Wanting to sell? Put your best house forward

#591 in a series of true experiences in real estate
September 2009, Hills Newspapers

For weeks we’ve been working on our new Berkeley listing with lots of help from wonderfully helpful sellers. The first best thing they did was move out.

We told them it would be difficult to get painting and other work done with a family of 5 living there, plus showing a house where people are cooking and showering and storing their things is not the best. Houses that are vacant with lock boxes are the most readily shown to buyers, plus the closets are empty, the bathrooms and kitchen are clean and dry, and there are just enough furnishings to look good but no overcrowding.

With the house empty, painters and other workmen were free to arrive in early morning and leave their drapes and tools in place, there was no furniture to move or protect, and they were not distracted by family comings and goings.

This house is in Berkeley where there is a city sewer ordinance requiring, as part of selling, that the section of sewer line going from the house to the street be sound and clear. In this case, sewer work was necessary, and so that activity was going on for several different days.

A plumber was also at the house on a number of occasions, first to replace the failed water heater, then to run a gas line so that a gas stove could be put in the kitchen, gas being preferred by most cooks. The existing dishwasher didn’t work well and so a new one was installed in its place.

The sellers were at the house most days accomplishing all sorts of things such as clipping and cleaning up ivy on their back fence, installing shiny new doorknobs to replace scratched ones, hanging curtain rods, painting the front and back porches. We bought supplies including curtains, ironed and hung them, washed and replaced face plates for lights and plugs, and brought cut flowers for the house.

These are only a few of the many preparations. There were numerous others, enough to keep all of us and a number of other workers engaged for almost 6 weeks. Before we started, before the sellers had moved, we’d had inspections: general physical inspection and a “termite” inspection (actually, for anything that weakens wood, more often water than bugs). The house is in quite good shape. Roof, foundation, furnace, chimney checked out, and to obtain a termite clearance, only a few pieces of wooden window trim were needed and some caulking.

Working from the reports, we made up a list of what to do and what it would cost, then scheduled from there. We estimated for the sellers what the house would sell for with work and without.

Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to try to fix what’s wrong but we think it does here. Painting and cleaning, general renewal of surfaces made a huge difference in the looks of this house. Probably it will sell to someone who has not owned a house before, who will be attracted by its fine looks and condition. This is a different buyer than the one who wants a fixer house.

While I’m on this subject, deciding how far to go in preparing a house can be difficult. Guesses and estimates must be made of many factors such as the desirability of the style and location, number of buyers who will want the house and what their expectations will be, what’s wrong and costs to fix, how much time and money are available, and so forth.

We agonize over fixing and pricing our listings. We get inspections, spend time in the house, look at similar sales, talk to agent friends, get bids for work, all before suggesting what should be done to achieve the highest net price.

Our new listing is clean and painted and landscaped. Every part of the property is pulled together and pretty. City sewer and energy requirements have been met. We’ve posted photos and written descriptions on a specific-to-this-house website and have mailed flyers to agents.

We’ll hold it open for agents and the public and we’ll answer questions. We have high hopes for a quick and good sale.

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