Treating your house as a product

#202 in a series of true experiences in real estate
July 1997, Hills Newspapers

In some ways putting your house on the market is like any event to which you are inviting guests. You want to be ready for them. If people arrive to find you taking party fixings out of your car, they’re going to wonder if they’ve come too early or on the wrong day.

The same thing happens in agents and buyers when they get to a house that is a mess or one where painters are still painting, cleaners still cleaning. “Whoops, they weren’t expecting me,” they think or “No one ever did anything here until today.”

When your house is truly ready to be sold, buyers will k now it, feel it as they come inside. They are likely to believe, rightly or not, that your house has always been fussed over and is therefore a good house to consider buying.

So, take your time getting your house ready. And don’t let a buyer see it until you are done with all your preparations.

Start by making a list of things you think you might do to make your property more saleable. Look carefully at every part of your property, talk at length with your agent about preparing, showing, timing. Go over your budget, get bids for upgrades and repairs, consider how long it may take to do things. Think carefully before you decide what to do.

Clean and spare should be at the top of your list. You want to simplify, remove furniture, paintings, stuff. We tell sellers that when they have taken so many of their belongings out of the house that it looks uncomfortably bare to them, they’re probably “there.”

Make your house as clean as it may never have been before. Wash every painted surface, light fixture, shower stall, the front of the fireplace. Have the windows professionally washed so they won’t look cloudy or streaky in a week. Have the drapes and carpets cleaned. Caulk around tubs and sinks.

If you only have money for one, fairly large cosmetic improvement, do floors. Wax wood floors; refinish them if you can, make them look great. Nothing compares.

Do everything you can to show that the basic systems of your house are up and running and won’t need any immediate attention from the buyer. Have your furnace serviced by a local reputable furnace company. The serviceman will write down what he saw, what he did, and you can give this to the buyer.

Even if your roof is relatively young and watertight, it’s a good idea to have a roofer renew roofing compound around seams and vents, to check the sheet metal, and to write down what he did. Clean the gutters, also the chimney; get descriptive receipts.

Check your hot water heater. If it’s rusted, consider replacing it, and at the same time, have it strapped at the top and bottom as state law now requires. Check your smoke detectors; make sure you have enough and that they’re working. Make sure your sump pump operates well.

Replace broken window glass. Try every door in the house, basement and garage to see if it opens and closes securely without scraping or squeaks. Cabinet doors should latch easily.

The front door key will be used by agents. Does it turn easily? the garage door opener needs to work, too. Windows that open smoothly are important to many people. Fix those broken ropes and the hardware; while you’re at it, scrape off any paint that is on the glass.

Water, water, water your land. Make it green. Prune and shape bushes and trees. If you feel the need to add something, think big. A dozen yellow marigolds won’t have much impact; a three-foot-tall tree fern might.

Go through your files and find warranties and receipts that show what kinds of maintenance and upgrades you’ve done; make copies of these for your agent to pass along to buyers.

You’ll soon be making written disclosures about your house, so start keeping a list of things that you aren’t going to fix (“The right rear burner on the stove is broken”) and things you think you’ve fixed (“There was a leak around the west facing dining room window which we believe ABC Window has now repaired”).

Think about what personal property you will be including in the sale – and what a buyer would expect you to leave but you plan to take with you. Is it possible that a buyer will think the living room bookcases are built in and therefore will stay? What about the old chest freezer in the basement, the cord of firewood, your prized camellia bush?

Write it down: “The freezer in the basement and the firewood in the shed are included in the sale. Freestanding living room bookcases and potted plants are excluded.”

If you are taking the bedroom lace curtains or the hallway light fixture, it’s best to deal with it now. Remove, replace, eliminate it from the buyer’s view. Somehow, when people are told they can’t have something, they “want it bad.” This is why tagging a vintage stove, for instance, with “not for sale” is a poor idea.

Are you assuming that the buyer will want surplus building materials? Extra ceramic tiles and a roll of linoleum, left-over shingles and paint? He probably will, but he might not. Some buyers really mean it when they ask that the property be left empty. You might start thinking now about how you will move or dispose of garden sprays, motor oil, paint thinner, and a bunch of concrete blocks.

If you have a gun in the house, it should be removed or be under secure lock and key. If you have pets, you and your agent will need to take them into account when the house is shown. Controlling the whereabouts of cats, especially those that rush every opening door, is a lot to ask. Many people are frightened by dogs, even friendly ones. If it is possible to have them elsewhere when your house is shown, it can be a great help.

When you offer your house for sale, you are marketing a product. If you are living in your product at the time it is for sale, there will be some inconvenience to you.

But if you think through things well ahead of time, make the house truly ready before anyone sees it, you’ll increase your chances of selling quickly and well.

Too bad there’s no way to prove how much money you will make, how much time you will save by doing things right. Just believe, because it’s true, that you’re acting in your own best interests.

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