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.

Email scams ask for money

There are so many scams these days, in fact some even say the news is fake.

Wire transfer scams are targeting attorneys, banks, title companies, and real estate professionals.

If you are buying or selling a home and you get an email asking you to wire money or send account information so that money can be wired to you, don’t do it.

Call your lender, real estate agent or title company using a phone number that you have already been given instead of the fake phone number in the email.

Please never give anyone your private information in an email.

People call me about homes being advertised for rent that are not for rent. Scammers look for vacant homes and advertise them as rentals. When I put a home on the market I set up a google alert so that if it is being advertised for rent I’ll find out. I encourage home owners to do the same.

Occasionally I get emails from that prince or princess who is in a foreign country but needs someone in the U.S. to help them get money out of the country.

They promise to pay me millions of dollars. The scam was pretty popular a decade ago and people fell for it.

For those who really want to give me money please just mail a check to my office.

We don’t all share the same definition of clean

Sometimes buyers are disappointed when they move into their new home and find that it needs some cleaning.

Home sellers should clean everything of have it cleaned but that doesn’t always work out because we don’t all have the same definition of clean.

The best practice is to hire a professional cleaning service. Some even offer “move out cleaning”. The service will clean every surface and wash the windows too.

Buyers can also ask for cleaning in the purchase agreement. The most common requests are for carpet cleaning.

My own standards for clean seem to be higher than most. The term clean seems to be subjective which is why I recommend hiring professionals.

Be aware that even after a home has been professionally cleaned it won’t be clean enough for some. Cleaning or lack of cleaning can be a major pain point when buying or selling a home.

Buyers should always ask for a final walk through of the home before the closing so they can make sure it is in good repair and is clean.

Seasonal peaks and valleys

Real estate sales are somewhat seasonal. Here in the Twin Cities we see the highest number of sales closed in June and the lowest number in February or sometimes in January.

The last two years we saw a peak in June and a dip in July, before rebounding in August.

The data used to make the graph comes from the Northstar MLS. The graph was created from a tool called “infoSparks”.

There are also fewer homes on the market during the months that we see the dips in sales.

The homeowners who closed in June probably put their homes on the market while there was still snow on the ground. Some homes sell fast but they were probably on the market before the trees had leaves.

chart
seasonal variations – St. Paul, home sales

Wood still beats carpeting

oak stair case – hardwood floors

Go ahead and remove the old carpeting before selling your home if that carpeting is sitting on hardwood floors.

Home buyers usually prefer hardwood floors. I have know this for many years. National Association of REALTORS® found that 54% of home buyers were willing to pay more for a home with hardwood flooring. (study done in 2016)

I am not suggesting that people who want to sell their homes run out and replace the carpeting with hardwood floors. Sometimes the carpeting needs to be replaced and there is hardwood flooring under it. Even hardwood floors that need a little work are better than old carpeting and usually better than new carpeting.

From experience I know that there are certain types of homes that people expect to see hardwood flooring in. People expect older homes to have hardwood floors. That doesn’t mean that hardwood is preferred in bedrooms, kitchens and baths or that every room in the house has to have hardwood floors.

It should also be noted that a buyer’s willingness to pay more for a home with hardwood doesn’t mean that they will be willing to pay enough to cover the cost of the hardwood floors. There is quite a price range for the flooring and it doesn’t always have to be oak.

Some of the most popular flooring options include mid-priced varieties such as teak, American cherry and oak, which costs $5 to $10 per square foot for materials and another $4 to $8 per square foot for installation. Carpeting costs a lot less, which is one of the reasons why it became so popular.

There are a lot of choices even composite wood floors. Dark wood floors have made a big comeback.

Nothing is really all that black and white when it comes to making improvements that will have a positive impact on resale value. There are shades of gray but it is good to know that home buyers will pay more for homes with hardwood floors.

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.