Sunday, September 24 2017 11:06

It’s Not Personal

Written by Edwin Malet

Take a step back for an objective assessment before your home goes on the market.

My house is no longer my home. In the eyes of a broker, and ultimately a buyer, it’s a commodity competing with hundreds, even thousands, on the market.

It’s daunting. Books, clothes, artwork, favorite furniture…. For over 30 years, we’ve been accumulating … stuff. Bric-a-brac, gewgaws, tchotchkes. Memory items, I call them.

I look around, trying to see through a buyer’s eyes. There’s a scratch on the wall, a stair that creaks, a double-paned window that’s lost its seal. We’ve been ignoring things that don’t matter. Not to us, anyway.

Outside, there’s an overgrown patch by the stream and an empty spot in the hedge where a laurel bush died. The cedar siding may need attention.

It’s certainly not structurally unsound, but what about curb appeal? A realtor would ask, “Does it pop?”

We’re considering putting the house on the market. Probably next spring. And we ask, what must go? What can we hide? What should we fix? What will pay off?


The Drive-By

The “drive-by!” Missy Schwarz, a Berkshire Hathaway agent in Devon, can’t emphasize it enough. She uses the term over and over again. That first impression will forever color the buyers’ experience. If they even take the time to have an experience.

You need to get them in the door. A “fresh coat of paint” is a good idea, especially for the front door. “Plant some flowers. Mow the lawn.”

As a seller, the temptation is to express your love of your home—to show how you’ve lived in it. But that’s not what buyers want.

Buyers want a clean, open, fresh appearance. “Push the furniture toward the wall a bit.” “Or move some of it out.” With enough time, “consider knocking down a wall to open up the space.” The last thing you want is for the space to feel small and cluttered.

Landscaping, realtor Margot Mohr Teetor, with RE/MAX in West Chester, says, is “very important,” in part because it’s the first thing prospective buyers see. There’s no need to invest heavily, she tells us, but the property can’t feel overgrown or neglected.

Light, too, is important. Hope that the sun shines! On the whole, the property should project a “warm, comforting” feeling.


Low-Hanging Fruit

Holly Gross and her son, Stephen Gross, of the Holly Gross Group, are realtors in West Chester with years of experience preparing owners and their homes for sale—yes, owners must be prepared, too. Their advice: go for “the low-hanging fruit.” Buyers will make quick evaluations, and the feel of the house—whether it “sparkles”—is essential to a quick sale. “Think HGTV: that’s what buyers want.”

The first priority should be “de-cluttering.” Keepsakes should be put away or stored off-site. Buyers don’t want a library. Or overstuffed closets. Tables should be cleared, along with your walls. Photos, awards, mementos: buyers don’t want your biography. They want a clean slate, so they can see themselves—not you—in the home.

Second, Holly and Stephen would assess “the palette of the house.” Note that color choices, no matter how tastefully paired with your décor, are better toward the “more vanilla.” If you paint, take it down a notch. Wallpaper, too, should probably come down.

The third priority is kitchens and bathrooms. Of course, everything must be in good repair. But here is where the seller may face real investment choices. To redo a kitchen may cost upwards of $10,000. Each bathroom—the Grosses suggest focusing on the master—is another $10,000-plus.

The homeowners as sellers must have the time, “mental capacity” and “bandwidth” for these projects, but the Grosses are sure they pay off. “Two or three to one,” they say about return on investment. And the home sells faster, too.


Problems and Defects

You should expect defects to be reflected in the sales price, says Teetor. On the other hand, there won’t be a sale, let alone a sales price, if the defect is too large.

In some cases, a seller may need to make a significant investment, and it’s best to tackle these big projects before putting the house on the market. Teetor points to “the stucco problem”: a problem facing owners of stucco homes, common among those built 15 to 20 years ago, and particularly common in Chester County. The problem is moisture: water that’s seeped into the stucco, possibly causing mold. Teetor advises testing and remediation beforehand, but unfortunately remediation is expensive.

Similarly, she advises sellers to take a good look at the home’s carpeting. If it’s obviously worn or stained, it should be replaced. And appliances, like refrigerators, may deserve assessment and replacement.

In general, though, she’s cautious—be wary of updating for updating’s sake. Buyers may have different tastes. If the problem is merely one of taste, doesn’t involve safety, and replacement has significant cost, then exercise caution and don’t change.


Professional Assistance

Alas, there’s “no formula” for getting your home market-ready, says Teetor. But you can do your homework. For example, since a potential buyer is comparing your house to new construction, says Schwartz, you may want to look at some newly built houses in the area to get ideas of what you should do and what the competition is.

The Grosses advise, it’s a process and it starts with your realtor’s first visit and walk-through.

Ultimately, professional assistance from a stager may help prepare your home for that big open house. Objective eyes are needed.

And a photographer! The internet has drastically changed the dynamics of selling. Today’s home buyers shop widely. And they almost always have spent a lot of time in your on-line house before the first visit. So get the best photos.

Some old advice still holds up, though. Don’t be afraid to do some baking or light a scented candle! Careful, though: it’s no time for fish curry.