From Blank Canvas to Buyer’s Dream: 12 Tips to Sell a Vacant Home

At HomeLight, our vision is a world where every real estate transaction is simple, certain, and satisfying. Therefore, we promote strict editorial integrity in each of our posts.

Most buyers aren’t visionaries, which makes selling a vacant home harder: “I know some clients who love the empty space because they can envision what they’ll do with it. But other people just simply can’t, and that’s a tougher deal,” says Sam Flamont, a top Traverse City, Michigan real estate agent.

On average, a vacant home will sell for more than $10,000 less and sit on the market 6 more days than the average sale. However, some sellers can’t stay in their properties while they market it — a job relocation or new home purchase draws them away or they inherit a home from out of state.

That’s where the advice of a professional stager and seasoned real estate agent comes in handy. With their expert advice and additional research on vacant home sales, we’ve compiled 12 tips to make selling your vacant home easier.

A vacant home with a blue front door for sale.
Source: (Curtis Adams / Pexels)

1. Give your curb appeal extra love

With an empty or unstaged home, the first impression of curb appeal matters even more than usual. In HomeLight’s Q2 2019 Top Agent Insights Report, over 94% of agents surveyed agreed that curb appeal will add to your home’s bottom line. Here’s how to maintain curb appeal, even if you’re not onsite every day:

2. Work with a dedicated real estate agent

A great real estate agent can be a godsend when you’re selling a house from a distance. When interviewing agents, ask about their experience selling vacant homes, or if they offer staging or house cleaning services with their listings. “My garage right now actually has four couches, a coffee table, some chairs and end tables, just in case I need to stage a home,” says Flamont.

When Flamont ran into an issue selling a client’s flipped and vacant property, he went out, purchased furniture on his own dime, and staged the property himself. “After we furnished the unit, the sales picked up rather quickly. I actually ended up selling the furniture with the home, too,” he says.

Talk about service! If you need an agent like Flamont, we’re here to connect you with someone of equal caliber in your market. Start your agent search with HomeLight now — we’ll help you find a pro who can sell your vacant home in no time.

3. Stage your home, prioritizing key spaces

“While we always recommend staging the entire home, if this is not a possibility, start with staging the public rooms completely,” recommends Justin Riordan, interior designer, architect and founder of the Portland, Seattle and LA home staging company Spade and Archer Design Agency. That includes the living room, dining room, and kitchen.

Beyond the public rooms, Riordan advises sellers to prioritize spaces as follows:

  1. Primary bedroom and bathroom
  2. Additional common rooms: office, media room, home gym, etc.
  3. Other bedrooms (kids bedroom, guest room) and outdoor spaces

More than half of the respondents in HomeLight’s Top Agent Insights Survey said staging can increase a home’s value between 1%-10%. Meanwhile, 50% of sellers who pay for home staging pay less than $1,000 for the entire service. Plus, an experienced agent might offer to stage it themselves. Over 75% of top agents say they’ve offered complimentary home staging services in the past.

A bed inside a vacant home for sale.
Source: (Anna Sullivan / Unsplash)

4. Pay close attention when staging the bed and couch

Not all buyers have the ability to envision items in a vacant space. “When someone walks into a home, they don’t know if their couch is going to fit, or if their beds are going to fit. That’s the hardest part,” Flamont says.

Make the bed a focal point:
Keeping a bed in the primary bedroom will help convince buyers that yes, their king or queen mattress will fit in the room, with space to spare. An affordable $25 crisp white duvet and pillowcase set from IKEA will make the room feel spa-like. If the bedroom is on the smaller side, go for a double or full bed — or even a twin if the bedroom is suitable for a child. An oversized mattress in a small room can make it look even tinier.

Space the couch to make the living room look bigger:
Make sure you leave enough space between furniture in the living room to avoid it appearing cramped. If you’re staging more than one piece of furniture, make sure each piece has at least 30 inches of space between them, advises Better Homes and Gardens. Leave 14 to 18 inches between the couch and coffee table, so visitors can pass through with ease.

5. Remove stray items to avoid the ‘abandoned’ look

Leaving small items behind, like an errant lamp or single frame on the wall, can make the space look haphazard, as if the sellers fled in the middle of the night.

“Full staging is the best, completely vacant is second best, and halfway done is the worst,” Riodran explains. “The few random items left behind can feel like afterthoughts at best, and laziness at worst.”

If you choose not to stage the home, make sure everything is removed before listing it.

6. Schedule for regular cleanings through closing

When selling a vacant home, your biggest enemy will be dust and grime. If the house is dirty, buyers will just get a bad feeling touring the property.

On top of an exhaustive deep cleaning before listing, you should set up regular cleanings every three weeks. “You should definitely have somebody go through and spruce it up, just get rid of the cobwebs and the dust,” advises Flamont. Expect to pay $125 on average per deep cleaning. See if your agent has any referrals for cleaning services that you can trust since you aren’t in the area.

7. Know your market

In an especially competitive seller’s market where homes fly off the shelf in a matter of days (or even hours), motivated buyers don’t have the luxury to pass up an opportunity whether a house is vacant or occupied. That could mean that you don’t need a full staging — or any staging, for that matter! — to sell. Armed with a comparative market analysis to set an accurate price, work with your agent to determine how much work you need to put into your home’s presentation given the state of the market.

A thermostat that makes a vacant home easier to sell.
Source: (Anna Sullivan / Unsplash)

8. Manage the thermostat remotely

Put buyers at ease with the ideal home temperature. Keep the thermostat hovering at 70℉ in the winter and 68℉ in the summer, advise the home security and smart thermostat experts at Vivint. To save on heating and cooling costs, install a smart thermostat, like the Ecobee or Nest, to monitor the temperature from far away. Both smart thermostats can detect when someone enters the home, boosting the temperature to your pre-determined comfort level.

9. Set up security

According to the FBI, a home burglary in the US occurs every 25.7 seconds and vacant properties can be a target for break-ins. The for-sale sign signals an opportunity for burglars, as strangers will be in and out of the property, and it can be an ideal time to steal appliances or other goods in the home.

Here’s how you can prevent opportunistic crime, even when you’re not on the property:

  • Alert the neighbors
    In Flamont’s experience, nosy neighbors can be the best watchdog. He’s seen sellers ask their neighbors in a subdivision or tightly knit community to keep an eye on the property. With a quick call or text, they can let the seller know of anything suspicious on the property.
  • Invest in smart home tech
    Affordable tools like the Ring outdoor camera system cost just over $100 and can help you keep tabs on your property even if you’re miles away. Similarly, installing a smart lock, like the UltraLoq U-Bolt, can help you keep track of people coming in and out of the property, such as housekeepers, lawn caretakers, and a trusted neighbor periodically checking in.
  • Motion-activated flood lights
    A bright, motion-activated flood light can call attention to activity on the property after dark, and can help deter crime. Defiant’s LED flood light is easy to install.

10. Use lamps and lighting to warm up stark spaces

Buyers will feel turned off touring a dark, empty property after sunset. Make the space feel warm and welcoming before they even open the door with smart light bulbs and timers.

Smartbulbs, like the $25 YeeLight, can be programmed from far away via Wi-Fi, and can be scheduled to turn on each night as the sun sets. Or spend less than $10 on an old school mechanical timer that can turn on a lamp each evening.

11. Make sure your homeowners insurance is still valid

If your vacant property has been unoccupied for more than 60 days, you’ll need to change your insurance policy to ensure you have the right coverage. Properties that are unoccupied carry a higher risk, and your previous policy may be void. Vacant home policies tend to be more expensive, between 1.5 to three times more than an occupied policy. Reach out to your insurance provider to verify if your current policy extends to a vacant property. Otherwise, you may not be covered in the event of vandalism or damage to the property.

Cash used to buy a vacant home.
Source: (Ryan Quintal / Unsplash)

12. Reduce closing time by selling to a cash buyer

Many of the stressors of selling a vacant home have to do with time. The longer the property is on the market, the more maintenance and security costs you’ll have to shell out. Even once the home is under contract, it’ll take 45 days on average to close, according to Ellie Mae.

You can shrink that timeline dramatically by selling to a cash buyer who can close on a property in as little as 7-10 days. If you’re interested in selling off-market and skipping the listing process, you can request a cash offer through HomeLight’s Simple Sale platform and we’ll introduce you to the highest bidder. We estimate a home’s Simple Sale price to be 90%-95% of the home’s market value.

Vacant but not lacking vision

When you sell a vacant home, especially from a distance, you’ll need to get by with a little help from your friends. Those friends will most likely be an exceptional real estate agent with experience selling vacant homes; a dedicated lawn service and house cleaner; a talented home stager; and some neighbors who can help you keep tabs on anything that looks off. A vacant home can be harder to sell, but only if that vacancy translates as abandoned, cold, or oddly configured. Give buyers the nudge they need to see it clearly, and you’ll be well on your way to getting an offer.

Header Image Source: (Becky Phan / Unsplash)