What NOT to Do When Selling Your Home

I’ll never forget an open house I visited in 2008.

I asked our realtor to look around for some larger homes – possibly a two-story deal or a roomy ranch with a basement. I was thrilled when she came up with a list of six homes for us to see in one day — one of which I’ll call the “Coke House.”

It’s not what you might think. The brick ranch wasn’t the home of drug users or unemployed wannabes slinging cocaine. Nope, it was a house whose bottom level was filled to the brim with Coke memorabilia. From floor to ceiling, the entire downstairs had Coca-Cola wall-coverings, soft drink-inspired table and chair sets, and Coke tchotchkes.

The house was great otherwise, but we never got past the gaudy décor. And really, who could?

Selling Your Home? Don’t Make These Mistakes

Leaving specific décor intact when you sell your home is a huge mistake, but it’s one that plays out often. Homeowners don’t always realize their specific style doesn’t appeal to the masses – or maybe they just don’t care.

Of course, offbeat décor isn’t the only mistake sellers make when trying to unload a home. I reached out to several real estate professionals to find out the biggest mistakes they see sellers make. Here’s what they said:

Mistake #1: Skimping on photography.

In the age of online listings, a few pictures taken on your iPhone won’t really cut it, and that’s true no matter how great they are. Still, we’ve all seen homes marketed with unprofessional photos that don’t show the property in its best light.

“People make their decision to fall in love with your house with pictures over the internet,” says real estate investor Chad Carson. It would be a shame to miss out on a full-price sale because you were too cheap to get great pictures.

Carson suggests hiring a pro, making a good effort to stage your home, and making sure you have ideal lighting to get the perfect shots. If you don’t, he says, the perfect buyer may not even bother visiting your home.

Mistake #2: Spending too much on upgrades.

Common wisdom says it’s smart to fix up your home to sell, or at least to make sure any big issues are repaired before listing. But can you take it too far? According to Lee Huffman, a California real estate investor who works for DLH Partners, there’s definitely a point of diminishing returns.

“You can gold-plate everything and have improvements that would belong in five-star resorts, but if your home won’t appraise for the agreed-upon sale price, you’ll need to come down on the price if you want to close escrow,” says Huffman.

Instead of overspending on luxury upgrades, the best thing you can do is make sure your home is clean and cared for. Much of the time, buyers will want to update the home according to their own tastes anyway.

Mistake #3: Leaving lots of family pictures around.

Having your family photos strewn all over your home is fine if you’re staying put. But if you want to move, they can cause confusion for your buyers.

“Avoid showcasing personal photographs on your home tour, says Loria Hamilton-Field, Chicago managing broker of Owners.com.

“If family photographs are crowding your home, potential home buyers can get easily distracted and it will be more difficult for them to remember the home,” she says. “You want to be sure that buyers can see themselves living there — and the more personal items you have, the more difficult that becomes.”

Mistake #4: Overpricing your home.

An experienced Realtor will suggest a listing price based on your home’s current value, comparable sales nearby, and historical data. If you refuse to listen and ask for more than your home is worth, you could risk turning an even smaller profit when all is said and done.

“Sellers tend to look at their house as the prettiest, smartest, and most beautiful house on the block,” says California Realtor Wendy Gladson. Unfortunately, a seller’s love for their home can impact their perception of reality.

“The single worst thing you can do as a seller is to make an emotional decision regarding price,” Gladson says. “Overprice your property and you will chase the market downward and end up selling for less than you would have had you priced it at market value.”

Mistake #5: Being a nuisance during showings.

Whether you’re apprehensive or just nosy, you don’t want to leave during showings — we get it. Unfortunately, potential buyers don’t want to see you lingering in their future home.

“When a buyer or realtor schedules a showing, make sure you leave five minutes before they arrive,” says Texas realtor Diego Corzo. “Staying inside the home makes it uncomfortable for the buyers to speak their mind and share what they really think about the home. Plus, they may not stay as long because they don’t want to bug the seller. The buyer needs to feel as comfortable as possible.”

Mistake #6: Forcing your favorite team or brand on buyers.

Much like the owners of the “Coke” house I mentioned above, some people don’t know where to draw the line with themed décor. Kevin Lawton, realtor and host of the Real Estate Deal on 107.7 FM in New Jersey, has seen plenty of sales fall through when sports fanatics refuse to lighten their décor.

“I had a seller who was obsessed with a certain baseball team, and the team memorabilia and logo was all over the house — from a stained glass team logo over the front door to the entire carpet in the family room being green with baseballs on it,” says Lawton.

“They invited me over to tell them what to do to prep for selling; I said you have to reduce the amount of baseball stuff everywhere — they even had player’s numbers painted on the walls of the basement — and they refused,” Lawton continues. “Sure enough, it was a huge turn-off for buyers who were distracted by it all. Some were wowed and missed the rest of the house, and some were fans of a rival team which left a sour taste in their mouth!”

Mistake #7: Not painting in neutral colors that can appeal to everyone.

It’s okay to paint your house neon green while you live there, but it’s an awful idea when you’re ready to sell. Why? According to Trina Larson, a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway, crazy paint or wallpaper just means work for potential buyers.

“Don’t have garish out-of-date paint or wallpaper on your walls,” says Larson. “Decorating is a very personal thing and it can cost thousands of dollars to paint a house.” The thought of stripping lots of wallpaper or repainting an entire home can be a real deal-breaker for buyers.

“Buyers walk in and begin figuring out what they’ll have to spend to fix up the house,” Larson says. If it’s going to take a lot of work, money, or both to get the color scheme right, they might move on to another house or ask you for a considerable price reduction to make up for the added work.

Mistake #8: Forgetting to pack away your clutter.

There’s nothing worse than a house for sale that’s full of someone else’s stuff. Not only is it harder for buyers to envision your home as theirs when your crap is all over the place, but it makes your home appear messy and smaller than it actually is.

“Don’t leave clutter around, ever,” says Connecticut Realtor Emily Restifo. “Agents may tell you their clients can see right past it, but they can’t… at least not without it affecting their perception of value.  A cluttered house may be an indication of not enough space, or not enough care, but it sends a signal that it’s not the perfect property.”

Mistake #9: Not staging your home.

You may be in love with your ginormous pleather couch, blackout curtains, and gaming station, but if your realtor suggests you change it, you should.

While a unique furniture set-up may work perfectly for your family, you want something that appeals to all buyers. In some cases, you can get away with simply moving the furniture around to create a better flow. But sometimes, you may need to stage your home with borrowed furniture instead.

“Don’t reject staging furnishings or become offended when your agent recommends staging,” says California Realtor Wendy Hooper. “Staging is not decorating – it is the act of strategically placing neutral yet elegant furnishings to draw attention to the features of your home.”

Mistake #10: Forgetting to document the details of your sale.

No matter what, don’t delete emails from any professional who deals with your home’s sale. This includes emails from your realtor, your buyer’s realtor, and anyone dealing with the loan.

“In the event of a dispute, these emails will prove very valuable,” says Lauren Bowling, author of “The Millennial Homeowner.”

“When selling my home, the buyer wanted to back out after the due diligence period had closed, citing they had trouble getting financing. They wanted to keep the earnest money, even though they’d backed out a month before closing,” says Bowling.

Because she saved her emails, she was able to prove they never said a word about financing and had been in communication with her the entire time. As a result, she was able to keep their earnest money to make up for her lost time.

The Bottom Line

If your goal is to sell your home, the best thing you can do is hire a qualified Realtor to help with the sale – and then listen to their advice. Most Realtors are aware of the various moves that turn off buyers and can help you avoid them.

Or, you can buck the system and do things your way. But if your pink walls and leopard print carpet turn buyers off, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of Zero Down Your Debt. Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at ClubThrifty.com.

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What are the craziest things you’ve ever seen in a house for sale? Have you ever walked away from a house due to an issue on this list?

Holly Johnson
Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.

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