How to get your mother’s house ready to sell

green carpet
Green sculpted carpet

I sold my parents home a few years ago. I moved them out first and then figured out what to do with their excess stuff.

It seemed overwhelming at the time but I have helped clients through this process and selling houses is what I do. There were some legal issues too. I can not give my clients legal advice. I consulted with an attorney who specializes in Elder Law.  I used my durable power of attorney which included the power to sell their real property.

One of the challenges of selling a home that is or was owned and lived in by an elderly person is making it look as appealing as possible to younger home buyers. Sometimes the homes look as if time stood still.

The first hurdle can be getting the owners to give up some decorating choices they made long ago. My mom doesn’t know that I had the wallpaper border removed from the kitchen, and repainted or she would be upset about it.

Often “grandma’s” house is in good repair and is an excellent opportunity for first time home buyers to fix some of the cosmetics and build equity.

As a seller, I don’t want to put any more money into the home than I have to. Here are some of the things I did that were fairly inexpensive that helped sell grandma’s house:

1. Clean everything

2. Repaint in light neutral colors.

3. Replacing old drapes with sheers in shades of white.

4.  Replacing any window shade or blind that was anything other than white or just remove them.

5. Buy new shower curtains, towels and coordinating rugs for the bathrooms for staging. 

6. Replace light fixtures and shades.

7. Remove wallpaper and paint walls.

8. Remove worn carpeting to expose hardwood floors. It is better to have wood floors that need a little work than worn carpeting.

9. Remove worn linoleum and replace.

The list isn’t really prioritized by importance but it is in order of how much the project is likely to cost. It is important to have a budget and to stick with it. If the improvement won’t help sell the home faster or for more money it isn’t worth doing. The smallest improvements that give the greatest payback. Cleaning and painting have the highest ROI.

Removing a wallpaper border can have a tremendous impact. Putting a new backsplash in the kitchen can also have a high return on investment. Consider new switch plates and don’t forget t clean light fixtures.

It is also a good idea to have furnace or boiler serviced and have any repairs were done that are needed. As a rule, anything that leaks should be fixed and there are usually other obvious repairs too.  Sometimes small maintenance issues result in low offers.

Aging in place with stairs

Aging doesn’t have to mean moving. Some older Americans choose to age in place, rather than moving.  A home with stairs in it isn’t a bad thing. Walking up and down stairs is great exercise. In fact, some people go to the gym and use stair stepper and climber equipment to strengthen their legs.

Stairways can be kept safe with lighting, and railings. no slip strips can be put on indoor or outdoor stairways.

I read an article that states that 66% of ninety-year-olds have trouble with stairs. That means that 34% of 90-year-olds can handle the stairs. Taking the stairs whenever possible at home or work is a great way to keep legs strong for those who want to be in the 34%.

Stairway
cat on the stairs

What is clutter?

We always advise home sellers to clean and declutter before putting a home on the market, but what is clutter? We don’t all define clutter the same way. I define it as “stuff” that distracts potential home buyers.

The stuff keeps potential buyers from seeing the beauty of the home. Here are a few items that become clutter once the home is for sale:

  1. Family photos.

    Antique Tea pot
  2. Wall calendars.
  3. Refrigerator magnets.
  4. Too many house plants, real or fake.
  5. Too many books
  6. Doilies
  7. Throw rugs
  8.  Extra dining room chairs
  9. Large ottomans
  10. Large coffee tables
  11. Extra end tables
  12. Large collections of almost anything

The important thing to remember is that it is alright to use our homes anyway we see fit but when it comes to selling a home it is all about marketing. Women in particular react negatively to “clutter”. Less really is more and when in doubt, leave it out. The general idea is to make the space look larger and a bit more generic.

My list is only partial and has the most common items that I ask home owners to remove from rooms. Homes that are not decluttered sell too. The list is aimed at the home owners that want to go that extra mile and put some effort into getting the most money for their home in the least amount of time.

The longer people have lived in a home the harder it is for them to de-clutter. As a service to my clients I go through their homes before they put them on the market and make suggestions.

The reason your house did not sell

Even in this market some homes do not sell right away. There is really only one reason why a home doesn’t sell. It is because the home is over priced but there is a little more to it than that.

Some homes are priced  right but photographed and marketed so poorly that they get over looked by interested buyers. Other homes might sell for close to the asking price if the owners would make a few repairs.

In general homes have a value and should be priced accordingly. Sometimes home owners choose a price based on how much money they want for their home. As a home owner myself I can relate. It would be nice to get half a million for my home but I know it is worth half that much but only if it is fixed up real nice.

Homes that are dated inside tend to sell for less than the homes that have updated kitchens and baths. Sometimes major updates are not needed. Fresh paint, new hardware and some new light fixtures are enough. What is old and tired can be made to look new and fresh again, or maybe neutral enough to be attractive to a home buyer.

In most cases the real estate agent listing the home isn’t the main reason a home hasn’t sold. The homes that are the easiest to sell are the homes that have owners who take an active interest in the home sale process. When the home owner refuses to fix a leaky pipe or won’t tidy up before a showing the house is harder to sell.

The local real estate market still favors sellers. All homes are salable. If you would like to know why your home didn’t sell when it was on the market ask or agent or give me a call.

sold
Sold in less than a week, with multiple offers for more than the asking price.

 

Rent of buy, it isn’t just about money

falflowers
Fall Flowers

Buying vs. renting is a personal choice and there are many factors to consider. Owning a home can mean being tied down to a location and the responsibility of making payments. Renters have more flexibility.

I recently read the comments on a friends Facebook page when she asked if she should rent or buy. The real estate agents who responded tended to be in favor of home ownership. I’ll admit I believe in homeownership and I even own a home but I don’t believe owning is the best choice for everyone.

A young professional may pay a steep price by staying put because of a house or from buying a house at the wrong time and having to sell it too soon. Making the long term commitment to owning a home at a young age may mean regretting the choice later on.

For some owning a home is a good choice. People who don’t plan on moving and who have children in school can own and build equity and then move when the children are grown. Owning a home is a way to build wealth. Owning a home free and clear and not having to pay a mortgage or rent is priceless.

Home ownership was the right choice for my family.  There is more to the buy and rent decision than money and it isn’t just about using a calculator to see which option costs more each month.

In the long term renting will cost more than owning. In the short term buying a house is more expensive. There are closing costs and the monthly costs are more than just the mortgage.

taking your house off the market

Sometimes home sellers change their minds and they want their home taken off the market before the contract with their real estate agent ends. In that case both parties, the real estate agent and the seller have to agree to cancel the contract. A real estate agent can say no to a contract cancellation.

 

Listing contract

During our current sellers market I have been offering shorter contracts for my clients. Most homes can be sold in less than three months so I offer a three month contract. When the contract expires if the home isn’t sold the seller can leave it off the market or re-list it with me or with someone else.

Keep in mind I do not get paid until the house is sold and the sale closes. It is possible to spend quite a bit of money and have a sellers change their minds.

Usually if a seller asks to cancel a contract I let them out of it without any hassle but I do not have to. A contract is a contract. People do change their plans or sometimes there is an illness or some other emergency that causes people to put their plans on hold.

I have occasionally started the conversation about canceling the contract myself. Sometimes I can not get the homeowner to cooperate and it compromises my ability to sell the home at a price that is usually higher than the value.

Selling a house without the owners cooperation is difficult. It is even spelled out in the contract that they need to grant access to people who want to see it and cooperate in other ways. Sometimes sellers want to list their home for a lot more than it is worth and they agree to future price reductions, but when the time comes they won’t reduce the price. Sometimes a homeowner agrees to certain repairs but they won’t make them and they want to price the home as if they did make the repairs.

The homeowners who get the most money for their home are often those who work with me and take an interest in the details of the process and the suggestions I make.

If the goal is to just take the home off the market for a few days or a few weeks there is an easy way to do that. The home can be made temporarily not available to show. In that status it will not how up on the internet as being for sale and real estate agents will not make appointments to see it or show it. The home can not be advertised as being for sale.

If you are working with an agent and you want to get out of the contract you will need to get the agent to agree. If the agent does not agree you may have to ride it out. Please read the contract before signing it.