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Selling A House: An Example Of How Small Changes May Make a Big Difference

July 13, 2011 · 73 comments

in Home & Garden, Personal Finance

In recent months, houses have been popping up for sale in my neighborhood.  One house actually had a little sticker across the ‘For Sale’ sign that read “Sold In 3 Days”.  That made me very hopeful that our local economy was taking a step in the right direction.

Small Things Can Make A Big Impression

There is also another home for sale in our neighborhood that I am guessing will not sell quite as quickly.  The very first thing I noticed after I saw the ‘For Sale’ sign was the grass that is growing in the cracks of the driveway.  It appears the owners already vacated the home because from what I can see, the house is totally empty.  I have taken walks past this house here and there over the years, and that grass has always been in the driveway, so it is not a new development since the owners left.  I am just so curious as to why such an easy, cosmetic thing as spraying some Round Up on the grass in the driveway was not done before the house went on the market.

It isn’t just the stray grass and deserted look to the house that is at issue.  There are also some small things within the home that could be changed that would cost less than four thousand dollars total, but would probably increase the purchase price by much more, such as some carpet replacement.  (Even if the change did not result in an exact return on the investment, I think it would definitely help the house sell more quickly.)  These things seem so obvious to me, but maybe I watch too much HGTV…

Sometimes You Have To Spend Money to Make Money

I am not a marketing genius by any means, but there is no way I would attempt to sell anything until the item was in near perfect condition.  In this market, you must differentiate your product so it stands out and shines above all the others.  If I were selling my home, I would find the most respected Realtor in my area and ask what needed to be done to get the house sold.  Maybe all it would take is spending a little to hire a landscaper for a few hours and maybe paint a few rooms.  So often, homeowners get attached to their homes because of all the wonderful memories, and they may not see that what was perfect for them just might be a little outdated. (The very first house we looked at had a mural painted on the kitchen wall of a giant fountain and gardens.  All I could picture was myself happily painting over the fountain if we bought the house.  However, seeing me singing and painting over the mural would probably be very upsetting to the seller.)

Sometimes, A Picture Is Worth More Than A Thousand Words

When a buyer sees several small things in a home that are in disrepair, they will probably also wonder what larger things have also not been tended to.  First impressions mean everything in sales, and curb appeal is huge when it comes to real estate.   The last thing you want is for your home to look like a foreclosure when you are asking a premium price.  So if you are selling your home (or anything of high value), either involve a third party or do your best to look at the item objectively.  Keep an open mind to what changes might be necessary so you can get an optimum price and/or a quick and fair sale.

How are homes selling in your area?  Have you ever spent money on something in order to make it sell?



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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole July 13, 2011 at 7:15 am

There is a house in our neighborhood that has been for sale for three years now. They finally got around to fixing the curb appeal… but they didn’t change the pictures on the internet! The internet pictures still show the problems from before, AND were taken when the grass was dormant rather than the lush green that is probably costing them a fortune in water bills now.

Also now that our school districts have changed for the worse, the house is overpriced.


Kris July 13, 2011 at 11:07 pm

Three years? That is crazy!! Curb appeal is such an easy fix, I just do not get it. Given how many people ‘shop’ using the internet, the owners are foolish to not update the pictures everywhere?

I am still aghast that they can just change your school district like they did. Consider people move to where they do in order to live in a certain school district, it is almost cruel to take that away from people.


Nicole July 14, 2011 at 7:30 am

Especially when they decide to completely ignore the two things that matter most to parents: commute time/distance to the school and staying with the same school. They obviously have far too much money for busing.

Our house has dropped 30K in value over the past year. On the plus side, our property taxes went down…


Kris July 14, 2011 at 10:35 pm

I love how my taxes have plummeted in recent years, but I hate how my house is worth less than I paid for it. (But not underwater.)

I personally think the people that got their school districts changed need some sort of refund because you paid more for your house to be in the better school district. I would be so furious.


Moneycone July 13, 2011 at 7:26 am

I don’t have experience selling but I agree with your perspective as a buyer. There were houses in great locations but with little care put into it. No buyer wants to see wall paper peeling or leaking faucets. These things don’t cost a whole lot to fix, yet we saw so many homes where the seller was hoping the buyer ‘wouldn’t mind’.


Kris July 13, 2011 at 11:05 pm

If I saw a house that looked unattended like you said, I would expect to pay a foreclosure price, that is for sure.


101 Centavos July 13, 2011 at 7:26 am

I’m gobsmacked when I see houses listed by realtors that haven’t received even a minimal makeover. So easy to do and such obvious returns. The house next to ours had the lawn go unmowed for weeks. I had to call the realtor a couple and offer to cut the lawn (for a fee, of course) before they got serious about yard maintenance.


Kris July 13, 2011 at 11:04 pm

I wonder how some realtors even get their realtor’s license given how little they actually seem to do to get the houses sold. Good for you to call the realtor to get them to get the house cleaned up.

I sometimes consider getting licensed for real, maybe someday…


First Gen American July 13, 2011 at 9:42 am

I went through 2 realtors before we sold my mom’s house. The first one said not to bother doing anything to the house. HE didn’t even list it. He was trying to find investors to buy it as a fixer. This was 2008, subprime mortgage crisis time. Needless to say, after 3 months we got no offers.

Round 2. I painted the empty apartment from top to bottom and the front and back hall and the porches. I recaulked the bathroom. I also spray painted the chainlink fence, mulched, weeded and for good measure buried a st. Joseph. I made a book of repairs and improvements by year and documented over %50,000 in upgrades. The second time around, the house sold within 5 days. Fresh paint makes a world of difference. When someone drives up to a home that is run down, they worry that it has not been maintained at all, so they are afraid of the stuff that’s not so obvious like lack of furnace maintenance or rotting roofs and chimneys, etc.

I remember my husband and I drove up to a 2 family house when we were shopping for my mom and the gutter was dangling 1/2 attached to the roofline, 1/2 just floating in the air. He wouldn’t even go into the house. He said, if they can’t take time to attach the gutter, they haven’t done a darn thing on the house ever.


Kris July 13, 2011 at 11:01 pm

I am totally with your husband. If they are careless enough to not make a basic repair like reattaching a gutter, I would be scared of what major repairs the previous owners were ignoring!

You can see the huge difference cosmetic changes can make from your own personal experience. Some changes could take about a weekend to do and cost less than a thousand dollars.


Money Reasons July 13, 2011 at 12:15 pm

I would try to make a house an neutral as possible if I were to try and sell house! And roundup would be my best friend for tidying up! I don’t like harmful chemicals, but I don’t like to let a house sit too long for sale either.

I think it’s good to have common sense when selling a house. Go with neutral off-white colors (because they are going to repaint it anyway…

But then again, I’m coming from someone who was looking for a house for over 6 months (11 years ago). In one house, blood red fixtures and black walls in the master bathroom (or was it pink and black) instantly made us turn around and leave…


Kris July 13, 2011 at 10:54 pm

MR- it seems so hard to paint over or red or black, so I get it. I looked at a house once that had black and gold wallpaper that seemed like it was a velvet texture. That scared me too.

I always painted before we moved in, but I quite often that I didn’t like the color I chose after I moved in and got to know the house a little better. Oh well.


The Biz of Life July 13, 2011 at 12:48 pm

The hardest thing to sell is an empty house. A house that is lived in, but tidy and well kept-up, and smells like homemade cookies just taken from the oven is a lot easier sell.


Kris July 13, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Biz- An empty house is so deceiving. It makes room look smaller somehow, and for some people, they just can’t picture the utility of a room unless they see it ‘in use’.

I wish I had some homemade cookies baking right now, even though my house isn’t for sale.


Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager July 13, 2011 at 3:38 pm

I’m house hunting right now and I’m definitely more interested in clean homes with no photos. I get too distracted by photos and messy houses to actually LOOK at the house for what it is.


Kris July 13, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Jenna, I am a big fan of HGTV and one of the first things they always want sellers to do is take down the photos, so I guess they know what they are talking about! I have also learned that I would look underneath any area rugs!


retirebyforty July 13, 2011 at 4:39 pm

The inventory is low right now. I think most people doesn’t want to sell at a loss and there are not a lot of buyers. I would fix up a house before putting it on the market. If it looks bad, the buyer will offer a lower price.


Kris July 13, 2011 at 10:30 pm

RB40- It is interesting because I agree that people do need to fix up the house in order to sell it. However, I often wonder why they didn’t make some of the changes in the first place.


Squirrelers July 13, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Selling a home is about location, plus supply and demand. The thing is, the homes don’t sell themselves – we have to market them. Well, at least these days we have to really market them.

In the past, I had tried some minor accent purchases that were coordinated (area rug, runner, hand towel, etc) and that actually helped a bit. That’s not rational, but neither are many purchases!


Kris July 13, 2011 at 10:29 pm

Squirrel, it is all about what is pleasing to the eye, and what seems irrational to one person will seem perfect rational to others!

You are right, we really do have to market our homes (or anything) in this economy. However, I also feel fortunate that I don’t have to sell when prices are so depressed.


Lola July 13, 2011 at 8:26 pm

We don’t have a lot of turnover around here, but out of 440 houses officially in this neighborhood, there are probably about a dozen for sale at any given time. The house around the corner was for sale for about a year, but it was clearly priced too high. This is a nice neighborhood with very good schools, but I think everybody knows that you should be getting a deal these days on houses. Last month I noticed a banner saying “Price Lowered” went up over the For Sale sign, and sure enough, it sold in about a week.

Do you know what a typical price-per-sq.-ft is for your area? In our neighborhood, I would guess it ranges from $80 to $100 per sq foot.


Kris July 13, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Lola, our house is in one of the best school districts in the state, so ours are pretty high per square foot compared to other cities in our area. Right now, mine is showing as $95/square foot, which is probably considered low in many parts of the country, but moderately high in our area.

Actually, I have been surprised because most houses in our sub sell pretty quickly, but three days was super fast.

I agree, I do think people expect a deal these days.


Financial Samurai July 17, 2011 at 11:16 am

It really has to be the MOST stressful selling one’s house due to all the nostalgia and memries. We take things personally if a buyers doesn’t like XYZ.


Kris July 17, 2011 at 10:58 pm

For me, I never really cared if anyone liked my decorating or not, probably because I am not a highly refined decorator. What has always been hardest for me was leaving a home that has so many memories for me in my head. My last house was really hard to leave because I think I spent the best time of my life there. I still love the life I have now, but if I had to pick a favorite age, it would have been when I was 30 and living in our last house.


Eleazar July 19, 2011 at 10:22 pm

As always, a renovated house for sale commands high price than delapidated and unattendedy house for sale. The emotional side of buying a beautiful house with elegant design will pave the way to close sales even with a high price tag. This is what most marketers do, they target their buyer’s ego.


Kris July 20, 2011 at 8:59 am

Eleazar- I also think that some people truly don’t have ‘vision’ when it comes to homes. If they see outdated carpet and wallpaper, they can’t see what the home could become, and they just walk away. Those people are probably very willing to pay a premium because they ‘finally’ see something they like.


Clinton July 27, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Curb appeal, kitchens, bathrooms and make the property look like it worth more than it really is. You can do this with paints, trims, color of tiles and other items. Oh yeah, yard signs hand made can sell properties faster than any other sign hands down!


Kris July 27, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Hand made signs sell houses? I had no idea!! That is something I would have never thought of.


Shelly Slader July 26, 2013 at 2:40 pm

This might sound really weird but when we were selling our house we decided to just spruce it up a little by putting down two area rugs from Edmonton. They were simple yet classy and really helped to make the house look more up to date. It’s a good idea for anyone needing to do little improvements before selling!


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