You judge a book by its cover, your boss by his handshake and the restaurant special by the kitchen it came from. Though everyone wants to think they look beyond the surface before forming an opinion of someone (or something), psychologists have determined we decide a stranger is trustworthy in less than a tenth of a second.
Your house is no different — it has only a fraction of time to make a good first impression on a potential buyer, so there’s a lot of initial legwork you have to put in to make that tiny slice of time as effective and as memorable as possible.
In today’s largely digital real estate market, you not only have to focus on what the actual house looks like, but also how it appears online. The National Association of Realtors’ Real Estate in a Digital Age 2017 Report indicates that 44 percent of house hunters began their house search online. Further, 99 percent of millennials and 89 percent of older boomers used the internet during the home search at some point.
You have one chance to make a great first impression, and you have to do it twice — online and in person.
Here are some pointers for how to make a great first impression when selling your home:
Before You Put Your Home on the Market
Do Any Major Repairs
If your roof is leaking into a strategically placed bucket during a showing, it’s probably not going to sell. If you need to replace your roof, reseal the driveway, [insert large-scale home renovation project here], do it before you put your house on the market in the first place.
Same goes for renovations or remodels. Though that upgraded bath will be appealing to buyers, it doesn’t give a good impression if it’s still in the works. Buyers don’t care what your house will look like when it’s updated. They see it for what it is: a construction project.
Toni Spott, a top-selling real estate agent in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with 4x as many homes sold there as the average agent, says sellers really do themselves a big favor when they get their home inspected before listing. “It’s the biggest hiccup,” she says. By doing an inspection to start, sellers can either address repairs right away or disclose from the beginning. This way, there’s no surprises when a buyer does an inspection.
Focus Your Effort on the Front of the House
From when a buyer pulls up to the curb to when they reach your front door: this critical window of time is where first impressions are made.
Powerwash. If you’re not afraid to get dirty, you can rent a pressure washer unit from Home Depot for a full day for less than $50. If you’d rather not, hire somebody.
A pressure washer will take off mud spatter, dust and accumulated dirt. It can even help with hard water stains.
Spray everything from your home’s siding to dirty windows and pathways. Everybody looks and feels better after a good spa day — including your house. Go back over windows with a squeegee to eliminate drips and streaks.
Edge and mow the lawn. Nothing says “put together” like a short, green, cleanly edged lawn.
Replace the plant cemetery. If you have a brown thumb, now’s not the time to brag. Replace your succulent graveyard with a new batch of colorful flowers. If you’re not sure about colors, opt for greenery. You can’t go wrong.
Refresh the doormat. If you’re going through all this work to clean up your front space, why would you leave your dirty, worn-out doormat? Invest in a doormat that’s simple, neutral and sized appropriately for the space.
Clean. Everything. Everywhere.
Prepare for everything to be opened — your linen closet, your silverware drawer, your bathroom vanity. Whether you think it’s an invasion of privacy or not, it should be clean. This can finally be your excuse to learn how to properly fold a fitted sheet and to vacuum those crumbs from the kitchen drawers.
Go over the walls with Magic Eraser or a wet washcloth with a dot of Dawn. Tackle coffee splatters from wobbly mornings, dirty fingerprints and black scuffs from throwing the frisbee to the dog (even though you told the kids to go outside). Don’t skip the baseboards. The bathrooms should smell like bleach and you should (almost) be able to see your reflection in the stainless-steel appliances in the kitchen.
For a Great First Impression Online…
Prepare Your House for the Professional Photographer
If you focused on your outside approach and cleaned your home from head to toe, you’re giving your Realtor a leg up in the process of selling your home. Forget photo faux pas (like the toilet with the seat up, or the cat’s tail in the frame).
Your Realtor will hire a professional photographer — with a camera that’s more powerful than your iPhone — to come in and capture your home in its best light. Before a photographer comes in, purchase a simple bouquet of flowers for the kitchen counter, and double check your bathroom mirrors don’t have toothpaste spatter. It’s sure to show up in photos!
Provide the Realtor with Some Context
Public records can tell you a lot. They can tell you about the purchasing history — who bought it, for how much and when, for example. Public records can tell you about work done if a permit was pulled. They can tell you a little about your neighbors. But public records do very little to provide context, so this is where you can be a big help to your Realtor as you prepare to put your place on the market.
Spott asks sellers to write their future buyers a letter, in it answering the question: “Why did you buy this house?” By explaining what a great house it is, sellers end up providing a lot of context about the home and buyers love to hear about potlucks or block parties, she says.
Your Realtor will help you by writing up a marketing description that sings, pairing it with those professional pictures and then getting your listing out there in front of buyers. But it’s up to you to make the house something to write about and that looks great in photos. Remember your internet first impression is just as important as the impression you make if they come to your home in person.
For a Great In-Person First Impression…
Rein in the Home’s Entryway
You come through the door with hands full, kick the door closed with your foot and put everything you’re carrying down. Every house has a catch all — a place where the whole family dumps their stuff when they walk in the door.
From shoes and backpacks to keys and mail, we all resort to this place. Whether your catch all is a hall tree, a table or just a tray, rein it in. Though everyone has one, no one needs to see yours. If your entryway needs something, consider a small lemon tree to brighten things up.
Show the Lifestyle that Comes with the House
Maybe you have that house where all the neighborhood kids always hang out — the pool, the ping pong table and the arcade in the basement. Or maybe your family hosts the annual summer-end clambake because you’re right on the beach and own a dozen adirondak chairs and a deep fryer. Whatever you’ve loved most about the lifestyle of your home, put it on display.
If a potential home buyers walk out onto your back deck and see the fire pit with all the makings for s’mores, or a hammock swaying with the weight of a few pillows, you’re showing them the ways they can enjoy the house too.
Make Sure it Doesn’t Stink
It’s really hard to tell if your own house smells funny. Ask your real estate agent or a trusted friend for their honest feedback. Here are some likely culprits to keep an eye (nose?) out for:
- Pets. If you’re dog has free reign of the house, has bones hidden behind the couch and sleeps at the foot of your bed, your house probably smells a little like dog even if you don’t smell it. Steam clean your carpets, remove any litter boxes during showings and place air fresheners throughout the main living spaces.
- Food. You make a mean Channa Masala. Your family loves it. Just don’t make it the night before a showing. Foods with a strong smell — everything from Indian and Thai to good ol’ burgers and fries — can linger for longer than you want. Grab a bite while you’re out, make something neutral or use the grill outside to cook dinner instead. You want your home to smell like home, not a greasy spoon diner.
- Trash/Garbage Disposal. It’s best to tie off a bag and toss it outside before a showing than to lose a potential buyer over the smell of rotting leftovers. When you rinse out the sink, make it a habit to run the disposal too. If your disposal needs a little more TLC, purchase a foam cleaner like Plink or Glisten.
- Laundry/Teens’ rooms. If your 13-year-old son’s room smells like a high school locker room, it’s time for a hamper and regular trips to the laundry room. Open a window, turn on the ceiling fan, or get a boxed fan to help air out the space. Try some lavender sachet bags in drawers and hampers to offset the smell of football practice.
Make it Comfortable
Temperature. Walk into a home that’s been closed up for a few days during the middle of an Arizona summer, and it feels a little like walking into a preheated oven. Sweaty house hunters are cranky and they don’t leave your home thinking very highly of it. Keep your A/C at a comfortable temp, even if it’s a little more expensive during the time your home is on the market. If you know you’ll have a showing at a certain time, you or your Realtor should plan to show up a few hours before to turn on the A/C, or turn it on remotely if you have a smart system like the Nest.
Lights and Blinds. Motel 6 had a whole advertising campaign around leaving the light on. Why? Because nobody likes showing up to a dark, empty place. Open up some window blinds and turn on a few lights before a showing. This way, at least that tiny slice of time you get to make a first impression isn’t in the dark.
Make the preparations needed to present a great first impression of your home both on and offline. Without a good book cover, nobody wants to read the story.
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