When it’s time to get ready

#219 in a series of true experiences in real estate
November 1997, Hills Newspapers

We got a call from a woman last week wanting to know how to make her house ready in case she decides to sell. We said we’d come see.
We like the looks of the house when we get there; it’s a classic from the thirties: a white stucco exterior, a garage tucked underneath and steps and porch on the side.

And we like the owner. She’s warm and chatty and she laughs right off, saying “I don’t know if I’m going or coming.” As she shows us around, she tells us that she and her husband bought this house 20 years ago. When he first saw it, he told her they could go on looking at other houses but this was the one they were going to buy.

They did buy it and they enjoyed time in their garden with its freestanding trellis work on 3 sides, an apricot tree, many roses, and a large central lawn. It’s a nice garden.

There have been few changes to the house since it was built but everything is clean and neat and uncluttered. Our guide says that she used to have decorations, gewgaws everywhere, but she’s been clearing out, simplifying.

She has prepared a list of questions. Should she add a toilet in the basement workshop area? She and her husband always intended to put one in but never got around to it. Would it be a good idea now? We say no.

What about new kitchen appliances? No, just paint, we say. Renovate the bath or just wash it well? We recommend painting. “No wallpaper?” she asks. No, just paint.

We talk about the carpeting in the living room and hallway, explain that buyers prefer wood floors. She might consider exposing the narrow width oak.

She thinks the exterior needs paint and wonders if new turf laid in the front would be a good investment. We tell her that the outside looks fine to us and that concentrating on the inside is a better idea.

Most buyers these days are 2 income families, people who work long hours. They have little time or inclination to paint and spruce up. They are often willing to pay a premium for a house that they can move into as it is.

We ask about the roof (it’s fairly new), about “termite” work (she has a report) and about where she will go if she sells (she’s considering various places). She wants to know if she has to have a For Sale sign in front of her house. Of course not, we tell her, but the idea is to expose her house to as many potential buyers as possible. A sign is one way to do that.
She can certainly choose, however, whether to have a sign, and what to do to the house before it is marketed.

We spend a couple of hours with the owner, then leave with a promise to get back to her soon. A few days later we sent her a letter, a portion of which follows.

Dear Mrs. J:

We very much enjoyed meeting and talking to you and seeing your house and garden. We’ve thought about the value of your house and have looked at a number of nearby sales so that we can estimate for you what we think your house would sell for.

Please understand that pricing is not an exact science. We can only give you a good guess based on past sales and on our experience. In the end, value is what a buyer is willing to pay, and that can only be determined when it occurs.

We expect that our numbers are conservative, that a sale at these prices would be quick (taking less than a month). It is our hope that more than one buyer will compete to purchase your house.

How quickly and for how much any house sells for depends on a number of factors. These include correct pricing (not too high), the condition of the property (basic systems such as roof, electrical, foundation, and drainage).

Other important considerations include recommended “termite” work, easy access for showing, attractive cosmetics (clean, painted, furniture and accessories placed well).

How well your agents do their job of marketing the property to other agents and their buyers also plays a significant role.

Any of these items that can be made better or done properly will result in more buyer interest and likely a higher selling price. But not every seller is in a position to fix or change these things, nor does she have to be.

As we told you when we met, it is perfectly possible to sell your house just as it is now. Your home is located in a highly sought-after neighborhood on a lovely street which is unusually convenient to shopping and freeways but not immediately adjacent to the commercial area. You have a good sized, well-laid-out floor plan, a formal dining room plus a breakfast room, an extra half bath, a garage and workshop and lots of storage. Your garden is sunny and lovely.

Things that a buyer may wish to do after buying include upgrading the electrical service, redoing the kitchen with built-in appliances and adding earthquake retrofitting. Also the buyers will most likely expect to complete “termite” repairs. I mention this because buyers will be adding up these costs as they consider what they can afford to pay for your house.
It can be a very emotional experience to let go of the home you’ve lived in for so many years. We think you’ll find that thinking of your house as a product will help tremendously in deciding what to do to prepare it for sale. When you are ready to move on, if you can consider what your likely buyer will be looking for rather than what you may have preferred for yourself, it will be easier to provide it — and you will receive a higher price for doing so.

To that end, you may want to paint the interior. Taking up carpeting and refinishing the floors would also add buyer interest and value. Painting the exterior will bring less return, we think, than making the inside fresh and neutral.

We’ve estimated 3 different prices for your house ranging from $260,000 to $295,000.

Situation one. Sell as the house is now except for pre-sale cleaning. We think your house will sell for approximately $260,000.

Situation two. Paint the entire interior off-white. Take up the carpeting in the living room and hallways (and possibly the bedrooms) and either refinish the hardwood or, if it is in excellent condition, wax and polish it. We think the house would sell for approximately $280,000.

Situation three. Do the work described above plus have some professional staging done. A stager might, for example, add some window coverings in some rooms, rearrange furniture, bring in accessories and bouquets. The house would then sell for an estimated $295,000.

Our suggestions are not cast in stone. You may well choose to do nothing. Or you might, for example, hire some staging and painting only. We’ll talk more about this, probably a number of times, if you decide to sell.

We would very much like to be considered as your agents. We hope that this has been a help to you in making your future plans.

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