How to Save Time and Money Creating the Perfect Listing™

It’s go-time, the decision has been made to sell the house… now what? Any Realtor® will tell you that people are passionate about their homes, their style, their things, so trying to objectively decide what needs to be done before a house gets listed can be fraught with emotion and push back.

RE Rule 101: The seller wants to maximize the value of the asset and the buyer wants the best deal they can get for the property. Period. The seller needs to maximize their time and spend as little as possible in order to get the house ready to show.

One thing I always tell sellers, it’s not about YOU, it’s about the BUYER. A seller’s job is to allow a qualified buyer up to one-year occupancy without making any material changes – no one wants to move into “an immediate project.” The seller needs to present a house that is as visually close to what current buyers expect, in a manner that reflects values to them from the minute they get out of the car and walk up to the front door.

The Devil is in the Details. As you create the plan to get the house ready. Organization is key and much can be done by the seller, saving time and money.

  1. Organizing and clearing out rooms of extra furniture and personal items. Touch everything you own once. Clean, sort (keep, store, donate or dump) the entire house and remove your personal footprint. Only keep out the furniture and accessories you will use for staging purposes only.
  2. Deep Clean. Whether you do it yourself or hire a service, do a detailed thorough cleaning of the house, including windows and store the screens. There is a psychology behind clean houses that helps the home selling process – a study at Indiana University found that clean houses were perceived by people to be linked to healthier individuals.
  3. Set the Interior and Exterior Template. When staging a house or what I call setting the template, you do not have to break the bank. Below are some guides for common, inexpensive, cosmetic updates and home improvements that can be done to increase the visual value of the house. As you go through each room and look at the furniture, be open to and look for new ways to stage the space that will open up the room.
  • Paint – white or light grey walls, white trim and ceilings. New paint is an easy and inexpensive way to make your house look fresh and new.
  • Carpet/Flooring/Lighting – new carpet and pristine floors are a must and worth the small investment. Make sure all lights work (inside and out) and have as least soft white 60-watt light bulbs – you can use 100-watt
  • Foyer/Living Room/Dining Room – showcase a tiny space in the entrance/foyer to welcome buyers and create a focal point in the living room and arrange furniture from there. Remove the leaf from the dining room table to create a smaller piece of furniture, making the room look more spacious. Purchase and place the correct style and size plant material to provide a tasteful accent near the entry, on tables or mantels.
  • Great Room/Family Room – place the furniture in a visually and physically logical format that highlights the width, depth and unique assets of the room.
  • Kitchen – Severely limit what you keep on the countertops – only essentials and pack or remove the rest. Appliances in working order.
  • Master Bedroom/Other Bedrooms – Buyers are looking for a sanctuary and are willing to pay for perfection in the master bedroom. A mirror over the dresser will make the room look bigger. Bedrooms should contain the same basic furniture, a bed, side table, lamps, chest of drawers, area rug or new carpets.
  • Bathrooms – clean and if necessary, install new vanity and countertops in white. I use the Home Decorators Collection at Home Depot.
  • Laundry Room/Basement/Bonus Space: Washing machine and dryer must be functional, vented and have adequate drainage. Basement or lower level family rooms need to be clean, bright with new carpet or polished floors. They don’t necessarily need to be staged but can be vacant if the rest of the house is visually and physically perfect.
  • Garage/Exterior Lighting/Landscaping – garage must be clean enough to see width and depth, including storage capacity. Exterior lighting must work and be clean. Trim trees and landscaping that blocks the façade. Remove dead trees, limbs, shrubs and plant material, edge gardens and spread brown mulch (not red or black).
  • Exterior Paint/Shutters/Front Door – no chipped paint. Replace house numbers with Baldwin 4-inch polished brass, nickel or black.
  • Exterior Cleaning – Power wash everything, including the outdoor furniture and grill
  • Outdoor Furniture – create conversation areas

I realize that no one actually “lives” this clean, but you must try to exist in deep clean mode in order to sell. 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. Saving time and money is key for any seller.

Read more about The Devil is in the Details in my book: SMART MOVES: How to Save Time and Money While Transitioning Your Home and Life. Be A Smart Mover!

The overall impression you have created is a positive one that highUnique assets of your house

The Sound of Time… What to Expect When Your House is Finally on the Market

The goal was to design the house to appeal to the largest number of potential buyers. You’ve done that. The emotional roller coaster is back at the station and you are ready to unbuckle and jump off the ride. Oh, and by the way, you’re exhausted, both physically and emotionally and not sure what comes next.

The good news is the hardest part of the process is over, hopefully you have sorted (keep, store, donate or dump) your things and deep cleaned your house, inside and out. The overall impression you have created is a positive one that highlights the unique assets of your house.

For most sellers, this is their most valuable personal asset and they are looking to maximize its value, while the buyer is looking to make the best deal they can.

The house is 100 percent clean and the rooms are well-designed and without clutter. The challenge now is to actually “live” day-to-day while maintaining this artificial environment. The perfection you will maintain is for good reason, which is to sell the house quickly and for top dollar. It will be worth it, but it may not happen immediately.

Realize that during this time, the routine you established and relied upon each day will be non-existent. Your Realtor® or agent will schedule your house on their office’s weekly tour of new listings. After this tour, the agent may ask their colleagues to suggest a list price or price range based on the tour. The agent will share this information with you, even though YOU will decide on the price, not them. In addition, your agent might host a morning coffee, buffet lunch or cocktail preview where agents can bring qualified buyers to view the listing before it hits the MLS. Other agents use the Friday before the weekend open house to schedule showings by appointment only.

Many homes do sell this way, which is why it is done and will reduce the days on the market to zero. If you prepared your asset to sell and you are lucky, this could mean no disruptive showings. It obviously does not happen with regularity for most listings, which is why you will most likely proceed to Plan B. You wait…

No one can predict how long the sales process will take. It’s based on many factors – location, presentation, price point, current market, time of year and number of qualified buyers that show interest. Your job is to wait for the offer – so stay calm and work closely with your agent as they expertly market your house and hopefully find the right buyer. It will get harder the longer you do it and I know you will start to hear it, ticking, ticking, ticking… the sound of time.

You’re in a virtual no mans land of uncertainty as you wonder what each day will bring. You must keep your emotions in check as your Realtor shares negative feedback from agents and buyers… or no information at all. Remember it’s all individual perspective and the next buyer may tell you it’s exactly what they have been hoping to find. You can’t take any of it personally. TRULY remain calm. Breathe. Inhale. Exhale. This is all part of the process.

Living in limbo without our normal creature comforts is an incredibly difficult situation for most people, so treat yourself to a little TLC and know this emotional roller coaster will hopefully be over soon.

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

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!