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Friday, August 19, 2011

Selling Your Home Well

I decided to write about selling one’s home since we just did that. We didn’t move far ~ two streets away from my previous home. I have staged homes before for selling purposes but I have never looked for a home or sold one before; we built our home in Northern Virginia and before that, I rented. It was quite an eye opening experience to go through this process. You know I am an interior designer so my home looked pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. Friends kept telling us that it would go fast but I was still nervous given the market. Our home sold in two days. What did my house sell for? The asking price.

There are many homes for sale these days. Some sell quickly, others, not so. Why? I know of one home that was on the market for only one day. I saw that house before it went up. It was beautiful; more on that later.

Let’s focus on this from a couple of perspectives. First, I interviewed two very well known and respected Realtors that work (and live) in Northern Virginia. Realtors with experience and know the area and target market are the ones you want to work with ~ hands down. These two are just that. Your Realtor networking with other Realtors is the number one way a home gets sold, not open houses. Diane Boone spoke about curb appeal, the home being immaculate and well maintained, and to remove any clutter. Greg Wells spoke about it very similarly ~ he even told me to declutter MY home! I couldn’t agree more. Greg and Diane gave loads of wonderful advice. I will give it all to you at the end of the post ~ its worth the wait.

When I was looking at homes to purchase, I was surprised. We saw many homes that were in stages of disrepair. All I could think about was if something so blatant was broken on the outside, what hidden disasters are waiting inside, perhaps in the walls or in the pipes. I saw broken shutters, steps, doors, windows…. I saw dirty dishes in the sink, clothes left on the floor…. I know we really live like this but I think there is a deeper psychological component to it when you see these things in a house on the market. “Well loved” was one expression Jim and I penned when looking at and placing homes into categories; only the “well loved” homes were the ones we considered. What does that mean? It means homes where pride was obvious, a happy home, a home considerate of the occupants and guests, a well thought through home. Diane and Greg called this “immaculate, well maintained, bright, fresh looking, furniture placed in ways to promote traffic flow….” Yes, yes, yes.

Greg and Diane also said that sellers need to look at their home objectively and know the target market. Absolutely. I say take it one step further and think of the psychology of the potential buyer. People want to see themselves in a well done home, living a happy, healthy life with their family; a home that shows success. I am sure many of you have read books or articles on dressing for success. One needs to dress their home for success when it is on the market.

Those in my field and related fields know about presenting a life style to potential clients that they would like to portrait in their home. Usually residential interior designers aren't hired to simply arrange furniture. We're hired to deliver a finished design that conveys the owners' sense of self, their style, their success. An atmosphere that portraits their life style.

I bolded life style and success because of their importance, their relevance to the topic of selling one's home. In a manner of speaking, when selling a home, one is also selling a life style and the demonstration of success, which are profound concepts to grasp when objectively looking at your home. What life style does your home convey? Does it demonstrate success?

A caveat ~ I am not using life style and success as synonyms for wealthy. They are not one in the same. They are often equated with each other but they are NOT the same when we speaking about this topic. People, for the most part, look for a home within their means. So, in this context, size really doesn't matter. A nice life style and success are universal desires. Creativity is not an attibute only found in the rich and famous. And creativity is really the driving force behind style and success.

Here are some things to consider. If a home presents with any amount of disrepair, it will be noticed and experienced as much larger than a simple broken shutter.

Disrepair presents the home as being unhealthy and unhappy. Parents don’t want to raise their children in that environment. Well done doesn’t mean professionally designed. Northern Virginia, where I live, is known as a more traditional area in style. I think this is changing. I see (and do) much more transitional and contemporary in the area now. The point here is whatever the style you enjoy, make sure it is identifiable and stick to that style. If you have traditional furnishings and very contemporary light fixtures, incongruence is taking place. In general, people like things to be congruent, to make sense, to be harmonious. When incongruence is experienced, it is disturbing to the heart and mind. No one wants to live in a home that disturbs them. They may not know what exactly it is that is bothering them, but they will feel it and leave the house with that as their experience. I am not saying eclectic doesn’t sell ~ it just has to be done in a manner that makes sense.

The house that sold in one day I spoke about earlier was traditional in style (not my style) BUT it was done well and I appreciated that. It was immaculate and clearly the owners took pride in the way they lived. The home conveyed success in many regards. It was a very thoughtful house meaning consideration was put into every aspect of the house and it was obvious. If that house had all that we were looking for in terms of space, we would have purchased it. The house we did purchase was similar ~ a home that when built and the work done afterwards was very thoughtful ~ every aspect considered.

If this is not in your personality or a natural attribute, no worries, staging can help with this. You’d be surprised what changing out some art, area rugs, or light fixtures can accomplish. These can be done in a cost efficient manner. I’m not talking about adding personality. I’m speaking about adding the appearance of harmony, pride, happiness, health, style, success ~ all things humans crave…. especially in their home.

Now for the thoughtful advice from Diane and Greg. I gave Greg and Diane specifics questions to answer. They did a great job. Their recommendations are the foundation. My advice is the finesse. Combine the two and the results will amaze you.

Diane Boone ~
A) Top 5 things:
1) Curb appeal: Look at your home from the street, hire landscaping professionals to trim and
and correct and don't forget to fix that crack in the driveway!
2) Have an immaculate entry: Fresh flowers, painted front door and polished or replaced hardware.
3) Make sure your home looks well maintained, throughout...Cracks in the walls, wood work, faded floors, fresh paint...all must be considered a basic requirement for improvement or replacement, before going on the market.
4) Carpets must be clean and fresh looking and can not look worn or else they should be replaced.
5) De-clutter...everywhere!

B) Common Mistakes:

1) The biggest mistake people make is not realizing that they must look objectively and unemotionally at their home...which is very difficult for most people to do. They can no longer look at it as "their" home, but, rather, as a product to be marketed and sold.
2) Be aware of what you can and cannot change about your home. Decorate for your target audience. This knowledge will allow you to concentrate on those items that will bring the highest rewards and will assist in getting you under contract in the shortest period of time. Ask your agent to suggest a professional stager assist you in getting your home market ready.
3) Going out on the market priced too high rather than being the best home out there, for the dollar. Money and value does matter, especially in today's market.
4) Don't go on the market if you are not ready...Activity in the first 2 weeks on the market is the highest and if you are not ready, you will loose valuable exposure to agents that won't come back a second time.
5) Don't let an agent "buy" the listing...Educate yourself, so you know, honestly, what the values are for a home like yours, before you go on the market. Just because someone "says" your home is worth more, doesn't mean it will sell for that number. The market drives the price of the home, not the Realtor or the owner.

C) Best Staging Tips:

1) Brighter Lighting/Slowly Moving Ceiling Fans and Strategic use of Art Work can open up a space.
2) Make sure that furniture placement enhances the room and does not impede traffic flow.
3) Replace builder grade light fixtures with new lighting, in proportion to the value of the home.
4) Open your outdoor umbrellas and set up your deck furniture so that it is inviting.
5) Open blinds and let the outside in...especially if you have a great lot!

D) Pros & Cons to working with a Realtor:

There are no cons to working with a Realtor, as long as that Realtor is a well-educated, respected professional that knows your area. A good Realtor can not only simplify the process for you and potentially, save you thousands of dollars, then if you were to try to do this alone, but, will also assist you with every aspect of the transaction, from start to finish. The "business" of Real Estate is a lot more complicated than it appears and the legal exposure can cost an untrained seller much more than a Realtor's commission in delays and law suits. Statistically, homes listed by Real Estate professional sell for significantly higher prices than those sold without a Realtor. At the end, you get what you pay for!

E) Attributes to look for when selecting a Realtor:

1) Knowledge of your community and surrounding community.
2) Proven success in both up and down markets.
3) Communicative and available to you when questions or concerns arise.
4) Will you have regular access to the agent you signed your listing contract with?
5) It's not just about who charges the least commission...it's about the quality of the marketing, networking and online presence. Cutting commission often means having to cut out some of those services that are important to you in today's market.

Lastly and most important...there are many capable Realtor's out there that can get the job done for you. This is a business where personality and style compatibility does matter. The listing and purchasing of your home is, potentially, the most important purchase you will ever make. You should feel that you have a partnership with and can communicate to your Realtor, throughout the transaction.

Greg Wells ~
1. Top 5 things:

a) Street Presence: The home needs to excite the prospective purchaser from the moment they arrive. The grass needs to be cut, the planting beds need to be edged and freshly mulched, the shrubs should be pruned and flowers should be planted to add color. The driveway should be sealed if necessary. The mailbox should have a fresh coat of paint and look as if it were brand new. Concrete lead walks and stoops should be power washed or painted to add an even cleaner look. Replacing exterior light fixtures can also give the home an updated look.
b) The Entry should continue the excitement and continue to portray clean and updated. Painting or staining the front door, replacing old door hardware and kick plates is usually necessary. Once inside the foyer light fixture is the first place a purchaser will look and form an opinion so out with the original builder fixture and in with an appropriate fixture with current finish that appeals to all.
c) Maintenance must be taken care of throughout. The walls need to be clean and sometimes repainted. Be sure to take care of any drywall cracks or nail pops. Have carpets, windows and the entire home professionally cleaned.
d) Staging to maximize space, appeal to the masses and to neutralize the pallet gives most homes the best chance for success. De-Clutter and take excess to off site storage, don't load up your storage room. It needs to look spacious and this is accomplished by having a minimal amount of things and neatly stacked against the wall.
e) Rear Exterior needs to have the same wow factor as the front.

2. Common mistakes:

a) The biggest mistake is not listening to all the professional advice give by a real estate professional or stager. It doesn't matter how many hours you've logged watching HGTV, you can never be objective in your own home.
b) Incorrect pricing is always a problem and usually sets a home in a position where it will get less in the long run than if it were priced correctly to begin.
c) Preparing the home for a showing is critical. Lights need to be on, blinds and drapes open, light music playing and if applicable home theater should be running with something appealing to all ages like an animated movie. Pleasing but not overpowering scents should be used as well.
d) Get out of the home for showings.
e) Choosing the wrong agent. This is a business decision and you need to chose an agent that has a proven track record, top quality marketing and a marketing budget to give you maximum exposure.

3. Best staging tips:

a) De-Clutter everywhere.
b) Neutralize the painting, fabrics and bedspreads
c) Update and coordinate fixtures and hardware throughout.
d) Stage the inside and outside of the home.
e) Be prepared at all times (24/7)

4. Pros and Cons of working with a Realtor:

Selling a home and getting it through all of the steps of the process needs to be done by a professional. There are over 100 steps in the process and unless you have done this for years you are asking for trouble.

5. Attributes to look for when selecting a Realtor:

a) Experience, number of transactions and success rate including average days on the market and percentage of sales price to list price.
b) Local knowledge of your community and communities that compete with yours.
c) Team vs Individual. A well run team can handle more business and more efficiently than an individual. Make sure you know who is on the team, what they do to support you and how and who you will interact with.
d) Marketing, what is the quality of their photography, brochures and marketing. Where do they market and do they have the budget to provide you with maximum exposure.
e) Honesty, are the telling you the truth or what they think you want to hear.

There you have it! Thank you Greg and Diane for your thoughtful recommendations.

Pictures compliments of Houzz and random pictures from the Internet.


  1. Home staging really is important & i sold my own home very fast. These are great tips. When house hunting I was shocked how many people actually didnt bother trying to make their homes appealing broken windows & clutter everywhere & then wonder why their house sits on the market for endless months. Like you say if there are many blatent problems what hidden ones are there. Great post

  2. Thank you Sarah. I agree. If one wants to sell their home in a reasonable time frame and for the best price, the house needs to be at its peak of presentability.

  3. Thanks to staging and good luck, we sold 2 houses, 2 years apart within a month. For almost the asking price. Close enough to make us look at each other and giggle :)
    I have shopped a lot of homes. We have moved to 3 different states and another continent within 7 years. We have done very well in the real estate part of the moves and I learned early on that I am never interested in the home that is cluttered and dirty .. I am a fan of flowers so I always have them around the house, for my own enjoyment, but it does say something when you go to a house that is neglected looking.. you have to wonder what problems are there that you can't see if they can't bother to even keep it clean ?
    Good lesson here for sellers and buyers !
    chau ~ C


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