Are you ready to sell?
Experts and home sellers give advice about what it takes to move a house during a slow economy.
Samantha Canfield replaced aging Berber carpeting with trendy frieze so that her home in Westerville's Highland Lakes would quickly sell. The house sold after only 15 days on the market for $1,000 more than its listing price.
It was pricey—over $12,000—to have the navy blue ceramic tile in Sandra and Stephen Silbaugh’s large foyer and kitchen removed and replaced with hardwood flooring, plus refinish the living room and dining room floors to match. Their Realtors, Kate and Tony Thomas of New Albany Realty, made the recommendation. “Kate told us if we wanted to sell quickly, change it out,” Sandra recalls. “Finding a buyer who’d be willing to overlook the blue tile would take much longer.”
When they moved into the 12-year-old, 3,000-square-foot Harrison Pond home five years ago, updating the floor had been high on the Silbaughs’ to-do list. A new baby quickly reordered their priorities. They painted, changed out brass knobs and purchased new lighting fixtures, but never got around to removing the tile.
Despite the mess and cost, Sandra says, “I’m absolutely convinced we’d still be trying to sell the house if we had kept that blue tile.” After six weeks on the market, the home sold in June for $352,500, just $6,500 short of their asking price.
Another seller, in a more stagnant, high-end price category on Fenway Road in New Albany, took a different approach: no change-outs. Their 5,000-square-foot, 11-year-old Georgian brick home was in great condition, the homeowner says, after they had spruced up last year to host events for their son’s wedding.
“We still had the brass hardware,” she points out. “No wine area and big flat-screen in the basement, that man cave some buyers look for. Our hardwood floors were the narrow planks—still lovely—but not the trendy wide ones that are popular now.” Nevertheless, it sold for $840,000 in August to a couple from Boston at 95 percent of the list price.
Whether it’s pent-up demand or the beginning of a housing market recovery, Columbus Board of Realtors President Rick Benjamin notes that home sales in Central Ohio “have gotten some traction in the first half of .” But for sellers this may also result in tougher competition as those waiting for any sign of a turnaround decide to sell.
Buyers are negotiating aggressively. Realtor Jill Rudler of Real Living HER says flatly, “They expect the home to be perfect.” In newer communities—Powell and New Albany—15- and 20-year-old homes, especially those in the $700,000-plus category, are judged against new builds, and must be fresh and on-trend.
It’s imperative in a soft market that sellers get the best return on their home improvements. Tackling maintenance issues—sills with dry rot, chipping exterior paint, damp basements—is required, or it will show up later on the home inspection report. Painting pays off big time, experts say. It’s also required that the home is spotlessly clean and obsessively tidy. Because, as Benjamin puts it, “if you’re the home in the best condition at the best price, you are the market.”
Upgrades That Matter
The kitchen, bathrooms, master bedroom suite and great room, for the most part, drive the sale of the home. Buyers want freshly painted or glazed cabinetry in the kitchen, granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. In homes under $400,000, “it’s the look you’re after, not the brand of appliance,” says Kate Thomas. “In the next tier, it’s GE Profile or KitchenAid [appliances]. At $700,000 and above, buyers are expecting Asko, Sub-Zero, Viking, Wolf, Thermador.”
Should you switch out older appliances for new models? Or offer an appliance allowance? “Buyers tend to over-exaggerate what it would cost them to change something out. For $2,500 worth of appliances, they might imagine it’d run $10,000,” explains Realtor Tony Thomas. “Their perception is about a 3-to-1 ratio in their favor.”
And, notes Candace Tesner, a Realtor at Street Sotheby’s Realty in Upper Arlington, there’s the appeal of move-in ready. “Many times they’re two working professionals with no time to update a home. If it’s not up to speed, they insist the price reflect that.” So, something as simple as replacing cracked tiles in the bathroom and updating the faucets, showerheads and lighting fixtures can make a striking difference.
Then there’s the whole knob thing. Brass is out. Dated. Done. It’s now brushed nickel, antique bronze, pewter or chrome. Changing knobs is not expensive, but don’t forget hinges, locks, and door stops—they have to match the new look.
In the master bedroom, professional stager Jodi Poliseno advises investing in upscale linens and bedding if yours are faded and worn. “For most of us, this is the last room we decorate. But you want it to shine and look like a suite, with well-developed bedding and luxurious pillows.”
Most buyers need a home office, says Sarah Eagleson, a Realtor at Keller Williams. Eagleson recalls one Upper Arlington seller’s smart solution. “They had a nice room that had a counter and some cabinets. They removed one cabinet door to create leg room, bought a bar stool to slide under the counter and set up a laptop. Instant office, and it cost virtually nothing.”
If carpet is past its prime and a professional cleaning won’t restore the beauty, replace it. Samantha Canfield, who recently sold her home in Westerville’s Highland Lakes, says, “I took out the Berber and put in frieze, which is trendy and doesn’t show tracking.” Her well-maintained home sold in 15 days, for $587,000, a cool $1,000 over the listing price.
Neutral or not?
Paint walls in neutral shades of cream, tan and honey, but “don’t over-neutralize,” cautions Poliseno. “Potential buyers will see 15 houses in a day, and they can’t remember vanilla.” More importantly, it has to look good on camera. “People start the buying process online,” she says, “and if you make it all real estate beige, there won’t be any impact. Add color back in with throw pillows and a piece of artwork over the fireplace.”
And while you’re at it, lose the wallpaper. “Nobody likes anyone else’s wallpaper,” counsels Eagleson. “Even if you think: ‘Yeah, but mine is really great!’ Take it down.”
De-Clutter and eliminate
If, after an afternoon of cleaning and reorganizing the basement, all you’re tossing out is a shoebox of knickknacks, you may need help. Christy Talese, owner of Organize Me For Good, sorts and purges with the homeowner, and devises a system for containing future clutter. Closets are a prime target. “We stage [a home] for the current season and put everything else in storage,” Talese explains. “Because an overrun closet sends a subliminal message that there’s not enough storage space.”
One Upper Arlington widow hired Suzy Smith of Suzy’s Helping Hands to assist in sorting furniture, rugs and her late husband’s workshop items before she sold the home and moved to a small condo. “There was so much stuff,” the homeowner exclaims. “Some went to auction, some to Grandview Mercantile. It was a big help.”
Consider putting things—furniture, toys, books—in storage. Rudler calls it “pre-packing.” The goal is to reduce, making the home look more spacious.
You’d be surprised how many homeowners overlook this,” says Rudler. The landscaping must be sharp: driveway and mailbox maintained, grass mowed, beds mulched, bushes trimmed so windows are visible and planters of healthy flowers positioned near the front door.
Then concentrate on the entry: The front door should be in top condition. Change out old hardware and weathered porch lights. Sweep away cobwebs and leaves, throw down a chic new doormat and test the doorbell to make sure it works.
Sounds obvious, but a bad first impression lingers.
Stage to sell
It’s becoming routine—hiring a stager to depersonalize a home while accenting its best features, a marketing strategy some say is just short of magic. Many Realtors offer free consultations with stagers as part of their services.
“I see it as dressing you up for a job interview in a great suit, nice tie,” says Ray Graves, who has the staging firm Home Prep with partner Tony Fasolino. “But it’s also about what you do,” explains Graves, the former owner of Grandview’s now-defunct home décor store, Global Living. “Cleaning and organizing are 50 percent of selling a home, and if you haven’t painted and landscaped, staging won’t help.”
With a warehouse of furniture at his disposal, Graves creates vignettes in empty homes and switches out pieces in furnished ones. “Notice how a store like Crate & Barrel creates a transitional look, with an eclectic mix in their vignettes,” he remarks. “That’s what you want.”
Staging sealed the deal, April Gadberry believes, in the recent sale of her 12-year-old Lewis Center home. It was in mint condition when she and her husband decided to sell, “but Jodi [Poliseno] staged it, suggesting we remove sports memorabilia from the basement and de-clutter again. Jodi completely changed our living room—a long, narrow space—from awkward to cozy by angling a chair differently.”
The home sold at the full listing price of $240,000. Time on the market: an enviable 36 hours.
Rhonda Koulermos is a freelance writer.