As published in the Savannah Morning News - September 30, 2012
Let's Step Inside
Last week we talked about curb appeal and enticing a potential buyer to want to come inside to see more. It’s show time, and a buyer is going to open every door, looking for adequate storage space, functional kitchens with updated appliances, spacious closets and open, light rooms. They will peek in places that you have not even considered…under the sinks, the attic, and in all the nooks and crannies. Privacy is a thing of the past.
Best to get ready now, before you list the home for sale. Let’s look at some of the issues you need to consider:
The first thing: a potential buyer will notice if a house has an odor. No one likes to talk about this, but nothing will turn off a potential buyer faster than a smelly house. The usual cause is animals, and there is nothing worse than eau-de-hound-dog or the aroma of cat boxes as soon as you enter a house. Sometimes it is so strong that the only thing that will fix it is repainting, new carpet and removing fabric window treatments that cannot be cleaned. You may have grown accustomed to the smell, and I totally understand. I love my hound dog, so I frequently ask my friends to do the smell test when they come around. So far, Molly beagle has won.
And, if you think you can take a short cut to cure the problem, please don’t resort to air fresheners, potent “cover-up” candles, and those plug-ins that cause people to run from your house with an allergic reaction. I almost lost a $500K sale because of a plug-in at the front door! The house was vacant, and we opened the door to fumes that choked all of us. That’s just not the way to sell a house! Besides, potential buyers know when a cover-up is taking place, so after you have won the curb appeal battle, you don’t want to chase them away at the foyer.
Next, creepy crawlies: Bugs and fleas are a definite problem, and roach motels do not send a good signal to a potential buyer. Call an exterminator to treat the house, and since fleas are persistent, it will take a number of treatments to kill egg hatches. They are difficult to kill; the carpet must be vacuumed frequently as part of the treatment, or the fleas will win. Treat your pets for fleas, so they do not re-infest the house. While the house is for sale, it’s best to get on a regular extermination schedule to keep bugs under control.
Clutter: Most people can remove half the furniture in their house, and it will be just about right. We tend to accumulate things over time, and it’s important to make each room appear as large and spacious as possible. For those that cannot visualize, too much stuff makes a room seem small. It can cause a potential buyer to keep on looking.
What about the exercise equipment? You know, the stationary bike where you hang your clothes…the one that you promised to ride every morning before it became an extension of your closet? If you are not using it, why not sell it? There are resale stores that focus on sporting goods and exercise equipment. Or, move it to the garage or a storage unit until the house is sold. This stuff takes up a lot of room, and again, makes a room look smaller.
Depersonalize: I’ve talked about this before. I am sure you love your family, and will miss those photos while the house is on the market. But look at it this way: The faster you pack up the photos, the faster you will sell the house. Potential buyers like to feel what it’s like to “live” in your house, and it’s tough to do if they are staring at family photos that are not their own.
Now, for the garage: Men, start your engines! This is the most important room in the house to most males…they have to know they can get their toys, cars, bikes, golf cart and work bench into the garage! If you are using yours for storage, and have not parked your car there for years, it’s time to clean it out, get rid of all the stuff that you never use, and make it sparkle. Painting the walls and garage floor does wonders for this neglected space, the one that half the species on the planet finds important. It’s amazing how when a woman is looking at your kitchen and closets, the husband is nowhere to be found…well, now you know where to find him. So as you are cleaning out the house, if anything is to be stored in the garage, do it neatly against one wall, so the men of the world can visualize their own toys, boats and cars in your domain.
Cleanliness is a virtue. Clean the house like it has never been cleaned before. If you are not up to it, a move manager has resources who can do the job. Make sure they get to all the hiding places: inside the cabinets, the attic and garage. If you have been fighting rodents in the attic, droppings can trigger an inspection red flag. There are companies that seal up areas of entry, clean up rodent droppings, and make your attic and crawl space look clean and presentable.
Touch up any caulking, grout, trim and walls; clean doors, cabinets, carpets and anything that needs a little TLC. Don’t forget to clean the fan blades, a spot many people miss. Replace any burned out lights, REALLY clean the stove, and replace drip pans if needed. Make sure you have cleaned out the refrigerator, and remove the magnets and handprints from the front. Mop the floors so the house smells fresh.
For the baths: Clear off the counters and put away all personal items. Make sure your towels are clean and match, without stains and tears. Be sure to address the showers and tubs…soap scum is a turnoff, as well as mildew and mold. Buy a new shower curtain liner, and scrub the glass doors, tile and tub. Trust me, potential buyers look behind the curtain!
Next, the closets: This is where many Seniors open the closet doors, only to close them and give up in frustration. It may seem too overwhelming! Not to worry, a move manager can help you navigate those dark, scary places. All closets should be cleaned out, and the linens in the linen closet should be sorted and folded. If all those balled up sheets are not a part of a set, or you no longer have a bed that matches the sheet size, donate them. For retirement communities, you only need two sets of sheets per bed. Now’s a good time to organize, to give up what you don’t need, and save only those things you want to move. Make your linen closet pretty as a picture because potential buyers will be looking there too!
Staging: Sometimes we get used to looking at our own home, and we don’t know how it appears to others. After you list your property for sale, your Realtor® will probably bring their fellow agents through the house for a tour. Ask for feedback, and if staging is recommended, hire a competent stager to do the job. It can make a difference in whether the house sells, or not. Staged homes traditionally sell for more money and faster than un-staged homes. Staging is worth the investment…just look at some of the Multiple Listing Service photos on the web. Staged vs. un-staged? The difference is blatantly apparent. What will your photos show?
And, because of the dishonest few: Check around for personal items that should be locked up, put in a safety deposit box or removed from the property. Valuables, such as fine wines, collectibles, jewelry, stock certificates, and any small items that could easily be lifted from a table or counter top should be stored for safe keeping. Account information, passwords, social security numbers, passports - anything that could allow a stranger to steal your identity should be locked in a file cabinet or removed. We hate to think about these things, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Identity theft is alive and well, so take precautions to minimize the risk.
Where do you put all the extras? If you truly need to keep all that stuff, a storage unit is very handy when clearing out the house. But, I ask, aren’t you supposed to be downsizing? Think carefully before you store, as it is an added monthly expense and more to worry about later on. If you must, there are also companies that will drop a “unit” or “pod” at your home - you load it up, then they come and pick it up. When you arrive at your new destination, they deliver it to your driveway. There is a charge for drop-off, pick-up and storage, as well as delivering it to your new residence (including to other towns, if they service that area). It is an alternative to do-it-yourself storage, or having moving companies store your belongings.
Lastly, to move or not to move before the house sells? That is a good question. If you can afford it, sometimes it is better to move on to the next home before you sell. Let’s face it, it’s a pain to always have your house ready to show, and not all Seniors want to be bothered. It feels invasive and disappointing when you spend time getting the house ready to show only to have the potential buyer not buy. Also, depending on circumstances, some homes simply show better when vacant. Your Realtor® can be your guide and advise you if vacating the house may make it sell faster.
The interior and exterior are now ready to show and you have accomplished a lot. You’ve pitched out more stuff than you thought possible, and that’s cause for celebration! The next step is to find a good Realtor® and put your house on the market.
Coming next week in the “Moving Mom” series…Listing the Home for Sale.
By Brooke Bass, Associate Broker with Keller Williams Coastal Area Partners, is the owner of Gracious Moves LLC, a Savannah based Staging and Move Management Company.
A nationally award winning Realtor, Brooke has been successfully selling and staging homes since 1985. She holds the National Association of Realtors, “Seniors Real Estate Specialist” (SRES), “Council of Residential Specialists” (CRS), and “Graduate of Realtor Institute” (GRI) designations, and memberships in the National Association of Senior Move Managers, and Greater Savannah Coalition on Aging. For more information, contact Brooke Bass at 912-655-9299 or visit www.GraciousMoves.com.