Why Homes in Sparkling Condition Sell Faster

I was recently listening to this interview about Mariah Carey’s ubiquitous holiday song, “All I Want for Christmas.” I learned that the iconic songstress has made more than $70 on the jingle – with about $3 million more each holiday season – since it was released in 1994. 

Now, for those of us not generating Carey-esque holiday-season residuals, home selling is a careful art that requires a fair price and a property in good condition … especially for this market we’re in right now.

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: Pricing is key! Using my own business as an example, we sold one home this week from a price reduction and we’ve had offers on two others since we reduced price. Clearly the theory is being proven correct! (By the way, I’d love to know if you’re seeing this same thing happen in your business. If you’re a real estate professional, comment and let me know!)

The big headline for pricing is that with interest rates still high, it’s critical to come out with a price that’s enticing to buyers and considers all factors of your local market. You don’t want to be in a position where you’re chasing the market, because as Steven Thomas said in his newsletter last week, pricing is really a buyer’s first impression of your home. 

Some sellers think, “Oh, let’s just try a higher price and if it doesn’t sell we can always lower it,” and while that is true – and as I mentioned above it can be done successfully – there’s one catch. You can’t wait more than a month to change the price. By that time, the train is out of the station and it’s really too late. If you’re going to start higher, which we never recommend, you basically have a three- or (at most) four-week window to change your price and people will move on to something else or get disinterested because they’ll think you’re just not realistic with price.

My belief is that you should be the best-priced home in your price range but there’s more! Condition is important, too. And if you’re the best priced home and the home in best condition for your price range, now that’s how you sell your house. Price is always No. 1 when it comes to first impressions but a close second is condition. Price too high and keep your house in poor condition and your home will sit on the market. Price accurately and spruce up your home so it’s in quality condition and you’ll be hearing “sold” before you know it. 

And let’s talk a little more about the condition of your property. What do I mean when I say “best condition”? The answer is different for everyone and it depends largely on your budget and funds available for improvement. If, let’s say, the funds aren’t available to do staging and a major cleanup, at the very least you can thin your house out and do the bare minimum to make it more photogenic. In my experience I’ve found that there are always family and friends who are willing to help!

On the thinning out front, this process too depends on how much time a seller has, their capabilities and their budget. For some clients, they may need family, friends, neighbors or get professional help to box items up. I also have partial stagers I work with who are amazing. They’ll come over to your house and tell you exactly what to get rid of, and then you can have someone else help box those particular things up for you.

If you really don’t have time or funds before you put your house on the market, I always say the most important surfaces to focus on are countertops. Check the countertops in your kitchen and bathroom and make sure they’re clean and as cleared out as possible!

For those with some budget available, the biggest return on investment when it comes to these minor improvement projects is paint. Truly, painting a house can have a 400% return on investment. (I’ve seen it happen time and time again!) The next element that’s important is flooring. Wash dirty carpets, replace flooring if funds are available and anything that’s bashed up or scratched should be fixed. Also, landscaping can be put in this “basic improvement” category. Make sure your grass is green and add some flowers to the front yard. If you have any overgrown bushes or hedges, make sure they’re trimmed. There’s nothing wrong with a privacy hedge but if someone drives up to your house and it looks like one, big hedge, it’s a problem. 

There was a wonderful motivational speaker named Barb Schwarz and she hosted some of my favorite seminars that I’d never miss when I was a new REALTOR®. Barb had some great expressions and she always used to say, “If you can’t see it, you can’t sell it!”

The phrase reminds me of this listing I took over in the 90s where the yard was completely overgrown and bushes had grown all the way past the roofline. They were completely drowning out the house. I suggested the seller cut the camellia bushes down below the windows, to which she responded: “If I trim those bushes, they won’t bloom next year.” 

I replied, “Well guess what? If we sell your house, you won’t be here next year.” 

“I never thought of that!” She said, and so the hedges were trimmed. 

We painted the front door black, painted the exterior, cleaned up the yard and put the house on the market and it was a beautiful home that sold for $25,000 over asking. Do you know why? Because before we did all these improvements, nobody had even seen the house before!

If you can’t see it, you can’t sell it … 

Once your landscaping is updated, another minor repair that goes a long way is to paint your door if necessary because that’s the very first place a prospective buyer is going to walk through on their tour of the property. It’s also going to be featured in the listing photos for your property. If your door is scratched up, any buyer who sees that will immediately think, “Uh oh, I wonder if the plumbing and electrical are just as bad!” 

The only time a worn-down front door works is during Halloween, and we’re way past that holiday now!

Remember, all these things – walls, floors, yards – are what the camera sees and 99% of first impressions happen through photos online, so if your home isn’t looking good on camera, the buyers aren’t coming through the front door.

On the topic of these basic improvements, I often get asked about holiday decorations, and if those are OK to keep if a home is on the market during November and December. My answer? Yes, but within reason. Some people love to go too far – six trees decorated in the living room, lights everywhere – and while it’s OK to have your house looking festive and bright, you don’t want it to get too holiday-cluttered or look like a holiday store. 

Of course, it’s always a benefit for potential buyers to be able to say, “Ah, so this is what it might look like for us to have our next holiday season here,” but certain families are more festive than others, certain buyers celebrate different holidays, so it’s best to keep things to a minimum.

But let’s get back to Barb … Just like, “If you can’t see it, you can’t sell it,” another Barb axiom was: “If you can smell it, you can’t sell it.”

This applies to pet odors, cooking smells, carpet stenches and more. There are plenty of simple solutions to get rid of these smells before the home goes on sale, including: opening windows for fresh air, changing out air filters on the HVAC system, and buying one of those Glade lavender plug-ins that go right into the electrical socket and slowly release smells that are reminiscent of a spa. 

Selling a home is a very sensory experience, so bake those delicious cookies, have something yummy simmering on the stove or use the below recipe to make your home smell incredible this holiday season (even if it’s not on the market): 

Boil 2 cups of water, add 3/4 of a lemon (thickly sliced), 2 sprigs of rosemary, 1 tablespoon of vanilla and 1 teaspoon of clove. 

The best part about this recipe is that it’s incredibly low-cost but what a dramatic difference it makes! I don’t care if your house is the most gorgeous home in the world. If it has an unpleasant smell, people are going to leave immediately and they may not even know why! A bad odor can ruin the entire showing.

Another piece of advice when it comes to the condition of a home for sale is to pick a lane and stick with it. For remodeling, this means completing any existing renovation projects before you put your home on the market. Some people started a kitchen redo but didn’t finish it and if you’ve started to do something that’s wonderful but either finish it or make it look like it’s finished. A home that looks like it’s in progress is not a home that will sell. 

The same thing applies to colors within your home. If you’re painting every room a different color, it’s going to be off-putting for a buyer. I always say color is best applied by the new owner; keep your home neutral, clean and simple. 

Dark colors from the ‘90s are not in style for real estate. Everyone wants light and bright, which you can accomplish with one simple coat of white paint. Immediately, it’s a game-changing experience. 

If you’re looking for larger home improvement projects (and your timeline and budget fit for them), always consult with your real estate professional before breaking ground. In my experience, these projects usually don’t pay and often, it’s better to stick with the essentials like paint, which has that 400% ROI. 

If you have dirty paint and scratched-up doors and counters, everyone will think the house is a complete fixer. Add a coat of fresh paint and suddenly, people think it’s liveable and they immediately imagine your house as their next home.

Then, to the tune of Mariah Carey’s holiday hit, you can belt out: “All I want for list-mas … is to get my home sold!”

Andrew Manning • REALTOR® • Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties • DRE: 00941825 • 818-380-2147 • andrew@andrewmanning.com