real estate

Home Improvement Tips - Appealing to Buyers

Your house may bring thousands of dollars more if you spend a few hundred dollars and do some work in the right areas. What first impression will a prospective buyer have?

With a notepad in hand, look at your house from the street. This is the first view a buyer will have. Since house buying decisions are emotional ones, the first impression is very important.

Critiquing Your Property From a Buyer's Point of View

Take notes of every fault you can see.

Peeling paint?
Visible cracks in concrete or brickwork?
Cracked glass?
Poor landscaping?
Yard need maintenance?
Something look worn or old?

Walk around the house, finding every fault you can. Step in the front door, stop, and look around, recording any flaw you think may catch a prospective buyer's attention:

Walls dirty or paint faded?
Wallpaper need replacement?
Carpet worn or dirty?
Tiles cracked?
Dark and depressing?
A musty odor?
Colors or decor outdated, distinctly a fad of the past?

What can you find through out the house that may make a bad impression? It helps to have a friend who will be honest with you do the survey too. You may overlook things because they are so familiar to you. In walking through each room and each closet, continue to look for negative impressions:

Floors squeak?
Doors fit up poorly?
Faucets drip?
Ceilings show stains from roof leaks?
Sheetrock shows cracks or peeling tape?
What things need fixing that are not obvious to the buyer?

You will probably be required to sign a disclosure that relays any knowledge you have of roof leaks, termites, foundation problems, plumbing problems, and a number of other potential problems for the new owner. Request a copy of the disclosure form from a title company or other real estate professional so you can be addressing the problems in advance.

Prioritizing the List

Your list may be overwhelming. Some fix up tasks may be quick and easy; others may be expensive. Mark each item on the list as "Must Do" or "Would Be Nice". You can get to the "Would Be Nice" items if you feel you have the time and money left. Some of the things which increase the value of the property in the buyer's mind the most for the least amount of money include:

Clutter Removal
Yard Care

The decision to replace other more expensive items depends on their condition. If carpet is worn or the roof is in bad shape, replacing them can be well worth the cost because of the increase in potential selling price. Look at your disclosure list. If there is any major defect that you must disclose, that defect can delay the sale of the house and reduce your selling price.

If you are willing to invest money in a remodeling project, consider the kitchen. The appeal of a nice kitchen can return more for your money than many other areas of the house.

How do I know if my house or furnishings appear to be outdated?

Buy home improvement or decorating magazines. You will get ideas of what colors and decor appeal to the majority of buyers. Tour open houses of new homes. "Spec" houses, which are built on the speculation that a buyer will come along, tend to have neutral color schemes that appeal today's buyers.

It is hard to go wrong with white appliances and a bright interior. Dark wall coverings and paneling make a house less attractive to today's buyers, which prefer light and open spaces.

What about clutter?

Minimize trinkets, collections, and extra furniture that make walking through the house like going through a maze. An emptier room looks bigger and is less distracting. The buyer wants to envision his or her own belongings in the house, not be distracted by yours.

Finishing Touches

Buy a new entry way mat that looks thick and luxurious.
Buy thick, luxurious bath towels to hang in your bathrooms.
Get new shower curtains that match your color scheme.
Put the mat, throw rugs, and towels out for the showing of the house. Put them up when the buyer is gone so they stay looking fresh and new.

Should I use a realtor or sell it myself?

If you have the time, you can save the realtor commission (usually 6% of the selling price) by selling it yourself. Be prepared for the house to stay on the market longer and to face the hassles of showing the house, and finding out what all steps are required to close the deal. Books are available to guide you through selling it yourself.

A realtor can advise you on improving marketability, show the house for you, provide a go between in tough negotiations, and guide you through the closing. If you choose to use a realtor, be selective. Choose one that is a "go-getter" rather than one that hopes a buyer will drive by. Asking the realtor his or her marketing plan will help you understand how aggressively he or she will market your house.

Setting an Asking Price

View other homes for sale in the area. Make notes of the age of the house, price per square foot, location, and quality of construction compared to yours.

Pay for a professional appraisal. You will get a comprehensive evaluation comparing your house to comparable houses in the area which have sold recently.

Marketing Your House

Whether you sell your own house or use a real estate professional, a marketing plan should be made. It is amazing how people will balk at spending a few hundred on flyers, signs, and advertising, but will spend thousands on a commission. If you sell it yourself, spend enough money marketing the house to increase your chances of selling in a reasonable time at a reasonable price. If you use a realtor, ask him or her what the marketing plan is.

Local advertising is vital. Buyers will search local newspaper listings and drive the area of interest. If you have your property featured on a website such as, it is important that you mention that website in your local advertising. A website is an excellent supplement to your overall marketing plan, but you should not depend on internet traffic alone.

You should direct buyer to the internet site for additional descriptions and photos that are too expensive to publish in local advertising. One page flyers showing a few photos and a carefully written description should be posted at local stores and areas of high pedestrian traffic.

Preparing the House to Show

Make sure windows are cleaned, especially glass doors and mirrors. Put up last minute clutter. It is much better to let a buyer discover your clutter in a closet than to let it bring down the appearance of the whole room. Clean floors and sweep the sidewalk.

Have a sign in sheet available for house showings and open houses to get the prospective buyers' names and contact information. Have a place on the sign in sheet indicating how they found out about your property, so you know which advertising is most effective. Have them indicate whether or not they want you to contact them in the event another offer is made on the house. This gives you a feel for how serious the buyer is.

What to Do Just Before the Buyer Arrives

Put dogs and cats out of the house. Some people dislike having animals in the house, and you don't want to turn them away. Have children stay outside.

Have fresh cookies or homemade bread just out of the oven. The aroma makes the buyer feel at home immediately.
Turn on every light in and outside the house, even in closets. It gives the house a cozy, lived-in appearance.

Showing the House

Ask the buyer to sign in. Welcome the buyer to walk through the house at his or her leisure. Be available to answer questions, but don't distract him or her with a sales pitch. As the buyer is leaving, ask if this house is close to what he or she was looking forward. The responses can help you know what changes you made need to make to the house to improve its appeal to other buyers.

When should I put my house on the market?

You should get your house as ready to show as soon as practical before listing it with a realtor or putting it on the market yourself. If you put the house on the market and then fix it up as time passes, you may miss the buyer who would pay the most. When a house first goes on the market, it generally has more showings. The number of prospective buyers viewing the house diminishes with time. If you have a deadline and no choice, focus on the basic cleaning, clutter removal, and most obvious defects.