Your home is a representation of your personality. The furniture, colours, and other personal items “brand” the house as your home. But not all buyers will want to buy into your personality. They would prefer to buy your house and give it their own personal touch to make it their home.
Your taste in decoration and style of home is bound to differ at least somewhat from friends, your mother in law, and even your partner. So just imagine the scope for variation in tastes among the thousands of potential buyers who are going to be inspecting your house online, and dozens who will come through in person.
Your emotional attachment to the home will not be shared or understood by buyers. They will hopefully form a favourable attitude towards the house, but that will come in the form of attraction to the features of the product, not from the experiences they have had living there.
Once you list on the market, it is important you understand that your home is now a product that is being offered for sale.
This is why you need to “de-personalise” your home, in order to broaden its appeal. And just as you would clean and tidy your car if you are selling it, so your home needs to be at its best presentation for inspection by the buyers.
Let’s for a moment pretend that we’re buyers driving to an open home. We turn off the main road and start driving through the suburban streets towards the property for sale. We begin to take notice of the houses and streetscape (in the old days agents would often drive buyers to properties for inspection and would be careful about which route they took).
As we turn into the street we study the houses—their age, style, how well they have been maintained, how tidy is the nature strip, state of fences, type of cars parked in driveways or on nature strips (and how clean they are), boats and caravans, children playing, residents in the garden or street, lawns and gardens. Are there parks nearby or places to walk the dog? Is it close to transport, schools, shops?
Arriving at the open house we step out of the car. Are there dogs barking, children screaming, adults yelling, strange smells? What are the other people going to the inspection like? Are they a similar demographic to us? We’ll make judgment on them too, and the cars they’re driving.
No, we’re not snobs, it’s classic human nature.
We are consciously or unconsciously evaluating the neighbourhood. Is it safe? Is the neighbourhood one we’d want to live in? Is it quiet and pleasant? Would it attract the right people to rent our investment property?
You can’t do much about the neighbourhood if you are selling, of course. So let’s look at the property itself. How well is it presented for consideration by buyers? Have the owners put much effort in, or have they shown by the untidy presentation that they don’t care about whether it sells, or the price it sells for?
Is the fence damaged? Does the lawn have signs of a resident dog? Is the letterbox a rusty tin on a wooden pole? Do the roof tiles need a good clean and recapping? Are the gutters full of leaves, is there mould under the eaves? Are there dead flies and dust in the rails of windows, are the venetians dirty and broken?
Is it worth going inside?
First impressions count for everything. Most buyers know whether they would buy your house in the first fifteen seconds.
Buyers will compete for an appealing property rather than buy a poorly presented product that nobody else wants.
Think resale. This is the most expensive asset most people will own.
Buyers will overlook some things, particularly if they’re wanting a bargain or a renovation project. They’ll overlook clutter associated with children, particularly babies (provided the house is not dirty). Buyers after a renovator will ignore unpainted walls, an old kitchen or worn carpet. But they’ll expect to pay less for the privilege.
There is a good reason display homes are minimalist, neat, light and colour coordinated. Minimal furniture and furnishings make a house look bigger. Lighter rooms look bigger—that’s why real estate agents turn on the lights during open homes.
In the few weeks it takes to sell your house the important thing is to give your home its broadest appeal to the buyers who will be inspecting it. Remember, it is the competition among buyers that will get you the highest possible price.
What would be some modest improvements to add value?
You can improve the presentation of your property in six ways:
As a rule, it is generally best to keep improvements to a minimum. Why would you want to undertake expensive renovations to the house when you won’t be around to enjoy them? And there is no guarantee the buyer will see the value in what you’ve spent money on. They may have very different tastes. They might hate the new tiles you’ve used to replace the carpet—they would have preferred a floating timber floor. Or they might hate the pattern in the new stone benchtops, even though they were considered trendy at the time.
It may be worth the money for a consultation by a style consultant to advise on ways to improve the presentation of a house. Visit some open homes or display homes to get ideas. At the very least, your agent should go through your house room by room and give honest feedback on ways to improve presentation. If the choice is between spending money on improvements, or asking a lower price in selling, remember the lower the price the more buyers you will attract.
Still, if you are dedicated fans of home improvement shows, and believe you can do the same, I would suggest that you follow two rules:
TWO HOME IMPROVEMENT RULES
- Choose materials, designs and colour scheme that will appeal to a broad spectrum of likely buyers. Preferably get a professional designer to advise.
- Use professionals to undertake the work. Most people are not skilled enough to do a job as good as a professional, and a sloppy DIY job will detract from value.
If you really think you need to consider improvements, here are seven possibilities:
- Repaint—the cost is generally modest, and a fresh coat of paint is better than leaving marks and holes in the wall where you’ve removed the family photos during decluttering. If walls are dark, dirty or have lots of patches from removing the photo hooks, painting a light, neutral colour would help.
- Kitchen cupboards and benchtops. Bunnings, IKEA or Masters have DIY kitchen planners and provide relatively inexpensive flatpack modular cupboards and benchtops. Have a professional install. A cheaper option is to just replace handles, doors and drawer fronts.
- Living room floors. In Queensland, carpet is rare in living areas. Alternatives are tiles, floating timber and vinyl. Vinyl is much better quality these days. Floating timber can be relatively inexpensive and looks great. In my last house my floating timber floor still looked good after ten years.
- Modular cupboard units are excellent for improving built-in wardrobes and eliminating the need for chests of drawers.
- Bathrooms—beware the cost of renovations, which can be difficult to recoup. A lesser alternative may be to replace some of the following: cupboards and vanity tops, handles, towel rails, tap fittings, lighting, the shower screen or shower curtain.
Note that the building inspection will likely detect moisture behind showers, and if there is a leaking bath or shower you will need to get this fixed before you list your property, or risk a contract crashing or being negotiated down after the building inspection.
- New light fittings – modern light fittings can be used to replace dirty, rusty and old fashioned fittings at modest expense. They will lighten the rooms and save power bills. Ensure all globes are working.
- Tidy and freshen up the garden and if necessary buy a new letterbox.
Every case is different, but I believe most sellers will add greater value by tidying the garden and exterior, de-cluttering, and undertaking needed maintenance and repairs than they would trying a DIY renovation.
The word might sound insulting, but the result is quite the opposite. Maybe calling it “adding space” might help, because the aim of de-cluttering is to remove the items which are taking up space and making rooms look smaller and cluttered.
De-cluttering also helps to de-personalise the home. All of us enjoy having personal items on display. But buyers do not want to be reminded—by family photos, your DVD collection, ashtrays, dog beds and religious icons—that they are in your home. That will prevent them imagining it as their home.
Here are 40 suggestions for de-cluttering. You may not be able to do all of these things, but the more you can de-clutter your home the bigger and better it will appear to buyers.
FORTY DE-CLUTTERING TIPS
- Buy storage crates to allow you to quickly put away children’s toys and other loose items before inspections.
- Go through the house room by room and take out any furniture that is tatty or old, and items that are not absolutely necessary. Park them at a friend’s house or hire a storage unit or sell in a garage sale.
- Large screen TVs can dominate a room and make it appear smaller. Remember that any television attached to the wall is a “fixture” and will be assumed to come as part of the house, unless stated otherwise. If you have a huge TV attached to the wall and want to take it with you, take it down or tell your agent it is not included.
- Tidy the garage and store items off site wherever possible. Most buyers will overlook a few items stored in the garage, such as packing boxes or a spare fridge, but don’t make the garage the storage space for this decluttering exercise.
- Remove and store unnecessary items of furniture—the three coffee tables, the antique sideboard inherited from your parents that doesn’t match the house, the gun locker and the trophy cabinet.
- Clear the bedrooms of excess furniture and clutter. A bedroom doesn’t need chairs, a coat stand, desk or television (unless it’s bolted to the wall or you have a good size bedroom).
- Keep the number of framed photos and paintings on walls to a minimum, and repair the holes where the hooks have been. Have at most one family photo on display or better still, none at all.
- Remove fridge magnets, notes and concert tickets and remove any items from the top of the refrigerator.
- Store excess floor lamps, coat stands and any items taking up unnecessary floor space. One decorative lamp in the living area is sufficient.
- Remove posters from walls and the back of the toilet door. If you have teenage children this rule may be relaxed if there is a high risk of damaging the paintwork in their bedrooms.
- Remove religious, political and potentially offensive items from display. If you feel strongly about it, have one religious symbol that is not too prominent, and no more. Nude paintings, even if tasteful, are potentially offensive for some people, so my advice would be to remove such during the selling period.
- Put your DVDs in a cupboard out of sight. They are a distraction, and some people may be put off by your taste in movies.
- Remove Christmas or party lights (unless it’s the season to be jolly), wall hooks and streamers or other seasonal or celebratory items.
- Remove ornaments and vases and keep to a minimum.
- Store old rugs that are just filling spaces on the floor.
- Remove cliché signs like Bundy Rum or Holden Race Team from the rumpus or above the wet bar. Really, they don’t help the appeal to buyers.
- Clear small items off the top shelf of any cupboard, bookshelf, TV unit or chest of drawers.
- Clear off kitchen benches of utensils and appliances, except the toaster and coffee machine that are used regularly.
- Put away any kitchen cloths, scrubbers, gloves and other cleaning utensils.
- Remove surplus chairs and stools. If your dining table has 8 chairs, consider removing two, and if you have an extension table reduce its size.
- Throw out newspapers and magazines, or store them out of sight. Remove magazines and used toilet rolls from the toilet.
- Clear laundry benchtops and store any dirty laundry out of sight during inspections.
- Remove suitcases and other bulky items from the tops of wardrobes.
- Shelve all books neatly and store books taking up unnecessary space.
- Clear bedside tables of all items except a lamp, clock and one book/iPad.
- Clear bathroom benches of all cosmetics and medications, and toothbrushes and toothpaste.
- Tidy cupboards so they look neat and roomy. Fold towels and stack neatly.
- Clear out kitchen drawers so they are not full of items.
- Remove bean bags and footstools. Keep the number of cushions per couch to four at most and get rid of cushions that are dirty, tatty or don’t match the colour scheme (unless they accent it). Buying new cushions is always a great option.
- Get rid of any wood if you have a fireplace. Logs remind people of termites.
- Put at least half of the children’s toys and most of the pet toys into storage and keep the rest in storage crates for easy tidying before inspections.
- Spring clean wardrobes, donate old clothes and make room so they are neat and well presented.
- Store pool equipment and pool toys in the shed.
- Store bicycles in the shed or off site, or hang from wall in garage.
- Have tools and garden equipment neatly stored or hung from walls.
- Remove cars, jet skis, trailers and motorcycles from garage for open homes. An empty garage always looks bigger.
- Fold up the table tennis table or store in the garage or offsite.
- Store all jewellery and valuables off site or somewhere secure. It is not desirable to lock up cupboards and rooms during inspections.
- Rearrange furniture to maximise the space in rooms.
- Put in storage any gym equipment during the selling campaign, or sell it if you don’t use it. It takes up lots of space.
Get your real estate agent to go through after you have had a shot at it, to see whether there is anything you have missed (what about that glamour photo hanging above the mantlepiece?). Your agent may also be able to refer you to a professional design consultant to advise further on presentation.
A garage sale is a great way to dispose of lots of junk—sorry, surplus items—for some pocket money. If you don’t like the idea of strangers coming around, you can donate to charity, take to the tip, or leave on the kerbside for a few days with a sign “Give Away” and then dispose of what’s left.
If you have a garage sale please don’t quibble over what you are offered—after all, the point is to get rid of stuff, isn’t it? Of course, a garage sale is not the way to sell your Steinway piano.
At your garage sale, a real estate agent or two might turn up. Talk to them. If they’re that keen to turn up early in the morning, they will probably be the type that will work hard to sell your property.
Maintenance and Repairs
Many people leave repairs and maintenance to the last minute. Don’t expect a buyer to pay for a property in need of repairs. That is the responsibility of the seller, and is part of normal running costs of owning a home. Making repairs and undertaking maintenance is not in the same category as renovation or refurbishment.
If you are selling a car, the vehicle inspection will usually find the faults. With your house most buyers will require a building inspection, and inspectors find everything from leaking taps to termites.
I recommend that you go through the house and make a list of repairs and maintenance required before listing the property. And any repairs should be done using a professional, especially electrical work and plumbing.
- Lights that need replacement globes. Make sure the wattage is high so the home is bright when on display. Warm white globes are best in bedrooms, cool white in the kitchen. But don’t mix warm white with cool white in the same room.
- Use a battery light in cupboards with no power.
- Buy fittings for lights with only a globe.
- Fix switches that are faulty or cracked.
- Fix leaking taps.
- Fix toilet cisterns that constantly flow.
- Clear blocked drains.
- Door bell—in my experience about 75% of door bells do not work.
- Loose wiring from an unfinished electrical job. Either get it done, or get an electrician to shield off the wiring.
- Replace or repair anything that is rusting, particularly exterior light fittings. CLR can be used to clean off some rust, but not bad damage.
- Letterbox—replace if necessary.
- Damage to timber—check for dry rot and termites. Repair and paint.
- Perimeter of house—is the exterior wall clear of plants, pipes or conduit that termites could climb to avoid the termite barrier? Are the weep holes clear?
- Repair squeaky doors and hinges, sticking doors, loose door handles, cupboard doors that are coming off the hinges.
- Replace the dead smoke detector battery.
- Service pool pumps and filters and cleaner.
- Ensure pool is clean and clear. If necessary hire a pool maintenance man for a couple of months so you don’t have a green pool.
- Ensure you have a current pool safety certificate (in relevant States). These can be obtained through any pool shop.
- Condition of front door—is it in good condition, does it need painting or staining? What about the condition of the screen door? Check the soft-closing mechanism works on the screen door.
- Plaster walls—repair and paint chips, cracks, marks, dents, chipped edges.
- Fix loose or torn wallpaper.
- Flaking paint, or other signs that painting is overdue. Exterior and interior.
- Replace cracked bathroom and kitchen tiles.
- Clean or replace mouldy and dirty grout.
- Floor tiles will show any cracks. Timber and vinyl—do they need repair or polish?
- Check for damaged roof tiles (especially if you’ve had Foxtel installed). What about ridge capping—does it need replacing?
- Exterior pavers—are they bedded properly, damaged, mouldy? Use some chlorine to kill the mould.
- Air conditioners—are they all working? Have the filters been cleaned and serviced lately or ever?
- Are the batteries on any remote control gadgets like split cycle air conditioners working?
- Ceiling fans—are they dust free, rust-free and working on all speeds?
- Cooktop—do all hotplates work properly?
- Bathroom extractor fans—working properly?
- Range hood—light and fan working?
- Mouldy shower curtain or screen—does it just need a clean or is there a bigger problem of moisture in the bathroom?
- Windows that won’t slide or you can’t unlock. Replace any cracked glass.
- Flyscreens—replace any torn flyscreens.
- Cobwebs, wasp nests, signs of cockroaches or spiders—when was the last pest treatment?
- Clean out gutters, check for rust showing or damaged downpipes and guttering.
- Check the DIY patio or carport—does it need painting? Does it have loose bolts, is it half finished? Is there a need for Council approval?
- Check under the eaves for mildew or signs of moisture damage.
In addition to having your property tidy and uncluttered, in good order, it will be more appealing to buyers if it is clean. I recommend you hire a professional cleaner to clean the entire house, particularly the bathrooms, windows, carpets, and blinds. And hire the professional after you have already cleaned it!
- Windows—inside and out. Cleaning windows is more difficult than it seems. Inevitably, I find that I leave streaks or miss bits. I prefer to have professional cleaners do this because they know the techniques and have the right chemicals. (a mix of three parts water with one part methylated spirits works well). Vacuum window rails and dust sills.
- Worn and stained carpet. There is nothing worse when presenting a house. Get it professionally cleaned.
- Timber, tiles, and vinyl floors need to be cleaned too. Timber floors may need some kind of special coating every couple of years (use a professional here too).
- Clean all kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors, including the tops of cupboards when you open them.
- Bathrooms should be spotless. Pay special attention to mirrors and shower screens, and hairs and dirt on the shower floor. Take down and clean the exhaust fans.
- Smells—dog smells, smoker smells. Smells are best removed by getting rid of the source, so get rid of ashtrays and cigarette butts. Wash dog beds or replace them if they are old. Sometimes dog odours can be helped by odour treatments, other times you may need to replace carpets and underlay. Proper professional clean of carpets and cloth covered furniture is needed regardless.
- Clean behind washing machine and dryer where lots of fluff can build up. Ensure damp or dirty clothes are not left in the laundry or living areas.
- When vacuuming pay special attention to corners, behind furniture and stairs.
- Clean the stainless steel tapware. Ensure that the ring of gunk around the bottom of the tap is cleaned off and the plughole is clean.
- Wipe clean all light fixtures.
- Wipe dust and spatter off the range hood and clean the splashback and cooktop, grill and oven.
- Clear out the garage and clean the floor. If it is bare concrete a coat of paint would help, or even better have an epoxy coating done. Looks great.
- Clean and dust the fireplace, if you have one, and put a small pot plant in it as decoration.
- Clean and polish vanity basins and laundry sink to remove any stains or dirt.
- Use specific cleaning liquid to remove finger marks from stainless steel hand rails and rust/stains from the outdoor kitchen/BBQ.
- Brush cobwebs off the ceiling and walls.
- Clear the rails of windows and doors, removing any dead insects and dust.
- Clean every mark off the kitchen, bathroom and laundry benchtops and polish the tapware.
- Clean finger marks around light switches and power points.
- Wipe the top of skirting boards to remove the layer of dirt that will often not come off with a duster.
Garden and Entry
First impressions are so important when showing a home. Anything you can do to improve the presentation of the front garden and entry will be adding value to the sale price. I always recommend hiring a gardener, at least for a few months leading up to the sale. It will be worth it, especially if the gardener is doing planting and pruning that you would not normally do.
FRONT GARDEN & ENTRY CHECKLIST
- Did I mention the letterbox? Make sure it is decent.
- Ensure the front fence is in good order. Consider removing it if it is in poor condition.
- Ensure any gate can be easily opened. Metal gates should be clean, rust free and painted or colorbond. Wooden gates should be easily opened and not falling off their hinges.
- Most driveways will crack. Bad cracks should be repaired. A faded and cracked driveway can be recoated.
- Keep lawns mown, green and edges trimmed. Lawn edges should be clearly defined. Treat weeds, especially at the edge of garden beds and on paths.
- Trim or prune trees and shrubs, especially those limiting light into the house, detracting from street presentation, creating hazards for people entering the home, or interfering with power lines.
- Pebbled areas may require replenishment with new pebbles.
- Use mulch or bark to keep weeds down and make the garden fresh. Bark also adds colour and definition.
- Gurney the driveway, paths and walking areas around the house. Kill any mould or mildew.
- While you’ve got the gurney out, wash down the outside of the house too.
- Keep the front entry clear of children’s toys, skateboards and bicycles.
- Keep cars, boats, trailers and caravans off the nature strip. Try and find somewhere else to keep them during the selling period. Consider paving an area outside the garage.
- If you have side access, open it up. Side access is in high demand with family homes.
- Hoses should be kept rolled up near the tap, and sprinkler systems should be working or removed.
- Keep rubbish bins hidden at the side of the house. Take them in quickly after removal day.
- A row of solar lights leading to the entry can look impressive. Ensure that any solar lights actually work, otherwise they will just look like clutter.
- Clean the light above the front door and ensure it has a bright globe.
- Ensure the door bell looks good and works. Same for security monitors.
- Keep the area uncluttered by anything other than plants, lawn and landscaping. Garden gnomes, fountains, toys, swings, compost bins, trampolines—please, not in the front yard! And keep shoes away from outside the front door.
- Repair anything that a visitor could trip on or fall over. We don’t want our buyers breaking an ankle.
Once you’ve done the cleaning, repairs and maintenance, it is time to prepare your house using furniture, furnishings, lighting and other elements to show it at its absolute best. This is called “staging”.
We need to stage the house for:
- The professional photography that will be used in the marketing campaign; and
- The open homes and inspections. It is important to keep the house looking the same as the photographs during the campaign.
The best way to see how this is done is to visit display homes. They have staging down to a fine art. Stores such as Freedom and IKEA have lots of accessories that are perfect for adding that “staged” touch.
STAGING THE HOUSE CHECKLIST
- Buy a new doormat
- Is the front door in good condition? If not, paint, stain, repair or replace.
- Ensure the windows and glass are clean and the entrance light is clean and bright.
- Place potted palms or plants to decorate entry porch (not flowers with strong scents because of allergies).
- If the area is suitable, place an outdoor seat or setting in the covered area.
- Use a small rug if a wet day and provide a dry area for shoes.
- If the hallway is narrow, hanging a mirror will give the illusion of space.
- A colourful abstract painting against a neutral wall can brighten the entry.
- Ensure benchtops, sinks, cooktop and fridge are clean and sparkling.
- Remove tea towels and cleaning cloths and utensils.
- For open homes, spray orange scent or similar to remove food odours, or use coffee or baked bread or cookies.
- Ensure all kitchen appliances on display are clean and colour coordinated. It may pay to invest in a new toaster and kettle in the latest fashion colour.
- Place a bowl of fresh fruit—oranges, green apples and bananas look good—and perhaps some fresh green leaf herbs on the benchtop.
- Ensure pantry and cupboards are uncluttered and roomy looking.
- No more than two stools for a counter eating area.
- A tasteful table setting can look great, but it should be informal and not fancy. No wine glasses or Wedgwood.
- Place a centrepiece on the table for a splash of colour. Colourful pepper and salt shakers can add interest.
- If the table is an extender, reduce it to its minimum size and have no more than six chairs (unless the room is really large).
- Remove excess furniture and arrange furniture to maximise space, even if it is not how you prefer to use it.
- Have a small number of decorative pieces for the TV unit or mantle, but don’t overdo it and make it cluttered.
- Remove toys and any signs of smokers.
- Have maybe one floor standing decorative item – maybe a tall pot with something flaring out, or a lamp,
- Open blinds to allow light in.
- Ensure all globes are of a similar type.
- If you have stairs, ensure the railings are secure and not loose.
- Remove excess furniture to make rooms look bigger.
- Nothing loose on the floor. Childrens’ toys in cupboards or crates.
- If there is a desk, remove all papers and clutter.
- Use a thick doona cover, not just a sheet to cover the mattress. Consider buying a new, plain doona cover. Matching pillow cases. Two to four pillows is plenty.
- Remove any personal items from bedside tables, and don’t have undergarments on display.
- Ensure all lights work.
- Remove some hanging clothes, items from the floor and from the top shelf of walk-in robes. This will make them appear more roomy.
- Place shoes in a neat row at the back of the cupboard.
- If cupboards have moisture, air them out and use a fragrance.
- Secure all valuables.
- Place a bowl of lemons or limes or potpourri on the vanity.
- Ensure mirrors, glass and tiles are spotless, dust and hair free.
- Use a blue dye in toilet, and close the lid.
- Store all personal items out of sight.
- No magazines in the toilet. Put the toilet brush in a cupboard.
- Ensure lights are working and bright, and fans are working and clean.
- Place unused fragrant soap on the basin.
- Have a brand new set of white towels, hand towels and washers that are only used for the open homes. Roll up hand towels and stack with washers on the vanity. Otherwise don’t use towels at all.
- Empty the bin and put it in a cupboard.
- Store dirty laundry in a cupboard or closed basket.
- Ensure laundry cupboards are tidy and the linen cupboard has neatly folded and stacked towels.
- Remove everything from benchtops.
- Ensure that there is no moisture or mould, and the sink is clean.
- Ensure that all items in the garage are either stored in a crate or container, hanging on the wall, or are stacked on shelves. Try not to have anything loose on the garage floor.
- Store the lawn mower and bicycles in the shed rather than the garage.
- Sweep and wash the garage floor. Remove any sign of grease or oil stains.
- Remove one or both cars for open homes.
- If you are storing things in the garage, buy some removal boxes and stack neatly in one corner.
- Get rid of or store any tatty or excess outdoor furniture, the rusty old BBQ, stacks of wood that are termite attractors, table umbrellas, and other loose items like garden tools, toys and wheelbarrows.
- Roll the hose up neatly and leave by the tap.
- Ensure there is no washing on the line. If the line is broken or old, consider replacing or removing for photos. The line will need to be there for open homes, because people ask where is the clothesline.
- Sweep and hose down the outdoor area and any outdoor furniture, so it’s clean of grass clippings, dirt and dust, cobwebs and insects.
- Remove towels and any pool toys from the pool area. Any loose shoes or sandals should be placed in a crate or removed altogether.
- Gym equipment—if you don’t use it, get rid of it. If you use it, make sure it is neatly arranged. Even better, consider storing it for the period of the selling campaign to reduce clutter.
- Keep the lawn mowed, the garden neat and paths weed free and clean.