and vendors and have scheduled the work that needs to be done. You have made the decision about how you will stage the house. Now it’s time to begin strategically sorting and packing the household goods you will not need access to over the next few months. Stay focused on the “big picture” and understand that you are sorting and packing now to put yourself in a position of negotiating strength to accept a cash offer with a fast closing. The next phase will be much easier if you are already are 60% packed to move.

Remember: Procrastination is enemy number one! Home Transition is an emotional, physical and financial roller coaster. To succeed over time, you will need to focus, pace yourself, stay organized and set aside time each day to breathe and center yourself. This process can weigh heavily on your mental well-being and physically strength and endurance. It is truly challenging and often the most difficult part of the process. Understand what to expect and commit to accomplish this with determination and as little drama as possible.

Read more about the Plan of Attack in my book: SMART MOVES: How to Save Time and Money While Transitioning Your Home and Life. Be A Smart Mover!

The Most Important Photo in Your Virtual Tour is the Money Shot

It’s impossible to find a Realtor® today who doesn’t drive home the importance of curb appeal. An attractive and well-presented exterior can mean the difference between a house sale and a house that sits on the market gathering dust. Sadly, you can have a house with a beautiful interior that is never seen due to the negative assumption from agents and buyers based on the exterior presentation. It follows that improving the visual appearance of the exterior of your structure and property is one of the best investments you can make as a seller.

According to the NAR, 63 percent of homebuyers will ask for a showing after viewing a house online. The first thing they will see, even in pictures, is the exterior of your house. They have viewed the listing online and are impressed enough to schedule a showing, so be sure what they see in person is in keeping with the positive impression they formed when they viewed the listing online.

So, what defines a curb disaster? Let’s start with a roof that’s missing shingles or is dingy. Is algae growing on it? Are there oversized trees that prevent you from seeing the front door? Can you read the house numbers or are they dark, dull or non-existent?

The minute I drive up to a house, I notice every aspect of the exterior façade and surrounding property, I am consciously trying to frame the exterior photo in my mind. You can do this too. Step outside and cross the street. View the exterior of your house as a buyer would and ask yourself if what you see welcomes you into the property.

Ask yourself the questions below and “score” your exterior in relation to the necessary visual perfection that buyers expect today.

  • What color is the house, shutters and front door?
  • Is the color combination complementary?
  • Do I see any peeling paint?
  • Do the shutters or the house need painting?
  • Is the siding in good condition or the stucco cracked?
  • Are the gutters overflowing with leaves?
  • Is there outdoor lighting? Does it work?
  • What is the condition, size, and shape of landscaping (trees, plants, flowers)?
  • Are there any shingles loose or missing, does the roof need to be power washed?
  • Are the windows clean and void of cracked panes?
  • Is landscaping or plant material blocking the front façade of the house?

Buyers expect a well-manicured exterior. Front and backyard areas are now considered “must-haves” and if they’re well-maintained, will prevent buyers from quickly returning to the car before they even make it to the front door. One word about backyards – they are not even called that anymore and in some real estate markets they’re referred to as “outdoor retreats”. In 2019 and beyond, it’s all about what’s dubbed as “indoor-outdoor living” and “bringing the indoors, outdoors”.

Your exterior assessment will address any and all issues with the entire outside, beyond just cleaning up, so make sure you really look at:

  • Front façade, front step and front door
  • Paint and shutters
  • Roof and chimney
  • Bricks and mortar
  • Windows and aluminum siding
  • Exterior lighting/outlets
  • Driveway and landscaping
  • Fences and hardscape
  • Decks and Pool
  • Guest House, Shed, Pool House or Playhouse

Look beyond your own personal preference and taste and ask yourself: Does my home have the curb appeal to sell quickly and for top dollar? Would YOU pay top dollar for this house? If the answer is no, then get your plan of attack together and begin the process of making sure your property is the best shape it can be for the BUYER.

Take charge of your own exterior assessment, and refer to Chapter 3 in my book: SMART MOVES: How to Save Time and Money While Transitioning Your Home and Life.

Remember it’s not about YOU, it’s about the BUYER and make sure you lead your online virtual home tour with the money shot! Be a Smart Mover and good luck!