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Monday, February 22, 2010

Tips for the Frugal Home Seller: Getting the House Ready

In the go-go real estate market of a few years ago, when mortage lenders were throwing money at buyers and properties were increasing in value every 15 minutes, what your house looked like didn't seem to matter all that much. Buyers would look at a home with a shabby facade or dated interior and say to themselves, "I'll spend a few grand on fixing it up and sell for a huge profit." Many people did just that. And then it stopped.

Today, mortgage money is tighter and buyers want turn-key. And if the house isn't perfect, they'll want deep discounts. It's a new world.

But just because, in general, the real estate market is skewed in favor of the buyer these days, doesn't mean that you should give up on selling your home. There are still plenty of qualified buyers, and in some markets, there is pent up demand after a year or more of flat sales. If you are thinking of selling your home in the near future, it's important to present it in a way that enhances its perceived value, and to make it more appealing to prospective buyers.

Here are 4 simple and inexpensive (some will cost you nothing but your time) steps you can take before you list your home for sale:
  1. Get rid of stuff. This is probably the hardest part, so do it first. Start out in the most cluttered room in your house - let's say it's the kitchen. Methodically work your way through every cupboard, drawer and pantry shelf and "edit" the contents. Do you really need 3 sets of mixing bowls? Save the best looking one and box up the rest (we'll talk about what to do with all that stuff in another post). Pare down the contents of your spice shelf to the 10 you use most often. Put seasonal items (heart-shaped baking pan, Christmas cookie cutters, Thanksgiving-themed napkins, Passover platters) in storage. Go through bedroom closets and remove out-of-season clothing, luggage, outfits you no longer wear and any items that could go somewhere else. The point is to make the closets look larger than they are, and to send the message to prospective buyers that it's easy to be organized in this home. Do this same editing in every room in your house. I'm not going to kid you...for most people, this is an odious task. It can take weeks, if not months, if you're like me, have lived in your home for a long time and tend to avoid parting with things. It helps if you have a big supply of boxes. You may also want to look into renting a storage unit.
  2. Clean. I mean really clean - from top to bottom. First vacuum the whole house - along all the baseboards, in every corner, in the far reaches of the basement and attic, inside closets, cupboards and drawers. Then scrub down every surface. Use envrionmentally-friendly home-made cleaning products and rags from cut up T-shirts to keep your costs down. Attack stained grout in the bathroom. Wash every window, inside and out. Dust light bulbs. Scour sinks, toilets and the inside of the washing machine. Pull the refrigerator away from the wall and clean off the coils. Scrub the floors. Consider renting a steam cleaner to refresh your draperies, upholstery and carpets. Once your home is squeaky clean, develop a plan for keeping it that way until it's sold.
  3. Refresh the front door. The front door of your home is like a person's creates that all-important first impression. Take a good, long, objective look at the front door. Is the paint chipped? Are any window panes cloudy or cracked? Is the door knocker tarnished? What shape is the door knob in? Making the most of the front door may be as simple as scrubbing off some street grime and and washing the windows. Or you may have to spend a few dollars on a mini-face lift. Fresh paint in an inviting contrasting color might do wonders. Before you chose a color, check out some model homes, or properties that have sold for good prices in your community to see if there are certain colors that are favored. In some areas, lipstick red doors are popular, while in other communities, that may be seen as so yesterday. Your real estate agent might have a good suggestion. Replacing the hardware, knocker and light fixture could set you back several hundred dollars, but might be just the thing to give the entrance the wow factor that was missing.
  4. Repair and replace. No matter how well you maintain your home, there are always inspection issues that will come up...a leaky faucet or broken toilet seal, for example. And when your home is on the market, little issues can spell big doubts from a buyer's perspective. A proactive approach is key. Before the first showing, try to do as many repairs as possible so that small objections don't turn into a no-sale situation. If you're handy, you'll be able to do many of these things yourself. Some common repair items that might set off alarm bells with buyers include deteriorated flashing, broken roof shingles or tiles, broken window seals, double taps on the electric panel, small leaks, ripped/missing weather stripping, loose stair railings, nail pops, stains from old leaks, non-functioning outlets or light switches, holes in wallboard, cracked sidewalks and worn stain on decks. A few hours of your time, or a few dollars spent the skills of a repair person will go a long way toward convincing prospective buyers that your house is well-maintained and unlikely to have lots of hidden problems.
In future posts, we'll look at inexpensive options for staging your home to make it look fabulous and at simple and frugal ways to add curb appeal.


  1. When we were selling our house, the first thing our real estate agents suggested we do is paint our front door a cheery red. I loved the color so much that I wished I'd done it long before we sold the house. Someday soon I'm going to get another red front door. But you're right--it made the house look so welcoming.

  2. Isn't it amazing how such a small change - painting the door - can have such a major impact. Thanks for visiting Leah.

  3. Wonderful article Dee - I am a real proponent of curb appeal - but for every day. It's so nice to come home to your house and have it bright and cheery, waiting for you.

  4. Thanks Nadine. You are so right about how important curb appeal is. I've found that some clients, after they've spruced up the entry and the front yard a bit, wish they had done it far earlier so they could enjoy it!