2007-09-05 / News

For Makeovers that Sell, Go for the Heart

To get buyers to bite, you need to prep your home to play to their emotions
By Paul Rogers CTW Features

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Just what I need: For novice cooks, a chef-worthy kitchen will make them feel as if they're capable of anything. 'People buy homes based on dreams of how they would like to live, not their present reality,' says one real estate expert. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Just what I need: For novice cooks, a chef-worthy kitchen will make them feel as if they're capable of anything. 'People buy homes based on dreams of how they would like to live, not their present reality,' says one real estate expert. Most likely you know someone - or you are someone - who has had a home project on the to-do list for, oh, since you moved into the house three years ago. Maybe it's painting the front hallway, or trimming the dead branches off the backyard trees, or fixing that leaky showerhead. Over time, the hectic pace of life intervened and you probably got used to the imperfection.

You can bet when it's time to sell, prospective buyers won't be used to them. That's when those flaws in the appearance of a home can make the difference between a quick sell and months on the market. More importantly, they can mean the difference between selling to bargain buyers and selling to higher-paying "emotional buyers," says Sid Davis, owner of real estate brokerage Sid Davis & Associates, Farmington, Utah, and author of "Home Makeovers That Sell: Quick and Easy Ways to Get the Highest Possible Price" (Amacom, 2007).

"In the home-selling game, it's important to determine which sandbox you want to play in," says Davis.

In one, you sell "as is" and hope to get the best offer.

"You end up selling by price, and that attracts bargain hunters who never pay full price for anything," says Davis. There are also more "bullies" in that sandbox - people who do their homework, track homes in the area, and come calling (and lowballing) when they see yours sitting open on the market longer than average.

The second sandbox is much more seller-friendly, says Davis. It attracts those emotional buyers - home shoppers who base their decision to purchase as much or more on feeling than on the numbers.

"When a certain home sparks a buyer's fond memories of hearth and home, and fires off a bunch of emotional neurons, that's the home they buy," says Davis, whose book offers, among other advice, ways in which sellers can spark those neurons, entice prospective buyers and maximize price.

The job requires making a plan and following through well before you plant that "For Sale" sign on the front lawn. Davis suggests giving yourself 30 to 60 days to get your home into selling shape. While major makeovers may be part of that plan, home sellers can make significant gains by simply making sure everything already in the house is clean, up to date and in working order.

Start by distinguishing repairs from upgrades. The former may not add much to the sale price, but could sink the sale altogether and, if unaddressed, could cost more time, money and frustration than the latter. To really get the best handle on repairs, consider hiring a professional in- spector at the outset.

Davis tells the story of a young couple who found their dream house but had to sell their existing home under a tight deadline to do the deal. They assumed everything was in order on their existing home and received an offer after a few weeks. But the buyer's inspection found they had a crack in the furnace combustion chamber. The sellers didn't have time to repair the furnace under the terms of the offer and didn't have the money to escrow the funds and let the buyers handle it. The deal fell through and the sellers were left with an even tighter window to sell their home. They ended up lowering their price, replacing the furnace and water heater (another problem detected in the inspection) and missing the window for a lower interest rate on their new house, losing thousands of dollars - most of which could have been saved with a $300 investment in an inspector and proper planning.

On the upgrade side, while a major project shouldn't be ruled out automatically, there are dozens of quick-and-easy tasks that go a long way toward sparking that emotional response in a buyer. In general, the goal is to wow people with their first impression. And the place to start is to de-clutter the premises.

Whole books have been written about de-cluttering. You can even take classes on it. Basically, de-cluttering - moving out excess furniture, photos, art, tchotchkes, potted plants, curio cabinets and anything else that will distract the buyer - not only makes the place appear more roomy, it gives you an early start on packing.

De-cluttering is not about "value, taste or how much your possessions mean to you," says Davis. Rather, "you want them to imagine their stuff on the walls."

"Clutter and distracting items" is the No. 1 biggest turnoff to a homebuyer when touring a house, according to Davis. Nos. 2 to 4 on the biggest-turnoff list all have to do with finishes - floors and walls. In terms of cost, repainting, wallpapering, carpeting, and sanding and staining floors are a step up from renting a storage unit and cramming in your clutter. But all are fairly quick and easy - certainly easier to handle when half the stuff is removed from your house.

Despite today's push toward more color, Davis still advises neutral tones. "Painting a home in light, neutral colors encourages buyers to envision their decorating touches, their colors, their furniture and their pictures on the wall," Davis says. Again, a task aimed at boosting that emotional appeal.

Surface condition also is key to exterior improvements. Home shoppers might not even enter the house if they get turned off by an oil stain in the driveway or dead bushes by the front window. Power washing the brick or vinyl siding, removing garden hoses and kids' toys, pulling weeds or filling in barren portions of the garden are well worth the effort. Sand and repaint rust spots on metal railings. Use polymer-based cement resurfacers to repair cracked, spalled or weatherworn concrete. Consider replacing damaged garage doors, exterior light fixtures, and soffit, fascia and gutters. These are all high-visibility items that make for good curb appeal.

"Indeed it's the beginning of the sale, and rarely can you ignore exterior repairs and still get the most money possible," says Davis.

Prepping a house for sale requires sharp attention to detail, time and money. But every dollar you spend on increasing a home's appeal will return between $2 and $10, particularly if the goal is to increase the emotional impact of the property, says Davis.

"People buy homes based on dreams of how they would like to live, not their present reality," he says. "To sell for the most money, you need to tap into those emotions." © CTW Features

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