House Hunters

Getting the most for your home

Across the nation, the real estate market has been red-hot, with demand for homes exceeding supply and, in many areas, selling faster and for more money than ever before.

Even in cases where sellers anticipate numerous offers and a quick sale, they still benefit from efforts to get the highest selling price possible.

“I think there are a lot of sellers who overlook trying to get the most money for their home, and that’s one of the biggest mistakes I see. Even in a hyperactive market, you still should try to get top dollar,” explains Jason Gelios, author of “Think Like a Realtor.”

There are ways to help a home sell quickly and for top dollar. 

“Selling your house without completing simple improvements is like choosing to sell your car because you don’t want to vacuum it,” says Kyler Cook, a realtor in Kalamazoo, Mich. “A little bit of effort will translate into a better buyer experience and a higher selling price.”

Change your perspective

“When selling, it is best to stop thinking of it as ‘your home’ and more like a product with the goal of appealing to as many prospective buyers as possible,” says Jonathan Faccone, a real estate investor and developer in New Jersey. “It’s easy to become emotionally involved, but it’s best to remember that any renovations are meant to net you the most money, not for your own personal satisfaction.”

Ralph DiBugnara, president of Home Qualified, an online real estate resource, calls it “looking at your home with buyers’ eyes.” 

Experts say it benefits the seller to have someone else provide feedback about your home. 

“One of the best things a homeowner can do when looking to sell is to invite a non-partial, third-party to give their honest opinion about the house,” Gelios adds. “Get someone who is not afraid to tell the truth, walk the home and give their impressions.”

Upgrade to sell

To get the most for your home, upgrades may be in order. But how do you decide what to renovate and how much to spend? Huntsville, Ala. real estate investor Jordan Fulmer says market research is as important for sellers as it is for buyers.

“Look at the houses in your area – essentially your competition – and see what kind of features and finishes they have,” he says, adding that good research will help sellers not only decide what to do, but  also not to over-do renovations and improvements.

Ralph DiBugnara of Home Qualified assists with a kitchen makeover prior to placing a house on the market. Photo Courtesy of Ralph DiBugnara/5W Public Relations

Almost without exception, real estate professionals say even though the entire home is important, sellers should primarily focus on two areas: the kitchen and bathrooms … especially the kitchen.

Gelios explains, “Home sellers should make the kitchen top priority. As the heart of the home, sellers should make updates to the cabinet hardware, lighting fixtures and even update appliances. This will not only bring the best offer from a home buyer, but it will also lead to a faster sale.”

Making renovations to the kitchen will boost the sale price, Cook says.

“It’s the highest return-on-investment area of the house,” he explains. “For every $1,000 you spend, you should see something like $3,000 in return.”

Neutral colors – shades of white, beige and gray are best, he says. “Don’t use bright colors and keep things in the middle of the line. Avoid luxury items.”

Even minor changes make a difference, DiBugnara says.

“Changing cabinet knobs, putting in under-cabinet lights and other little things that are inexpensive make everything look new and make the house easier to sell,” he explains.

Make a strong impression outside

Many experts say initially focus on what potential buyers see first. Whether in-person or online, a home must capture attention. Known as curb appeal, the general attractiveness of a house from the street or the sidewalk is a priority. 

A few simple things can help sellers maximize the price they get for their homes. From basic clean-up to renovations, thinking like a buyer helps homes sell faster and for more money.

“When somebody pulls up to the house, they’re going to see landscaping, and it has to be tasteful and in good shape,” Jimmy Whaley of Whaley Realty in Americus, Ga. explains.

Fulmer says the way a home looks when a prospective buyer arrives sets a precedent for the rest of their visit. The home needs power washed or freshly painted. At minimum, give the front door a touch-up.

Don’t ignore the top of the home, Fulmer says. If the roof is still in good condition, he recommends having it professionally power washed to remove any streaks or stains and make it look almost new.

Likewise, improving the looks of the front of your home without paying attention to the rest of the property is akin to only ironing the collar and cuffs of a shirt.

Outbuildings, the backyard, decks and patios need to look their best and can be attractive to potential buyers, as a way of bringing the inside outside.

“More people are looking for ways to fully utilize their property by creating outdoor living spaces. You can capitalize on this by creating a private outdoor seating area. It doesn’t have to be large, just big enough for a cafe table and chairs,” says Rinal Patel of We Buy Any Philly Home. “It should be a serene spot that’s perfect for enjoying a morning cup of coffee or an evening cocktail.”

… And inside

The initial impact when someone enters a home may be the only impression they take away with them.

“When buyers walk in, they get a perspective of the home and are likely not to change it,” cautions Amy Smith, a realtor in Cheyenne, Wyo. “You don’t want people to recall your house negatively.  ‘Oh yeah, I remember that house; it was the one with the dirty windows or the sticky doorknobs.’ We want them remembering all of the really good things about the house.”

For that reason, brokers encourage de-cluttering, deep cleaning and home staging.

“This isn’t a costly investment, but it requires time and effort,” explains Chase Michels, a Downers Grove, Ill. realtor. “A cluttered house will make a large room appear small and cramped. Cleaning and decluttering your home could help you see up to a $2,000 price increase.”

Whaley says decluttering means more than shoving items in a closet. Instead, he recommends moving personal items like photo albums, collections and even out-of-season clothes, off-site. Then, the home needs cleaned.

“I don’t mean to scrub the baseboards with a toothbrush, but at least make sure every time someone is coming, the home is dusted, swept and vacuumed,” he says.

Sellers should strive to present the home in its best light from the beginning, not just for showings. 

Before and after – a fresh coat of paint and decluttering to remove personal effects can go a long way in helping a potential buyer visualize what the space could be. Consider hiring a home stager.

Smith says more than 80 percent of home shoppers review properties online before looking in person. For that reason, she recommends the home not only be clean, but also all photographs used in marketing the property be professionally done.

“I’m confident that professional photography and professional cleaning absolutely pays dividends on the bottom line,” she asserts.

Many recommend using the services of a home stager, a professional who can make a property look “picture perfect,” through consultations with residents or by bringing in furniture to make an empty house look like a home.

Help buyers feel at home

The goal is to help house hunters imagine themselves living in the home and making them feel welcome.

“Fragrances are important,” urges Fulmer. “We always recommend a vanilla scent. Also consider having some kind of refreshment available. Whether it be drinks or a self-serve coffee station, small gestures can make potential buyers’ viewing experience more enjoyable. The more comfortable they feel, the more they will want to live there and the more they will be willing to pay for it.”

Letting buyers know “inside” information also is important – things like what internet service is available, if there is hardwood under the carpeting and which walls are non-load bearing and potentially could be removed as part of future remodeling.

Taking the right steps to prepare a home for sale can make a big difference in how quickly the home attracts buyers and how much they are willing to pay. It takes some work but is worth it.

“Sure, you can just put your house up for sale and it probably will sell,” Smith cautions. “But if you don’t do the little things, it’s like leaving money on the table.”