Home Selling: Showtime
Hopefully, you have finished your basics (cleaning, painting, and organizing) and you are now ready to stage your house for an Open House or for your first appointments. This article will have many tips and probably not in any logical order. I hope some of them will be eye openers and really useful. I will start with the tips and then we will go room-by-room again to stage your house.
Tip #1. Utilities. Go through your electric, gas, water, garbage, heating oil bills for a year and have the amounts in a folder that you can tell house hunters, if asked. Buyers will appreciate knowing the costs beyond the mortgage. You will look super organized, but if they do not ask (and if you have particularly high electric or oil) I would not just volunteer this. The last house I bought, the homeowner had even kept records of the maintenance and what months the air conditioning and water filter system was serviced (impressive).
Tip #2. School Information.
Have a list of the local pre-schools, elementary, high school names, and some of the private schools that neighborhood kids use. Include information about school bus pick up points.
Tip #3. Neighborhood Information. If you have a homeowner's association, you might have some of the information about it handy.
Make a list of ages of the children in your neighborhood and number of retirees. Anything you can add to it about parks, playgrounds, great shopping, and distance to a major freeway or airport. Neighborhood babysitters if there are some you use, is also a nice touch.
Tip #4. Photographs. If you are selling in fall or winter, it is a wonderful idea to have pictures of your house in summer when everything is in bloom. When we sold our New England house, I had a photo flip stand where there were pictures of all the great oak and chestnut trees in fall colors, pictures of the house with snow and holiday decorations, and pictures of the yard with all the spring azaleas blooming. This was a great selling point to buyers who were gardeners.
Tip #5. Electrical Outlets. You do not want to give house hunters the impression that your electrical system is less than adequate. If you have extension cords floating around the walls with multiple cords plugged into every socket, this is a good time to correct this problem (and it is safer).
Tip #6. Odors. Everyone now talks about the aroma factor and we all cannot have freshly baked bread on the counter. However, the smell of your house is an immediate problem if your house hunters smell anything but a light potpourri. Watch out for unpleasant pet odors (change those litter boxes constantly), cigarette smoke (this can quickly kill a deal), damp and musty odors, dirty clothes odors from laundry hampers, strong food odors (like cabbage), and even popcorn. Mix a little cinnamon when you are brewing coffee and your kitchen will have a great and subtle aroma. If you have a few hours before a showing, open up your windows and air everything out. Empty every garbage pail and wastebasket in every room. Be sure that you do not have smelly water in vases from flowers you bought the week before for your Open House.
Tip #7. Let there be light. Open all your drapes, curtains, and shutters. Turn on lights everywhere. If overhead lights are harsh, be sure there are warm table lamps in every room. If the weather is chilly, have a fire going, it smells wonderful and gives great light. Do the curb appeal exercise again at dusk or just after dark, because it is not unusual for potential buyers to drive by houses in the evening. If you are showing at dusk, have all the outdoor lights on, including your patio and pool lights. Lighting that is visible through front windows should enhance the home's appearance.
Lighting is always a Plus
String low voltage lighting along your driveway, sidewalks, and around landscaping elements.
Add a decorative street lamp or an attractive light fixture to a front porch.
Solar versions of outdoor lights are quick and easy to install, but only work when they receive full sun each day.
Tip #8. Music. If you have a stereo system, put on some soft music, jazz or classical, so soft that you can hardly hear it but it will put people at ease. Your house hunters will feel like they can talk without being overheard and it is very inviting. My last house sale I had a Nora Jones CD on very low and the husband told me afterwards it was the first thing he noticed when he entered the house, he loved Norah Jones. (He bought the house.)
Tip #9. Turn off all the televisions!
House Viewing Checklist
1. Do a quick vacuum, sweep, and dust.
2. Wipe and polish sinks, counters, bathtubs.
3. Check windows and glass doors for fingerprints.
4. Take away all personal care products from the bathrooms.
5. Empty wastepaper baskets and garbage.
6. Pick up dirty clothes.
7. Organize children's rooms.
8. Clear desks of personal papers.
9. Clean and deodorize pet areas.
10. Open curtains and blinds.
11. Turn on lights and fans.
12. Make sure the house is at a comfortable temperature.
Curtain Going Up
Now that you have followed your plan and survived the countdown, can anyone actually live in a perfect house or a movie set for a few months? This is one of the hardest parts because you do not get actually to relax. You will always be picking something up, straightening pillows, and cramming anything left on the counter into any available drawer! Remember the goal is a quick sale for more money than your asking price so the stress can be worth it.
Now is the time to add the finishing touches for your first Open House or first potential buyer appointment. As a seller, think always of providing great customer service whatever the cost to your schedule. If you do not provide accommodations for out-of-area buyers, someone else will. Therefore, to have your house show ready at any time of the day or evening, you will have to enlist your entire family for help with upkeep. Otherwise, if you have children, treat this like a game, give prizes or other incentives for them to keep their rooms and bathrooms tidy.
Use the checklist for a quick walk through before people arrive. Set a schedule for weekly and daily vacuuming and dusting. Always pay extra attention to the four critical areas that we talked about, curb appeal, entranceway, kitchen, and bathrooms.
Here are a few ideas for the staging of your rooms.
1. Visit each of your main rooms and check the furniture arrangement. See where your eye goes when you first enter the room. Angle your furniture to create good traffic flow. Many people simple push their furniture against the walls creating the perfect square, not very inviting. If you have already removed some furniture into storage to make the rooms look bigger, this process will go quicker. Usually furniture is arranged from low to high (coffee table, couch, table behind the couch with taller lamps and maybe a bookcase on the back wall). If you want to create a cozy conversational area, arrange two sofas so that they face each other. Simply placing an attractive shawl or throw over the sofa and adding matching pillows can bring color and unify the room. In addition, if it is summer and you have heavy draperies, consider purchasing simple white blinds that you can pull up during the daytime so the rooms seem light and larger.
Look at these two examples of lovely, "staged" living rooms.
2. Do not forget that adding a small, colorful area rug can point up conversation areas and make the room more visually interesting. Do not get stuck in a rut when you arrange accessories on a bookshelf. Vary the placement and size of accessories. If your shelves are movable, arrange them so some are deeper than others. Place some books vertically and some horizontally.
Notice the open book, fresh flowers, and lots of light, ready for a "close-up."
3. When decorating your rooms to sell, follow the arranger's codes of odd numbers. Place accessories in groups of three. As you walk through your rooms, see where you can place a bouquet of flowers on a table, with an open book and maybe a small dish or decorative object. Work on items of different heights for visual interest. Greenery in the home whether real or really good fake can add so much warmth for few dollars. Nevertheless, follow the 3-rule. Put three baskets of different size houseplants in a boring corner (just remember to have different sizes and widths for more visual interest).
These rooms are examples of the "3" method in displaying.
4. Spend a lot of time staging your kitchen area. Your counters should be almost empty and everything shining. The refrigerator door should be completely clear by now! Have some fresh fruit in a bowl, grapes drape well. Place a mini-vase of flowers next to a window, perhaps a few pansies you have picked from your garden or a container of fresh herbs. If you have some colorful placemats arrange your kitchen table. During an Open House, have a tray of cookies and small chocolates. This encourages buyers to linger and picture themselves living in the house.
5. I have talked before about the bathroom cleanup, toilet seats always down, wastebaskets empty, shower curtain spotless, chrome shiny, and personal belongings put away. A nice way to add a great smell is to buy a few fancy scented soaps, take off the wrappings, and put them in a pretty dish.
Display your fanciest guest towels (folded in thirds to hide seams and edges), and you can drape a luxury towel over the edge of your bathtub with a container of some beautiful bath oil. If your bathroom is small, use tiebacks on the shower curtain to give the appearance of a larger room. Again, a small arrangement of flowers or some scented candles are also great accessories. I always suggest buying new sets of matching towels for all your bathrooms to give a "finished" look to the rooms.
6. In your Master Bedroom, it is well worth the money to purchase beautiful bedding. Fold down the edge of the comforter to make the bed look inviting, and many pillows, of course. I am a great fan of pillows (much to my husband's dismay). Our bed has three sets of large pillows, and various small decorator pillows (in addition to our sleeping pillows). Each bedroom should have a new bedspread or comforter and matching throw pillows. If you have a small table next to the bed, turn on a reading lamp, lay out a book and small plant, or small vase of fresh flowers. Remove any accumulation of clothes. Dressers should be staged, nothing cluttered (remember to put away all valuables). Make sure that you have arranged this room to look large. Master Bedrooms and space are very important to today's buyers.
7. Lay out a quick scene in your children's rooms with a table set for a tea party (kids will have fun setting this up) or some tableau with a boy's toys. Do some funny display with the kid's stuffed toys. Anything to add some charm and interest. Remember toys and junk need to be organized so that your house hunters can make it to the closets without tripping!
8. OK, now for some closets. There is much hidden value in great looking closets.
In the current market, the square footage in closets can really add value. I have turned many closets into small offices, taken the doors off, and made recessed bookcases. It is not so much that you have spent the time and money to build great closet systems, but it is that buyers see that potential.
What you can do is store all off season clothes (fewer clothes make the closet look bigger, in fact, some realtors say to remove half your clothes). Arrange clothes by size and color, shirts, then dresses, then pants, and then suits. All hangers should face the same direction (and if you really want to look organized, use the same color and type of hanger). Artfully display boxes on the top shelves.
Make linen closets look like a linen shop, tri-folding and stacking sheets, blankets, and towels according to size. Tuck some lavender sachets into corners. This is one area that once you arrange, should stay ordered. When I have had larger closets, I have also painted and wallpapered them, added charming pictures, and small area rugs. You should hear the comments that I have gotten and it is just a small little room. Anyone can do this.
9. If you have a separate dining room, you will want to show buyers how wonderful it is to entertain in the space. Fresh flowers and a runner on the table add a nice touch. Some people set a complete table but I think that looks rather fake. Be sure your China Closet or hutch is organized and display a few pieces on sideboards remember the groups of 3 rules.
10. Most sellers ignore the laundry room areas but some small touches can really help your potential sale. If you have shelves above the washer and dryer, arrange all products face out and by size if possible. Add a green plant, or small decoration. Be sure your appliances are gleaming; often these are part of the house package.
This is so simple, but it is attractive?
11. Stage your outdoor areas. Remember all those pots of flowers we talked about at the beginning? Put one on your picnic table. Have yard games ready to play. Arrange pool toys and clean your barbeque area. Help people envision what it would be like to entertain outdoors. Fill the birdfeeders (clean the birdfeeders and birdbath). If you have some extra money, invest in a couple of birdbaths (you will not have to leave them). Believe me, if buyers walk out in your back or front yard and the birds and butterflies are flying around, it is a very charming atmosphere. If you are selling in winter, build a snowman.
12. Do not forget the entryway. Pots of flowers outside your entry way and an arrangement of flowers inside is a good presentation.
13. Have a plan for your pets. Try to take them with you if you leave the house during showings. Remember that half of all buyers are allergic, dislike, or are actually afraid of dogs and cats. You do not know how your pets will act when strangers are in your house.
Well, you have read the tips and suggestions and now the rest is up to you. I can tell you that it is much easier to stay ready than to get ready. If you pick up and clean every morning and you enlist your family to help, you will have a lot less stress when you get the call that a potential buyer wants to see your home. I suggest buying a couple of baskets with handles and going through your rooms picking up last minute stuff to distribute later. In addition, you can get small plastic bins (sweater bins) that you can fill with last minute clutter and hide it under a bed. I am also a great believer in those handy containers of glass wipes and furniture wipes. I used to keep them in odd spots (tucked away) to take off last minute fingerprints, dust bunnies, and crumbs because I did not want to keep running for cleaning supplies.