Do homebuyers find your house revolting?
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It's no longer a buyer's market in real estate. With home prices rising at double-digit annual rates, home sellers now have the edge in many places.
In metro areas such as Atlanta, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Tampa, Fla., typical home prices rose more than 10% from spring 2012 to spring 2013, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home-price index.
Yes, sellers have the upper hand in a lot of places. But that doesn't mean that home sellers should be complacent and expect buyers to make offers, no matter how smelly and cluttered the house is.
To talk about homebuyer turnoffs, we assembled a coast-to-coast team of experts: Chad Goldwasser of Goldwasser Real Estate in Austin, Texas; Terry Cannon, a buyer's agent and broker with EBA Realty, in Salem, Ore. (formerly with Oregon Exclusive Buyers Realty in Salem); and Julie Dana, a "home stylist" in East Aurora, N.Y., and co-author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Staging Your Home to Sell."
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They suggest 10 turnoffs that sellers should avoid.
Dirt, grime and filth
Want to turn off a homebuyer? Nothing will do the job faster than showing a house with filthy floors and kitchen counters where new life forms are evolving.
"The No. 1 biggest mistake is not getting the home in the best possible condition. That's huge," Goldwasser says. "I won't even represent sellers at this point unless they are fully aware of how important it is to get their home in the absolute best condition that they've ever had it in."
Goldwasser recommends that sellers make an extra effort, from steam-cleaning tile and grout to replacing carpets.
"If the carpets are old and smelly, you should put in new," he says. "If they're relatively new, you should at least have them shampooed."
Cannon agrees that grime can derail any showing.
"The home should be neat and clean and free of all debris," Cannon says. "If it reeks of cats or the kitchen sinks and counters are so filthy that it almost looks like the food is moving, I won't even want to come in."
Odors from food, pets and smoking
Don't sell a stinky house. Buyers don't want to detect by smell what your favorite foods are and what kinds of pets you have.
"Odors are a big one, especially kitchen odors," Dana says. "I advise my clients not to cook fried food, fish or greasy food while the house is on the market."
Some pet owners mistakenly believe pet smells to which they've become accustomed help make their abode homey. Wrong.
Dana advises her clients to eliminate all traces of pets, not just pet odors. It's important to get rid of pet paraphernalia and have a "pet plan" to make sure the animals are not around when the house is shown.
"A lot of times, people will leave pet items out -- dog dishes, cat litter boxes, etc.," Dana says. "That immediately turns off a buyer because they wonder, 'What has that animal done in the house?' Also, some people really don't like dogs. The minute they walk in and see this big, old dog bowl, they immediately won't like the house."
The same rules hold true for smokers: Remove all ashtrays, clean all curtains and upholstery, and consider smoking outdoors while your home is on the market.
Outdated fixtures and appliances
Buyers are not impressed by tarnished doorknobs, disco-era light fixtures and ancient ceiling fans.
"You need to change out old fixtures in your house," Goldwasser says. "New cabinet hardware and doorknobs will probably cost all of $400 or $500, but it makes a huge difference."
The same holds true for dated ceiling fans, light fixtures and kitchen appliances.
"Homes that have old fans, lights, ovens, microwaves, ranges and dishwashers can really turn a buyer off," says Goldwasser. "Sellers will say, 'Oh, the buyers can take care of that.' Well, yes, they can, but it's going to impede you from getting the highest price possible for your home."
Today's buyer doesn't want wallpaper, no matter how much your grandma liked it.
"Wallpaper is a definite no-no," Dana says.
Wallpaper is a pain to remove and simply adds another chore to a buyer's to-do list, Dana says.
"Wallpaper is extremely personalized. You've spent hours looking over books to pick out the wallpaper you want," she says. "What are the odds that the person walking in the door will also like that wallpaper that you picked out?"
Popcorn acoustic ceilings
The shag carpet from the '60s or '70s was replaced long ago. But acoustic popcorn ceilings, another artifact of that era (and of the '80s, too) might remain. They badly date your space.
If you can't stomach the cost or the mess to remove the overhead popcorn, be prepared to credit a buyer in certain markets in order to close a sale.
"The popcorn acoustic ceiling is a major, major turnoff to buyers these days," Goldwasser says.
Lots of personal items
Shopping for a home is like shopping for clothes. Buyers are trying on your home to see how it fits, as if it were a pair of shoes. If personal items clutter your home, it's like the buyer is trying on those shoes while you're standing in them. A fit is unlikely.
"Anything that makes your house scream 'you' is what you don't want," Dana says. "I tell all my clients that how we decorate to live and how we decorate to sell are different, and right now, we're decorating to sell."
Sellers should try to eliminate personal items, including family photos, personal effects and even unique colors, she says.
"As soon as you have family photos, buyers get very distracted. 'Oh, did I go to school with him? What do their children look like?'" she says. "Suddenly, you're selling your family, and you're not selling the home."
If you really want to hook a buyer, Dana offers a tip: "I try to place a mirror strategically so that people can actually see themselves in the home, so they can actually picture themselves living there."
Sellers who hang around the house
Generally speaking, buyers don't like it when sellers greet them at the door, follow them around and eavesdrop and make unsolicited comments.
"It's so annoying," Goldwasser says. "They will want to walk around with the potential buyer and put in their two cents' worth. It's not good. Normally, there are 1 out of 10 sellers where it's OK to have them there, and that's because they know what is up with the property and how everything works."
Goldwasser makes a point to shoo his sellers away from showings when he's the listing agent.
"They like to think they know what they're doing, and that's fine," he says. "But when you've sold thousands of homes and you have a system, you know how to get people the maximum value for their home. That's why they hire you, right?"
Misrepresenting a home
Sellers use photos and words to make their homes enticing on the multiple listing service. But sometimes the words and pictures paint a false portrait. Buyers don't like that.
One of Cannon's buyers loved a home she saw online. When he drove by, he was surprised to find acres of ramshackle mobile homes across the street.
"Sellers are going to paint the best picture they can," he says. "Some listings I've looked at and wondered how in the world they got that gorgeous photo without showing all the junk that's around it. When you get there, you wonder why didn't they just be upfront?"
Poor curb appeal
Seeing a house for the first time is like meeting a person for the first time: Appearance counts. That first-glance impression of a house is called curb appeal.
"You have to totally trim and edge your yard to get it into the most immaculate condition you can," Goldwasser says. "It's a big mistake to not freshly mulch the beds and trim the trees. Every little detail counts.
"To not power-wash the exterior or leave mud dauber and wasp and bird's nests in your eaves and above your doors? You've got to be a fool to do that."
A lot of us live with clutter. We get so accustomed to it that we scarcely perceive it anymore. But homebuyers notice. Where to begin with clutter?
"I usually start in the closets," Dana says. "Your closets should be half-full, with nothing on the floor. Why? Because most people looking for a house have outgrown their previous house. Showing them that you've still got room to grow gives them a reason to buy."
Kitchens and bookshelves should showcase spaciousness by following the rule of three. For kitchens, no more than three countertop appliances. Meanwhile, bookshelves should be divided into thirds: one-third books, one-third vases and pictures, and one-third empty.
The home office should be generic so any type of professional can imagine living there, Dana says.
"Otherwise, it can be a distraction: 'What does he do for a living? How much money does he make?'" she says.
Dana's tip for toddler parents is to pack away extraneous "kiddie litter" and keep a laundry basket handy.
"When you get that phone call one hour before a showing, toss everything in that basket and take it to the car with you and your kids, and you're all set," she says.