A buddy and I get together every now and then and chat about life, real estate, the universe and everything. A lunch meeting proved to be no different. He was selling the house of a friend. Doesn’t sound so hard, right? I mean, it’s the right thing to do helping out a friend in need.
The homeowner has lived in the house for years with his wife and 3 kids. The idea of moving came fairly recently for them and they planned on just inviting prospective buyers over and show the house with a “lived in look” – “his private, precious family’s personal lived in look”. It’s Shabby-chic!” he commented. The lived-in look includes peeled wallpaper, mildly dinged walls and moldings, damaged flooring, the various knick-knacks and personal treasures crowding every shelf and mantle, old faded window treatments, and more. My buddy is in a quandary. He has to tell his friend to repair, de-clutter and clean-up his most prized possession, his Home. That his sanctuary, his castle, is no condition to show the public. If you know me well, I know what you’re thinking….”People in Glass Houses…” Right? Well, I’m not moving, so my house doesn’t count. 🙂
Aaanyway, After much hand wringing and strategizing, we prepped what we’ll say if either of us wind up in that same situation again. I thought, considering the shock of this concept is to some sellers… This would be a great idea for a blog post for anyone thinking about selling to read. The light bulb went off over my head and this article was born.
First, set a realistic selling price based on the condition of the property when the listing goes live, if you want to be your friend’s first and last agent, not just the first. (O wait, that’s another post…Sorry! First….for real this time),
No delays. “We plan to clean or fix that up soon, doesn’t cut it with sellers in today’s market.” Small repairs, painting and such needs to be completed prior to listing, in order for the seller to get the maximum return on investment. A listing gets it’s best visibility to the market in the first week. The seller doesn’t benefit in any way from coddling or delay. A Realtor not being compassionately upfront and honest is actually crueler. It causes all kinds of complicated questions in the seller/friend’s world. A listing is hottest and at it’s most visible when it’s brand, spanking new on the market. It needs to be priced correctly. It should shine with curb appeal and the interior must, with order and style, tell the story of the seller’s happiness there AND hint suggestively at how a buyer will enjoy it as well. Any deviation from that formula robs the seller and the listing of momentum and positive visibility. The delays and missed opportunities can be costly to everyone.
It’s enough of a disruption in the seller’s life to sell the home they’ve lived in for years and to relegate all the nostalgia and feeling to history. The seller needs to understand: His cherished home is now a commodity. It’s an item that will be seen, critically analyzed by many eyes, commented on and hopefully bought by another with similar plans and dreams for it. That transition alone is a big, huge, significant leap for many sellers, one that some never manage. Possibly, in a single meeting, the cozy comfortable den that held a Christmas tree every year for the last decade transforms into a “homey, selling feature”. A kitchen that enjoyed close family suppers, intimate meals and special events becomes ” a lovely sit in kitchen, granite countertops, Oak cabinets. Comes with stove Microwave an dishwasher, etc”. De-Personalizing the home thoroughly in the mind of the prospective seller is painful and necessary. It’s the first step in a long process, the successful transaction between seller and buyer. Once everybody buys in to that idea, the real work begins.
Now that depersonalizing in the seller’s mind is accomplished, you have to translate that to the reality of the home. The myriad treasures accumulated through years of trips, events and vacations, has to selectively come off shelves, side tables, cabinets and mantelpieces.“Even Aunt Bunny’s foam finger from the last Red Sox World series win? I can’t take it down.” Ya Gotta, believe me, You Just Gotta. If a seller is really interested in selling this house, you’re going to have to move out of it eventually. Consider this: packing in stages. You’re not putting all experiences you’ve had together in a box. You’re preparing to take them to the next step and add more to the collection. This process gets even deeper, as it extends to the closets, attics, eaves or basement storage spaces. This is especially true for sellers who are downsizing. Your five bed/2.5 bath colonial might have more storage than the 2 bed/1.5 bath condo you’re planning to buy. Also, prospective buyers want and need to actually see those places in your current home. Basements and attics tell the true story of a property. (I love crawling through them. It’s a Realtor thing.)
It might be helpful to categorize your possessions along the way. What do I need to keep? What can I sell? What should I donate? What needs to be disposed of? Keep bags or bins handy. As they stack up, you can see what you’ve accomplished too, building more momentum. Also, with a little tape you can label bins or bags with the contents and where a mover should put them in your new home. Consider starting small, starting with a single room or a closet, even drawer by drawer, as confidence builds, you get in a rhythm and the job becomes a bit easier. Soon you’re saying to yourself: I can get a few more done. That’s when boxes or bins begin to stack up and rooms begin to clear quickly.You may not even realize how quickly you’re moving. At this stage, I’d recommend a storage unit, but neat and orderly is usually enough. On a side note, some moving companies, like Gentle Giant or Olympia, offer temporary storage to their clients as an incentive to use them for the move. The yard can’t be ignored either. What are we going to do with the Man Cave/Shed out back? Same thing!
What happens when the seller is physically incapable of doing this? There are Home Organizers that do this for a living, experts in the fine art of organized packing and it is a definite art. A less expensive, but more “Nuclear Option” would be a salvage company that charges you a flat fee to just take it all away. Another idea might be to put out an all call to the whole family, “Stuff for free. Get it while it lasts.”
Once you’re down to bare furniture, comes a deep cleaning. Dust off and shine it all. That’s not so easy on weathered furniture and floors, but it’s a must. Make the place shine. Clean floors, windows, walls and ceilings. New window dressings. Organize the remaining contents of cabinets and closets. Prospective home buyers love to snoop. The sellers can hire a maid service, if monotonous, deep cleaning isn’t their thing.
Now comes the best part for the seller. The totes full of nostalgia that you just packed up? Pick a couple of pieces that mean the most to you, just a few, and strategically display them on the clean, gleaming furniture, mantle piece and counters. The seller gets to tell the story of their life here in little, swallow-able chunks. Let the prospective buyers see just how wonderful your life in this house has been for you and can be for them.
Now gift your seller/friend with a pair of “Buyer’s Goggles”. Ask them to walk out of the house, take a deep breath, walk back in and view the presentation, room to room as a buyer. What do they think, get their buy in.
Now, take a look outside. I’m talking curb appeal. Actually get the seller in their car, drive away and come back. Focus them on looking critically at their house. Have them wear their brand spankin’ new “Buyer’s Goggles”. Ask them, what they’d update or change to make the property welcoming and bright. Pressure wash the siding, repair crumbling brick or paint a deck? Maybe something even simpler. Give the place some color. Add a flower bucket by the porch, a hanging basket or fresh mulch perhaps.
The heavy works done. Now to refine the experience. Walk them through the house as if you were showing it to a prospective buyer. Get them used to the walkthrough process, refine your Realtor’s Sales Pitch with the experts on that home and most definitely prepare them for the brutal and direct questions they’re likely to face. “How long has this wallpaper been up?” “This house is nice, but it’s overpriced, I’ll offer you $50K less than asking.” See how fast buyer’s questions can go downhill? Make sure the seller’s are ready. Set up their showing time preferences, Should the showing strategy be to make things as easy and open as possible for the buyer’s agents to attract them to your property? You know, using a lock box and allowing easy showing limits. Or does the seller want a more controlled selling environment like No unaccompanied showings, 24 hour notice, Beware the dog etc.
Now the house is ready, the yard’s ready, the sellers are ready. Now we can help them start building the rest of their lives.
Sounds easy here, but it’s a lot of personal work for everyone involved to reach “Sold!”. Sellers need to be ready for the ride and Realtors like us are trained and drilled in doing just that, in the most compassionate and thorough way possible, every day. Realtors are people you want in the foxhole with you when the obstacles start seeming overwhelming. For one thing, we live where the fire is hottest full time. Facing difficult truths with your Realtor standing right beside you is basically part of our job description. Another part is to take steps to make the process as smooth and painless as possible, while helping you sidestep or mow through as many obstacles as possible. All seller’s face some of the same painful moments. The same quiet anger when someone makes an off-color comment about Aunt Bunny’s treasured foam finger. The same shock and hurt when lowball offers come in. The same sad sense of goodbye in the seller’s eyes as the sale cycle moves relentlessly forward and reality sets in.
It’s a long road to “Sold!” sometimes. The work life of a Realtor is no joke. We’re there with our clients in good times and bad. Everyone talks about a bartender’s empathy? Sorry, They ain’t got nothin’ on a Realtor. That’s why you want a Realtor, just like us, next to you in that foxhole.
Lew McConkey, Realtor
Coletta Cutler Realty