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First Impressions | Outshine the Competition When Selling Your Home


“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

It may be a tired adage, but it rings true—particularly in real estate. The decision to buy a house is emotional, and how potential buyers feel when they view photos of your house online, or drive up to it for the first time, can make or break a sale. At the least, a first impression is the time to wow them and ensure your home is on their short list. If you are thinking about listing your home this spring, the following tips can help you go from “For Sale” to “Sold!”

Make Your Home’s Online Profile Stand Out

An encyclopedia of information is available online, and that includes most details about a home. Often, the first impression of a listing comes from the internet, where anyone can pull up local listings and browse the online photo galleries. Your real estate agent should be able to guide you about his or her preferences for online photos. Some agents may suggest paying extra to hire a professional photographer (or may pick up the tab for this service) and some are accomplished photographers in their own right. Before you hire an agent, make sure you discuss how they handle this important aspect of home marketing. High-resolution, well-lit photos are a must, or a potential buyer might bypass your home with the click of a mouse before ever seeing it in person.

For fantastic photos, lighting can only do so much; staging your home for those photos is just as important. What should you focus on before the photographer shows up at your door? Make sure you have ample time to prepare so you don’t feel stressed. If possible, give yourself a week or more to clean and declutter, and if you can, pick the time of day when your home gets the best natural light. While professional photographers’ lighting tools and tricks can work wonders, as much natural light as possible is best.

Deep Clean and Declutter

If you can, hire a cleaning service to deep clean your home, because chances are they’ll notice dusty nooks and crannies that you may overlook. The goal is to have your home appear clutter-free, while showcasing its best features. You and your agent should discuss what you feel are the home’s best-selling points, and communicate those to the photographer. For guidance on clearing out clutter, pick up a catalog for a furniture company that you love. Notice why you respond to the photos—they are free of broken lamp shades, bad lighting, loud paint colors and general clutter. Try to view each room in your home with new eyes—your agent or a trusted friend also can help tremendously with this.

While people feel emotionally attached to their furniture and decor choices, try to remember that your home is now a product for sale, and you want to position it as best as possible to accomplish your goal. That might include getting rid of your stacks of magazines, putting your multiple bins of toys in storage, and covering up that bright red paint in your dining room that could appear garish in an online photo gallery. This may also include removing as many personalized items as possible—photos and other mementos you have on display. You want homebuyers to be able to envision themselves in the space.

If you are willing to repaint some rooms for a fresh look, opt for neutral paint colors. When potential homebuyers are imagining their own furniture in your home’s spaces, they can do so more easily with a neutral backdrop. Ask your real estate agent for suggestions, consult with an interior designer in your area (many offer color consults), visit a paint store and talk with them about their most popular neutrals, or reference the article about neutral paint colors on page 36 in this issue.

firstimpressions2Invest in Curb Appeal

Once you’ve got an online photo gallery and description that will make a potential buyer swoon, continue to impress them in person with great curb appeal. As HGTV junkies know, the network dedicated an entire show to this topic alone, because it is so vital when selling a house. If your home’s exterior is well cared for, a buyer knows that you are conscientious and that the rest of the property and mechanicals are probably in good shape, too. Start with the actual curb—is your mailbox rusted or is the wood rotting? Spruce it up or replace it. Walkways to the home should be in good shape, and well swept. If necessary, contact a mason to fix broken stone or crumbling brick, or have concrete power washed. If landscaping lights are present, make sure they work and look sturdy. Bushes should be trimmed and flower beds tidy—a fresh layer of mulch goes a long way. Inspect your railings and front porch for rot and rust, making sure they are free of both. Your porch lights should work, be cleared of cobwebs and debris, and your front door should look freshly painted and welcoming. Does the door knocker work? How about the doorbell? If these details are off, the buyer might wonder what else is broken, and may be extra critical when they step inside.

Carefully go over the rest of the outside of your home. Is your roof missing shingles, or your gutters stuffed with leaves? Is one of your shutters crooked, or is paint peeling anywhere? Take care of these issues before your home comes on the market. It will show better and ensure that you hit less snares during the inspection stage once you are under contract.

Keep the Staged Look Going Indoors

It’s tough to live in a home while showing it, especially with kids—but extra effort put forth will hopefully pay off with a faster sale. You’ve likely decluttered and had the house deep-cleaned for the photo shoot, and now you have to maintain it. While shoving items in closets and cabinets may have worked for photos, it won’t work for showings. Crammed closets give the impression that the house doesn’t have enough storage space—a red flag for potential buyers.

It may be worth it to rent a storage unit to store off-season decorations, clothing and extra bins of toys and other items. Having storage spaces in the home, like attics and basements, clear of your own belongings allows the potential homeowner to see how spacious these areas are.

Make sure that carpets, curtains and upholstery are clean and fresh-smelling, and that you have a plan for dogs and cats during showings. Nothing ruins a first impression faster than a dog charging toward an agent and his clients, and it may be hard for someone with pet allergies to see the best features of your home through watery eyes.

If you have kids, enlist their help with making their own beds and putting away toys when they are done playing. These are good practices that you can keep going, so that even when your house isn’t on the market, everyone is contributing to keeping a tidy look.

firstimpressions1Make a Vacant Home Appealing

Suppose you’ve moved on to a job in a new state, or just the house down the street—and you’ve had to leave your now-vacant home on the market. You can still make it appealing, though you may have to go to some extra effort to do so. If there are no furnishings, the buyer pays more attention to the walls and flooring. It may pay off in the long run to spend the money to have holes patched and the house painted after you’ve moved—hooks and holes left in the wall look sloppy. If the carpet has stains, have it replaced. If wood floors are in rough shape, have them refinished. Nothing says polish like a glossy new floor or fresh carpet. If the walls are bare, the light fixtures and finishes stand out more, so make sure light switch plates aren’t cracked or dirty, and replace any light fixtures that look especially dated.

It may be worthwhile to have a professional stager come in and stage the home with some furnishings—perhaps just a table and chairs in a dining area, and some furnishings in the living or family room so a potential buyer can imagine how the floorplan might work for them. Your real estate agent should be able to provide some names of home stagers in your area.

If you are leaving town, hire a landscaper to take care of the property so that your hard work on curb appeal doesn’t go to waste. The grass should be cut, the leaves collected in the fall, and plantings maintained. Have a discussion with your agent about whether he or she will be responsible for checking on the property at intervals, or if you should enlist someone to help with this task. If winter hits and the house is still not occupied, you’ll need to winterize the house to prevent pipes from freezing (and bursting). However, if you’ve followed these tips and your home is priced competitively, you should be well-positioned for a fast sale before winter’s chill.

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