Sprucing up for spring
When Tom and Marian McDevitt decided to sell their 10-year-old house in Lakeville and move to a maintenance-free condo, they did a little sprucing up. They touched up the exterior paint, cleared out some of the clutter and cleaned.
But that wasn't good enough for many prospective buyers.
"They wanted us to carpet and redo this and redo that, but if you redid everything they wanted to do, it would have cost a bloody fortune," Marian McDevitt said. After six unsuccessful months, the McDevitts ended up taking the house off the market and are relisting it this spring.
Welcome to the spring market. With the inventory of houses for sale on the rise, selling your house is going to take even more time, more patience and more elbow grease.
More elbow grease?
Yes, that's right. Buyers have more options to choose from and they're going to be comparing your house to many others. So, if your house looks like a candidate for a HGTV makeover show, get busy.
"We're getting back to a more normal market, we don't have the buyer frenzy that we've seen," said Pat Cirelli of ReMax Results in Apple Valley. "A couple years ago I would be waiting for just one home to turn up to show my client, now I can show them several and they can pick and choose. There's not that same sense of urgency, and they'll come in scrutinizing a property."
To avoid the wrath of today's much more discriminating buyers, sellers have to clean and update their houses.
"People are looking a lot harder and closer at the details," Cirelli said. "Things like outdated counters, carpets and flooring. We used to say that you can give an allowance, now we're saying replace."
Cirelli is not, however, an advocate of totally clearing out your house.
"Rooms always look smaller with nothing in them," she said. "Always have some furnishings in the room just to gain a space perspective."
Where should you start?
Lori Matzke of Centerstagehome.com, who recently published "Home Staging, Creating Buyer Friendly Rooms to Sell Your House," said that because first impressions are critical, sellers need to focus on improving the foyer and any rooms that can be seen from the front door.
"You really set the pace for the buyer with that first view in the front door," Matzke said. "And if that view makes a negative first impression or doesn't grab the buyer's attention at all, you've just created a tough uphill battle for yourself to win them over."
Gregg Roeglin, president of the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors, agrees. He said that whenever he lists a house, he walks through the house and makes suggestions.
"It can be something as simple as a dining room that's used as an office, and the buyers will say, 'Where's the dining room?' " Roeglin said. "They can't visualize what is there."
Roeglin said that sellers are often not very objective about the condition of the house, so it's important to solicit the opinion of a sales agent or home stager who can instantly evaluate what will make the house more salable. Stagers will usually work with what you already have in the house to make it look beautiful, but often they will recommend renting furniture or updating the decor.
Some charge a flat fee or by the hour for a simple consultation, while others will do the work. Consultation fees range anywhere from $95 to $300 depending on the size and condition of the house.
Sellers also need to pay attention to the exterior. Home stager Beth Ditter of Prepping for Profit said that sellers need to focus more on curb appeal by taking a look at the house from the sidewalk across the street to see what buyers see when they first arrive at the house.
"People don't actually go outside their house and look at it," she said. "They get caught up on the inside of the house." Pay attention to things like cracked sidewalks, chipped paint, dead plants and grubby handprints on the door. Remove all of them.
Bill Burg of Edina Realty in northern Dakota County said he encourages his clients to stage the house in way that's consistent with the style of era of the house. If you have a Colonial-style house, for example, it's better to skip the modern furnishings. Or if you have a Victorian-style house, furnish it that way.
In addition to taking a step back from your personal style and staging the home for sale, Burg is also a fan of more unusual marketing techniques such as 360-degree virtual tours on agents' websites that help your house stand out from others on the market.
Sometimes it works. Late last year he listed a house that had been for sale for six months without any action, but after staging the house and creating a virtual tour, the very first person that looked at the house took the plunge.
Will following this advice net you more for your house? Not necessarily, but you might sell the house faster. That means you'll get closer to your asking price and you'll be less likely to have to offer a price reduction, Cirelli said.