- Sales, Marketing
Lauren Harper-Haden, commission sales trainer in personal promotion, target marketing, presentation skills & customer service. Everybody knows it’s important that a house be in neat, clean, presentable condition when it goes on the market. At any moment a Realtor might call wanting to bring buyers over. The place shouldn’t look like something out of Sixteen Candles, the ultimate unsupervised-teens-trash-the-house movie.
A seller’s to-do list
Real estate agent Lauren Harper-Haden offers this baker’s dozen of things sellers can do to get their homes ready to show and sell.
Lauren Harper-Haden, a realtor and sales trainer, offers a compelling reason why the sellers whose homes she’s listing should prep and primp their homes: “They’ll reap top dollar and a timelier sale.”
If a house is cluttered and messy, she said, buyers will ignore its positive features — a basement or a fireplace or a better location. “But if a house is streamlined and immaculate, that’s what people buy.”
Harper-Haden wouldn’t put a specific dollar figure or percentage on how much more she can get for a home that has been prepped versus one that isn’t. That depends on the house’s condition, whether it needs new carpeting and wallcovering or simply needs decluttering and cleaning.
But she recalled one seller who announced, “This is how I live, this is how I want to sell it. I’m not doing anything.” Fine, Harper-Haden responded, but she told that seller how much she could expect for the house in its current condition and how much more she thought she could get if it were properly presented.
The house needed carpeting, wallcovering and cleaning, “and she wasn’t going to do any of it,” Harper-Haden said. She told the seller, “I understand that at this stage in your life, money may not be your motivating factor.”
The house sold fairly promptly, Harper-Haden said, “but at the home inspection we gave away $6,000 in home inspection issues, and in contract negotiations we gave money away. It was a logical transaction, not an emotional one. If you get the buyer’s emotion, they will pay more. Plus, if they see dirt, they think the house has not been taken care of, and they’ll be even more nitpicky.”
Harper-Haden insists that her buyers go through a detailed process she directs of prepping their homes before she starts showing them to prospective buyers. That means clearing out clutter and mess, cleaning, repairing, enhancing and deodorizing — all to Harper-Haden’s exacting standards. She tours the seller-prepped house and makes sure it passes muster before she agrees to start bringing buyers through.
“It should look as much like a model as possible,” she said. “People will pay more. They’ll fight over it. It’s like detailing a car.”
Harper-Haden is diplomatic when she talks to sellers about getting their homes ready. “You can’t go in there and say, “You are such a slob!’ ” said Harper-Haden, who gave an energetic presentation on prepping sellers and homes for sale at the National Association of Realtors convention in Chicago recently. “They like the way it looks. They live there.”
So she’ll say, “I’m going to give you “perfect world’ suggestions on what you should do, and then you can decide what you can do.” Or she’ll say, “When I sold my house, I brought in a Realtor to help me. It’s difficult for us to be objective with our own homes.” And she’ll constantly tell sellers, “The way we live in our homes and the way we sell them are two different things.”
One of Harper-Haden’s mantras is, “Logic goes; pretty stays.” So even though it may be logical and convenient to have a container on the kitchen counter for spoons, whisks and other utensils, they represent space-eating clutter. Get rid of them. A vase of flowers, however, should stay.
Get rid of the microwave on the counter. It’s just eating up space. “The buyers won’t notice until they move in; then they can hang it above the sink,” she said. Find a hidden location for the trash can, not in full public view. “No, you don’t live like this; it’s to sell your house,” she counsels.
In the bathroom, unsightly grooming implements and personal-care items are banished to drawers or cabinets, but an attractive dish with a pretty bar of soap (unused, thank you!) or a bowl of potpourri or a scented candle will win pride of place.
In living and dining areas, pack up the kids’ toys. “You want it to look as if you have no children.” Get the kids’ artwork off the front of the refrigerator. If you must post it, how about on the door from the garage to the kitchen? She’ll make a deal with the kids: Take down the rock-star posters in their bedroom now; put them back up once there’s a contract on the house.
When a house needs serious cleaning, Harper-Haden will persuade her sellers that professional help is a good idea by enumerating all the specific areas that need cleaning (that soap scum on the shower doors! the gunk in the shower-door tracks!) and tell her sellers: “You must be so busy, you don’t have time for cleaning. Why don’t we get a cleaning service in here once a week while the house is on the market?”
She thinks cleaning out closets and cabinets is less important (“as long as stuff doesn’t fall out”) than making the rooms look good. “Fill up the garage, fill up a corner of the basement” with items removed from living areas, she suggests.
“I know everybody can’t do new carpet and wallpaper, but they can move the furniture,” she said. One of her pet peeves is the barricade of chairs and sofas people erect around the entertainment unit or fireplace, leaving almost no room to squeeze through and take a seat.
Harper-Haden has developed a reputation in her Chicago suburb for prepping her homes before they go on the market, and she says other agents “know that a Lauren listing always looks great.”
Harper-Haden establishes drills for her sellers so they know exactly what to do when the phone rings and an agent announces buyers are on the way. “We’ve got 15 minutes, here’s what we need to do: dishes in the dishwasher, put books and toys away, clear the counters, get the laundry out of the hallway. Get the home looking like the very first time you prepped it and Lauren approved it.”