I’ve been out talking to many prospective sellers in the past few weeks. I’m convinced the tug-of-war between buyers and sellers will continue through the end of the year, but what did I expect? Some sellers are finding motivation for tax purposes, some are hoping to get lucky (and some do), others just like the attention, and some have varying degrees of denial. On the flip side, many buyers still see nothing but doom and gloom, or at least that is their personal strategy or justification for not stepping to the plate.
For many years I’ve counseled sellers to “de-crappify” their properties. I try to tell them as politely as possible. I like that term because it makes the point, hopefully. I tell them to get a roll-off dumpster placed in the driveway and start throwing things (maybe everything) in. If items are thrift store worthy then consider prioritizing. And I always get resistance, but the process is for their own good. And yes, I’m a really insensitive and offensive person because I can’t see the value in all their “treasures.” And over the years some down-the-line agent benefits (after I’m gone and their property has been on the market for years) from all my guidance, but I’m very familiar with that scenario by now. Today I’ve crystallized the preparation of a property for the market down to three things: de-clutter, de-personalize, and clean it up.
Trust me sellers, prospective buyers are turned-off by your junk. And yes, some of it is “collectable” but almost all of it is trash. If a seller is serious he starts moving long before the sale, and if they really have a clue, the seller starts moving long before the property goes on the market. No matter how good the salesperson, it is still difficult to say, “If you look past all of the owner’s crap you’ll see a very nice home.” I just don’t get this. Over the years I’ve had so much resistance by sellers. And guess what, that strategy may have worked in a seller’s market, but these are different days. Today’s buyers are savvy and they can buy for a reason––they have cash and/or credit, and most likely they didn’t lose their minds during the bubble. Today’s prospective buyers don’t want to see the cluttered remnants of the owner’s insecurities or lack of home life hygiene. These sellers really need to be locked in a room and forced to watch TV shows like “Hoarders” (or forced to spend a day looking at Jack Winkler’s house).
So here Mr. Seller is the first step. Start moving out of your property now. If nothing else it sends a positive message to the agents and prospective buyers that you are serious. A readily available dumpster is a big help. And if you fill it, have it dumped and go again. A storage unit is also a good idea. Pondering the physical move of items to a storage unit really helps re-affirm what it is worth keeping. These new “pods” or “pack rat” services are a big help too––take your time filling it up and then have it moved across country or wherever––just away from the property that is being marketed. Just have it gone by the time you list, not sitting in the driveway. And I’m not just talking about your massive collection of old National Geographics or Playboys. I’m talking everything. (And I have news for you, most skis that are more than a few seasons old are dumpster material.) Grandmas’ old heirloom blue-plate collection from Europe needs to be boxed up and stored (been there-done that). Buyers tend to think all these nick-knacks are some sort of oddity. And I’ll tell you what, it distracts the prospective buyer from seeing the real estate. It makes rooms appear smaller. Take a cue from banks: one of the first things a bank does when it gets possession of a foreclosure is to perform a “trash out.” Sometimes people’s homes are worse than an abandoned foreclosure. The second step is cleaning. These are great first steps, ones that many sellers should, and need to heed. That is, unless you’re really not a seller.
Right along with de-cluttering is de-personalizing. See all of those photos on the refrigerator? Nothing should be on the refrigerator except a nice clean shine. And those kid’s rooms that are painted some hideous trendy color from year’s gone by? Time to have the kids clean out their crap and paint it some appealing neutral color. Sorry, buyers just don’t care about you Mr. Seller, they want to examine your real estate offering. If anything, your clutter laying around may offer some clues to your motivation (like your divorce filings), so definitely don’t leave that stuff around either. And in a competitive town like Mammoth you’re likely to see some altar to the best athlete(s) in the house; medals, trophys, race bibs, victory photos and all sorts of treasured memorabilia. Not only does it make the house look like junk, but buyers don’t want to think they are going to be negotiating with some ultra-competitive testosterone ridden egomaniac. Next! I’ve seen this so many times.
And what about the dozens of framed photos of the owners skiing all over the world? Put them in a box that goes to storage (not the garage). Speaking of the garage, it is not a wasteland for the junk and storage boxes. Garages are a key feature to properties in Mammoth. They need to be cleaned out and look spacious. A quick coat of paint does wonders. Replace the burned-out light bulbs. De-personalizing really can’t go to an extreme. The best showing properties look like a nice hotel suite, even if it is an old hotel suite. And if a seller doesn’t feel they have the time, or the fortitude to put all of this into motion, hire some professionals. Mammoth is full of quality maids and housekeepers that can box things up. And that leads to the third step, cleaning.
Just because Mr. Seller has chose to live like a slob the last 20 years (even in a second home) doesn’t mean Mr. Buyer finds that attractive. And Mrs. Buyer certainly won’t. Kitchens and bathrooms are critical. Bathrooms and especially tubs/showers can be instant turnoffs and can sour even the most positive properties. And the presence or evidence of the beloved pets is next in line. Nothing ruins the appearance of a property faster than dog scratches on doors. Sellers never see them, buyers always see them. And what about those windows? Yeah, the ones that have ten years of fireplace smoke residue. Again, Mammoth has plenty of professionals to help.
And what about the carpet? Carpet is almost like computers these days, almost readily disposable. I’ve heard so many times, “Well we’ll just have them shampooed and they’ll be fine.” Fine for who? For many sellers, especially of older properties, it is a judgment call to even spend the money to clean the carpet. Vacuum yes, but spending the money to professionally clean carpets depends on the age, color and condition. If the odds are good the new owner will replace it soon after the close of escrow, then I say forget it. Many owners can consider offering a carpet allowance or credit to the buyer at the close of escrow. Assuming the rest of the house isn’t a disaster, this clearly expresses, “Look we’ve lived here and the carpet is worn out, it stinks, the color and style are dated and we want you to have new carpet.” It sends the right message and many times never even becomes part of the ultimate purchase agreement. And putting in some new, cheap carpet prior to marketing is even worse.
Many sellers often ask, “Is this going to get me a dollar-for-dollar return?” That’s a good question, and often, it won’t. Simple de-cluttering and de-personalizing and cleaning will. But what prudent preparation of their property gives the seller is a much higher probability of getting a closed sale. I repeat, all of this won’t get you a big price, but it will probably get you a deal. This is, and will be, a buyer’s market for some time to come. The buyers are picky. A poorly presented property is a sign of poor intent on the seller’s behalf. And in this market good agents are wary of signing up “career listings.”
If a seller finally has all this down, then I have a couple other recommendations for Mr. Seller; respond to offers in a timely fashion and return paperwork promptly. Momentum is everything.