We’re all familiar with TV shows showing us buyers going through the process of picking their new home - and I’m sure we’ve all had our opinions on what they should or should not pick in the end. But what if you happen to be selling your own home?
Many people think that selling means slapping up a “for sale” sign, and then waiting for the offers to role in. However, we’ve all been to open houses - how have you reacted when you went through a home that wasn’t showing it’s best? Did you pick it apart, - wrinkle your nose? Now imagine what it might be like for potential buyers walking into your house. What would they say? Remember, - we have a different set of “eyes” when we go house hunting - and they are critical. Whether you are selling your one-bedroom downtown condo or a detached home, there’s competition out there and you need to know what to do to sell your home for as much as possible, as expediently as possible!
1. Get started early. Regardless of the size of your current property, you have a lot to do, and beginning at least three months before you plan to list is a must. If you live in a part of the country with harsh winters - and you want to list in the spring - that timeline could be longer if you have things to tackle outside. Waiting till the last minute could leave you hopelessly behind schedule and missing out on your best-selling window.
2. If you are planning to purchase again - possible move up the property ladder - your first call should be to a mortgage broker. Sound strange? Not at all. Lending rules have changed a lot in the last several years, and lending “stress tests”, designed to make sure borrowers can withstand any upward ticks in interest rates, have made it more difficult for some to qualify for mortgages. You could have issues that have affected your credit rating that you don’t even know about - little things like a long-forgotten gas card that you thought you cancelled. So before you’ve sold, make sure you are qualified to buy, and how much you will have to spend. There’s nothing worse than thinking you can buy that dream home, only to find out that it’s out of reach.
3. Interview realtors. Ideally talk to at least three - and make sure that you check with friends and family that have bought or sold recently in your area for any recommendations. The person you want to work with will be able to give you good comparables to your property so you can price it correctly. They should have a marketing plan that gives you an idea of how long they feel the property will take to sell. Most importantly they should be honest, and not sugar coat what they think. If you need to paint - they need to tell you. If they feel the property could benefit from some professional staging - they will let you know. Most properties can use some light “freshening” - new bedding in the bedroom, some rearranging and editing of existing furniture, a rug or lamp or some new toss cushions. A good realtor will be up front with you. Remember, you are the boss - the realtor works for you. Just because they pull up in a fancy car and show you a bunch a flashy brochures boasting of all the properties they’ve sold - DOESN’T mean that’s the person for you. So, if you don’t feel that connection, don’t hire that that person!
4. Start cleaning. In this case cleaning also means getting rid of all the things that you’ve stuffed in closets, under the bed, in the garage - or anywhere else! Decluttering your home is going to take time and energy - and might even require renting a storage locker. But the idea is to show your home as open and airy, with ample storage. Buyers want to open closets and see lots of room - not to have a pile of sweaters land on top of them. This also means going through kitchen and bathroom cabinets, as well as recycling or donating all those old magazines, books, clothes and coats. You need to be ruthless; remind yourself that you will be moving and need to pack eventually anyhow, so weeding out what you don’t need in your next home will save you time in the long run. If it’s collecting dust, getting rid of it is a must! Most people are surprised and slightly horrified to see just how much they’ve collected (and forgotten about) over the years.
5. Now that the clutter is gone, do you need to touch up paint? Do the trim? Now is the time to do it. Sellers like to tell themselves that “people will paint when they move in” but you’d be surprised how much a fresh coat of paint will influence buyers. Neutral paint of course - so if you’ve long enjoyed a blazing orange living room, know that that’s most likely not everyone’s cup of tea. A soft neutral colour will be more enticing to buyers and will make any room feel cleaner and fresher. While you’re at it - call the carpet cleaner and get those carpets done!
6. Time to add some value - and it doesn’t need to be expensive. If your light fixtures and switches are dated, changing them out for more modern ones can make your home feel much more current. Old knobs and pull handles in the kitchen? Head to your local big box hardware store to replace them - it’s easy to do on your own and can add that pop to your kitchen and bathrooms. Likewise, in your bathroom(s) look to changing out towels to plain white, same with shower curtains - a plain clear or white curtain is always best - and can help make the smallest bathrooms seem more spacious.
7. It’s not just the inside of your property that matters - street appeal counts! Obviously, there’s not too much you can do if you’re in a condo - but virtually all other properties can benefit from a little lipstick. Pull out the power washer - that driveway and front porch could use it! Freshly painted front doors and trim can make your home shine, and you can add visual interest with flower baskets and weeded and well cared for lawns and gardens. Remember - buyers are judging you from the street - and so are other realtors. If you can’t be bothered to maintain the exterior of your home, what else haven’t you done? If the gutters need to be cleaned, get on it! Does the roof need some shingles replaced? Now is the time. If you don’t do it - the buyer’s inspector will most likely find it, so why give them reasons to try and renegotiate a purchase price?
8. Make plans with neighbours or family if you have pets. Generally, cats, small caged animals and birds are fine to be left in the home (make sure any visitors know to keep all external doors closed so nobody goes missing!) but dogs are another issue. If you can make a standing arrangement to get Fido off the premises if you can’t do it yourself, it will make showings that much easier.
9. Lay down the law with your family! You’ve gone through all this effort and hard work to make sure your home is ready to show to prospective buyers. The photographer is coming tomorrow, and the sign goes up in two days. Now the real challenge is to make sure that your home continues to look as beautiful as it does now. A little bribery can go a long way - especially with kids. Getting everyone on the same page will save everyone grief down the line - and make it so much easier to show your home on short notice.
Getting ready to sell is almost a job in itself. Give yourself lots of time so you aren’t overwhelmed or rushed. Think of it as a delayed paycheque - all this hard work will pay dividends!
Sarah Daniels is a top selling realtor in Greater Vancouver, who has been licensed since 2003. She appears regularly as a real estate expert on shows like “The Marilyn Denis Show on CTV”, as well as local radio and television. Sarah has written two books; “Welcome Home: Insider Secrets to Buying or Selling Your Property" and "Buying and Selling A Home For Canadians For Dummies". She also developed and co-hosted the show “Urban Suburban” on HGTV Canada. She works at Bay Realty Ltd., in White Rock, BC.