Go for the Sold
How to prep your home to win over prospective buyers
Spring home-buying season is underway, and the current Chicago-area real estate market is competitive. So, if you’re listing your home for sale this year, it’s more important than ever to make sure it stands out from the crowd.
Real-estate professionals and home stagers offer advice for drawing in buyers and making them feel at home in your home, which is key to making the sale.
Understand Today’s Buyer
Michael Callahan, owner of Showhomes of Fox Valley, a home-staging business serving the western suburbs, says that those who have not sold or purchased a home in the past five to seven years should know that the market has shifted. “Between HGTV and the Internet, the landscape for selling homes has changed dramatically,” he explains. “Turnkey, move-in conditions are what the average buyer wants and seeks out.”
While in the past, home buyers were interested in “fixer-upper” projects, that is not the case today. “I am not finding any buyers out there willing to fix up anything,” says Maryanne Ligmanowski, managing broker at Norway Realty in Downers Grove. “Before, everyone wanted to get into a home and put their own footprint on it — not today.”
Jan Morel, a broker at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Hinsdale, agrees.
“Today’s buyer is more informed on the market and less interested in homes requiring work,” says Morel. “I work hard to explain to sellers that making improvements to sell your home is very common.”
Cut the Clutter
Simplifying is the first step when preparing to sell. Most brokers advise removing personal items like family pictures, posters and the like, but more than that, a thorough decluttering is essential. “Make life simpler inside your home,” says Ligmanowski. “Cut down on the number of things.”
Even if you have an emotional attachment to items, they will be a distraction to buyers, and your task is to eliminate distractions. If you are struggling, bring in a family member, friend or even a professional organizer to help.
And don’t think you can stuff things into cabinets and closets — buyers will likely peer inside. Many brokers recommend reducing the amount of clothing in your closet by half. The same goes for overstuffed bookcases, shelves and even your pantry. “This will assure potential buyers that you have sufficient storage space in your home,” says Callahan.
Store the boxed-up clutter off site, at a storage facility, if you are able. As a bonus, it will already be packed and ready for your move.
Get Your Shine On
After decluttering, it’s time to deep clean. “Clean, clean and clean again,” says Callahan, who points out that cleanliness is reassuring to buyers — it makes them feel confident that yours is a well-cared-for home.
“The house that is sparkling clean will sell much faster than one that is dirty and dingy. When the house is dirty, they wonder what else might be wrong,” says Chris Pequet, a broker at Village Sotheby’s International Realty in Hinsdale.
In addition to looking tidy, it’s also important that your home smells pleasant, so it’s a must to eliminate any odor, from cooking to smoke to pet smells. You might need to have carpets and upholstery cleaned or replaced.
Fix and Refresh
Any items you have been putting off repairing, such as a torn window screen or dripping faucet, should be addressed before putting your home on the market. These tiny issues can lead buyers to wonder whether there are bigger issues they cannot see.
Callahan even suggests having a professional home inspection done before you list. It will not only point out the immediate repairs/replacements needed but also give you an idea what the buyers will see when they get their home inspection report.
Beyond repairs, a home must have an updated appearance. “It is extremely important to have your house look like a model home today to sell,” says Kris Berger, a broker at Berkshire Hathaway Koenig Rubloff in Hinsdale.
You have to update or your house will sit for a very long time,” says Ligmanowski. “Buyers are willing to wait to find exactly what they want.”
If something needs a major overhaul, consider doing it a few years before you plan on moving so that you can enjoy it. However, any changes have to make sense for your home’s value. Instead of putting in a new kitchen, for example, you might paint or re-face the cabinetry and add new hardware and counters.
Sometimes, updates can be quick and easy. Berger tells buyers to purchase inexpensive white or cream towels and neutral bedding as well as fresh accent pillows for the sofa. Such touches can “go a long way toward making a room look chic and hip,” she says.
Make Color Corrections
When you have decluttered, cleaned and fixed up, it’s time to create a crisp and clean backdrop. A fresh coat of paint on walls and trim is in order. This gives the home a clean look, and it can even help make spaces look larger or more open.
“Buyers really like an open floor plan, but if you don’t have one, you can give the illusion of having one,” says Pequet, who favors a cohesive color scheme that makes it feel like one room flows into another.
Neutral walls will allow buyers to envision themselves in the home. This does not mean the stark builder’s white of the past. There are many warm whites that are more inviting. If you are unsure about choosing colors, a color consultation from a certified home stager will help you select what’s right for your home. Though a color, such as gray, may currently be popular, it might not fit with the finishes or style of your home and may make your rooms look more dated, not less.
Let the Light In
Another step to selling your home is making sure it’s bright and appealing. Dark curtains and window coverings must be removed, replaced or tied back to let in as much light as possible. Berger advises trading patterned draperies for solids
for a more current look.
Consider replacing old or inefficient windows. Teresa Ryan, broker/owner at Ryan Hill Realty in Naperville, notes that energy-efficient windows are an improvement that adds value to your home.
Refreshing light fixtures in your entry and dining area also provides a nice update. Berger recommends looking at popular catalogs to determine what’s in style, then heading to the home center for a similar but cheaper version. “This inexpensive swap can really help give a room a boost,” she says.
Don’t Curb Their Enthusiasm
Pay attention to the exterior of your home, especially to how it looks from the front. “If you can’t get the client in the front door, you will never sell the house, no matter how good it looks on the inside,” says Ligmanowski.
Make sure landscaping is neatly shaped, your lawn is manicured and your front entry is inviting and tidy. Ryan recommends resealing the driveway, planting flowers around the front of the house and along walkways and using planters or other containers to accent the front porch.
Pay special attention to the area around the front door. Repaint the door and replace the doormat with a new one. Though it might seem inconsequential, Pequet also recommends polishing your doorknob. “It makes a good impression before the door is even opened,” she says.
Berger agrees. “When potential buyers are standing at the front door for a minute or two while the realtor is getting the key out of the key box, they are looking at everything around the front door,” she says.
Set the Stage
It’s often helpful to consult a professional for assistance with color choices, furniture placement and other design issues. “As homeowners, we are generally too close to our homes to be objective. We’ve been living in the home for a while and we like it,” says Callahan, whose business works with vacant homes as well as owner-occupied homes, showing people how to declutter, freshen up and utilize what they have, bringing in fresh furniture and accessories when warranted.
For those who need to move before their house has sold, Showstoppers also offers a service that gives an empty home a lived-in look that goes beyond mere furnishings. You can have one of their “home managers” take up residence in your home to keep an eye on things.
The managers pay a program fee, which offsets some of the cost of home staging. “We highly recommend a stager when placing your home on the market,” says Ryan. “The stager will let you know which items to remove, ideal furniture placement, perhaps changing the color of a room and other recommendations to make your home appeal to more buyers.”
Explore Virtual Realty
Before buyers visit your home, most will have already seen it online. Because virtual tours are so important, high-quality photography is a must. “Think of it as your first showing,” says Pequet. “Every picture should be beautiful or they will pass it by.”
Berger recommends prepping the entire house before taking photos. “Showing your home and how your house looks in photographs are two totally different things. If your photos look cluttered or busy, people will pass on even coming to look at your home.”
It might be wise to work with a home stager and/or professional photographer to make sure your home is camera ready.
“From painting to decluttering to staging, every home can be presented in the best possible light,” says Morel, who often brings in a stager at his cost prior to taking professional photography. “I never rush my listings to market. It’s worth taking the time to make sure my clients’ homes are ready for pictures.”
Price It Right
Pricing your home effectively for the current market is also key. Ryan says a common sellers’ mistake is wanting to overprice their home so they have room to negotiate with buyers. Today’s savvy buyers will be comparing your home’s features and benefits with similar homes on the market and an overpriced home might be passed over.
Ryan notes that your broker needs to sell your home three times: “First to other agents (so they will show your home to their buyers), second to the buyer so they will choose your home above the others, and third to the appraiser when they appraise the value of your home compared to other recent sales — to confirm the value for your buyer’s lender.”Edit Module