There’s a house for sale that we pass every day on the way to the office. The home’s exterior seems to be well taken care of, but the lawn isn’t mowed. Actually, it’s about a foot high and has gone to seed.
Why would a homeowner who is trying to sell his house not mow the lawn? It’s hard to imagine that someone who is actively engaged in selling a property wouldn’t be motivated to make the exterior look as good as the interior. For this property, it wouldn’t take more than a few hours to mow the grass, trim the hedges, weed the flower bed, plant a few colorful annuals, and edge the lawn. The house’s exterior would really perk up.
By not mowing the lawn, trimming the bushes and making sure your home looks well cared for, you’re setting the table for some unpleasant future negotiations – prospective buyers will assume you’re in financial trouble simply because you haven’t invested the time or money in making sure your home is ready for sale.
If you’re selling your home, there are five things you absolutely must do in order to stay competitive – which in a soft housing market is where things stand:
1. Make your yard memorable. The vast majority of today’s home buyers start their search for a home on the Internet. Homeowners with yards that are neatly trimmed, flush with pretty colors, and full of lush greenery will find the colors pop in digital images taken for real estate websites. Don’t miss this opportunity to make your home stand out from the others listed for sale in the neighborhood or price range.
2. Inform your neighbors. Before you hire a real estate agent (and certainly before you officially list your home for sale), you should inform your neighbors that your home is going to go on the market for sale. Your neighbors presumably like living in your neighborhood, and they may know someone through their network of family, friends, and colleagues, who is looking for a home like yours. Selling through a friends and family network will ultimately be a win-win, as you’ll sell more quickly and possibly for more money, while your neighbor will have a friend or family member living close by.
3. Know your minimum acceptable price. Don’t wait for buyers to line up with offers before thinking carefully about how much money you’re willing to accept for your home. Your number should be fully informed, and by that we mean you should spend time chatting with at least three different real estate agents, each of whom has prepared a comparative marketing analysis listing the homes similar to yours in your neighborhood that have sold in the last six months – including foreclosures. Understanding how foreclosures and short sales have impacted pricing in your neighborhood will help you understand what kind of minimum price should be acceptable in today’s marketplace.
4. Don’t rely on buyer’s agents to tell your home’s story. Many listing agents commonly use lock boxes. A lock box is a place where the agent puts your house key. It’s usually on the front or back door of the property, so any registered or approved agent can let him or herself into the property with a prospective buyer. The biggest problem with lock boxes is that buyers and their agents walk through the property on their own, with the buyer’s agent pointing out the properties strengths (hopefully) and weaknesses (probably) when it is the agent’s likely first visit as well. Instead of letting the buyer’s agent tell your home’s story, you should create a list of top features of your property, print it up in color, alongside photos of the various features and attach it to the listing sheets on the kitchen counter. The agent and buyer will pick up the enhanced listing sheet and will hopefully read it – at home later, if not immediately. While this may not alone sell your property, if your agent won’t get over to show the property him or herself (we think they should, by the way), at least you’ve made an attempt at showcasing your home’s greatest strengths.
5. Avoid getting greedy. While greed reared its ugly head more frequently during the boom years, it’s easy to get caught up in the emotional tug-of-war that characterizes home sale negotiations. In other words, while you may have that minimum acceptable price in your head, the moment someone offers close to that number, it will be too easy for you to simply raise that number, in the spirit of the negotiations, of course. Resist the temptation. While it’s incredibly easy to talk yourself into the idea that your property is worth more, home prices are still falling in many communities thanks to the vast numbers of foreclosures and short sales. Instead of focusing on how much money you’ve lost since the housing market peaked, we think you should focus on how much above or below your sales price the initial offer is, and what it will take to close the deal.