What’s the best way to get ready to list your home for sale? There are so many conflicting answers to this question, that it feels impossible to know what to do. The reason for this is that every home is unique. What’s right for one house may not be right for another.
The best way to decide what pre-listing prep work your specific home needs is to ask your agent. In fact, figuring out what fixes and upgrades will bring in the biggest ROI (return on investment) is a big reason why finding a top-notch agent is the first step every seller should take.
According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the median price for an existing, single-family home continues to rise in most markets—thanks to continued low inventory. In fact, a recent report has the median price at $254,000 in the third quarter of 2017. That’s up 5.3 percent from this same time last year.
If you want to cash in on your home’s equity, you need to make sure your house is in tip top shape and attractive to buyers before listing. A real estate expert will know how to make sure you home becomes what buyers are looking for so that you can sell your home for top dollar.
These are the “To Do or Not To Do” questions you need to ask your agent (and what your agent will probably answer).
Before You List Your Home for Sale, Ask:
1. Should I Refurbish My Walls and Floors?
Yes. Unless your walls and floors are in brand-new, pristine condition, the answer to this question is always: Yes. Even fresh paint and new flooring may need to be replaced if you didn’t go for neutral hues.
According to top real estate agent Dawn Krause, who ranks at #2 out of 1,475 seller’s agents in the Wildwood suburb of St. Louis, MO, “It’s super important to make sure that we are appealing to the largest palette for today’s tastes, that we are a neutral choice for buyers.”
If you’ve recently painted your walls within the last year in a neutral color like off-white, beige or pale gray, you’re in luck. All your walls need is a good scrubbing from baseboard to ceiling to restore them to freshly-painted condition.
For sellers who need to repaint, concentrate on the main living spaces, including the living room, kitchen, master bedroom and bathroom where your buyer will spend the most time. You’ll also need to remove wallpaper in those spaces if it’s non-neutral in color or pattern.
Steam cleaning older carpets simply won’t do if you intend to sell for top dollar. Krause advises: “Buyers have the tendency to catastrophize the cost of repairs and upgrades. So you’re going to pay for new carpet one way or the other. If you do it up front, you’re controlling the cost—because what you’d spend as you’re moving out of the home is not what a buyer would spend who’s moving in.”
Generally, if it’s more than a few years old you will need to install new carpeting. Tile, linoleum and wood flooring that’s not stained or damaged may just need a thorough cleaning. But if they are scratched, chipped or torn, they also need to be repaired or replaced.
2. Should I Deep Clean?
Speaking of cleaning, this is one question you don’t need to ask an expert on—the answer is always: Yes.
A dirty home signals to buyers that the current owner hasn’t taken care of the place. Instead of seeing themselves as future owners of your home, they’ll be looking for problems and think that the house needs more work than it actually does. Buyers who suspect your home may be a lemon will either make lowball offers or walk away.
When you’re planning to sell, a typical tidying up isn’t enough. You’ll need to deep clean everything. And we mean everything—ceiling fans, air vents, behind the fridge, under the furniture… When buyers are “kicking the tires” of your home they’re apt to look in the unlikeliest of places, and if they find dirt, you, the seller, will pay the price.
3. Should I Declutter, Depersonalize and Start Packing?
Absolutely, yes. At both open houses and private showings you want to make sure the buyer is seeing your house and not you. The best way to achieve this is by decluttering and depersonalizing your home.
Along with items that show your family’s names and faces, you’ll also need to hide all the quirky furnishings and clutter that give your place its personality. So what should you do with all of those knick-knacks and photographs that make the house your home? The smart play is to pack them.
Boxing up as much of your personal property as possible (including rarely-used kitchen gadgets and out-of-season clothes) makes your home more spacious and move-in ready to potential buyers. Store your boxed belongings in low-traffic areas like the basement or garage. Even better, stash your packages completely off the premises in a month-by-month storage locker for anywhere from $20 to $200 depending upon the space you need.
For sellers having trouble deciding which decorative accessories to pack and which to use for staging your home, you might just need the help of a professional.
4. Should I Get Professional Staging and Photography?
For staging? Maybe. The to-do or not-to-do for staging really depends on the value of your home. For homeowners in a lower price bracket, paying for staging may not be worth it, but for a higher end property, it’s practically a must.
If a full staging is out of your budget, consider getting a consultation which runs about $150 to $400 for two hours. Once the expert lets you know what to do (and if your existing furniture and accessories are neutral enough), you can do the heavy lifting yourself.
But for professional photography, the answer is almost always: Yes. According to the NAR, a whopping 83% of buyers start their housing hunting online. So it’s worth that investment of $140 to $180 for a professional photographer because those photos are the first impression potential buyers get and are a deciding factor in attracting an in-person visit. Properties being sold as-is are the only exception.
5. Should I Get a Pre-Listing Inspection?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. This one really takes an agent’s expertise to decide as a pre-listing inspection has the potential to both help and hurt the seller.
If you suspect your home has some major issues, such as bad wiring, faulty plumbing or damaged roofing, your buyer’s inspector will find it. And when they do, you’ll pay for it—both the repair costs and probably a hit on the final sale price, too.
For major issues like these, it’s best to know and fix before you list so that you can control the costs. Plus, the better shape your home is in, the better your asking price will be. If you don’t suspect any major issues, it’s best to wait.
Since inspection costs run between $350 to $600, it’s better to let the buyer bear the expense if you don’t suspect major repair problems. That way, they’re financially invested in the sale and less likely to be scared off by the inspection results.
Also, in most states, anything you find in a pre-listing inspection will need to be reported in the seller’s disclosure. That can lead potential buyers to come with lowball offers, demand that all items be addressed or walk away without ever making an offer.
6. Should I Investigate My Home?
Yes. While a full pre-listing inspection might not be the right move, there are some other reports and inspections you may need. For starters, it is the seller’s responsibility to make sure their home meets fire safety standards, so it’s best to get a home fire inspection before listing.
If your home has been remodeled or has an addition, you may also want to get a municipal building inspection. While this isn’t a full home inspection, the report will let you know if you have any code violations that need to be addressed. If the code violations require major repairs, you can sell your home as-is, but it will cost you.
It’s also a good idea to get a Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) report done. The report lists any insurance claims made on the property by you or the previous owners. In most states, you’ll need to include these details in the seller’s disclosure, so use the CLUE report to ensure you have your facts straight. One thing no report can tell you is whether or not to make upgrades to your home.
7. Should I Make Upgrades?
Maybe. Like the pre-listing inspection, this decision often comes down to the current market value of your home. According to Krause, “We need to do market-appropriate upgrades. If it’s a lower-priced home where you wouldn’t expect to see super high-end flooring, then don’t do it. But if it’s a high end, million dollar home, then it needs to have million dollar features.”
For example, granite countertops cost an average of $3,100 to install. In median-priced and higher homes, installing a neutral granite in the kitchen and baths can attract buyers and add value. But if you’re installing them on outdated cabinets, or buyers in your area prefer other countertop materials, you won’t see a return on that investment.
You might find that making a series of smaller upgrades, like replacing faucets, cabinet hardware and window treatments, will do more to increase the value of your home than one expensive project. Some fixes might even be as small as installing new light bulbs in your fixtures—as mismatched bulbs can make matching glass shades appear discolored.
Your best bet is to craft a list of upgrades you’re willing to make—plus the budget you’re willing to spend—and run it by your realtor.
Selling a home is a big job that begins long before your house ever goes on the market. But if you get help from an expert agent right up front and put in the work before listing, you’ll be in the best position to get the most equity out of your home sale.
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