Listing your home for sale in this depressed real estate market is like entering a beauty pageant. The contestants are all other for-sale homes in the area. The judges are potential buyers who will ultimately choose their favorite candidate. The challenge begins at the open house.
To improve your chances of getting ahead of the other contestants, you must prepare for the big day when you show the judges why they should buy your house and not the one down the street.
"You have a very little amount of time for the buyers to love your home," says Patty Da Silva, owner of Green Realty Properties in Davie, Fla. "If your house doesn't look good at get-go, they turn around and leave."
Sellers often underestimate the importance of preparing their homes for open house, and that can lower their chances of finding a buyer. Here are some common open house mistakes you should avoid.
Dirty, Cluttered Houses Are Unacceptable
Showing messy, dirty homes to potential buyers is by far the biggest mistake many sellers make when holding an open house, Da Silva says.
Don't assume potential buyers will overlook your clutter and instead focus on your house's potential.
Prepare for an open house with the same care you would prepare your child for a school photo, says Diane Saatchi, senior vice president of Saunders & Associates, a real estate brokerage in Bridgehampton, N.Y.
"You wouldn't send your kid to get a school picture without combing her hair or washing her face, would you?" she says. "The same goes for your house. It has to look its best."
Many homeowners are used to seeing their own clutter, and they often don't realize it's a problem for others, she says.
"I've showed up at open houses where beds haven't been made," Saatchi says. "A lot of people don't see their own stuff."
Get rid of the clutter, and make your house look as spacious as possible.
"Empty closets out. Your closet should look like there is room to put the next dress you buy," she says.
The Outside Matters
Showing a home to prospective buyers when there is a dead squirrel floating in your pool is a definite no. You'd think that's obvious, but Saatchi says it happened to a client of hers who hadn't been outside in awhile and didn't spot the dead animal.
Many home sellers pay little attention to the outside of their houses, especially during the winter. But potential buyers look at your home's exterior "with very critical eyes," Da Silva says.
"Put some flowers out there, make your driveway look nice, and if the roof is dirty, clean it," she says.
Take the time to trim shrubs around the house, especially if they are blocking windows. Washing the windows is also a must.
"The house needs to show," Da Silva says. "If you are saying to the public 'look, come to my house,' you need to make it look the best."
Sellers Not Welcome
You are not welcome to stay at your open house -- unless you don't have a real estate agent to be the host. But if you hired an agent, go for a walk. Sellers often want to be home during the open house thinking they may help answer questions and promote their wonderful property. But the owner's presence may disturb potential buyers, Saatchi says.
"Buyers won't say what they are thinking if the seller is there," Saatchi says. "They don't feel comfortable and normally, they just say nice things to the seller ... and that makes the seller want to raise the price."
Children and Animals Not Allowed
No matter how adorable and well-behaved your children and pets are, get them out of your home during the open house.
"You don't want to be in a situation where your dog is barking all the time while you are trying to show the house," Saatchi says.
Even if your dog doesn't bark, you should take away any and all distractions, including children. You want the seller to focus on your house -- not at how adorable your children look, she says.
And on your way out, get rid of the litter box or anything else that would hint to buyers a pet lives there.
Photos, Politics and Religious Art Need to Go
When potential buyers walk into your home, they should picture their family living in that house, not yours. They don't need to see your family photos or be able to tell your political or religious views as they walk through the house.
"There should be a sense of neutrality in the house," Saatchi says. "You want to depersonalize the house. Remove personal photos (and) religious, political and racy art. And if your husband has a picture of a naked girl in his office, get rid of that, too."
It's a temporary effort, Da Silva says. Once you get a buyer to sign a contract to purchase your house, then you can put everything back where it belongs or simply pack and get ready to move out.
Never Say, 'Don't Go in There'
Preventing access to certain parts of their home during an open house is another common mistake sellers make, Da Silva says.
"Sometimes the seller doesn't want people to go in the garage because it's messy," she says.
Don't expect buyers to commit to purchasing your home if you make certain rooms unreachable to them.
Rent a storage room if necessary. Do whatever it takes to make every room in the house inviting.
"The house has got to look its best," she says. "There are no excuses. Not in this market."