I’ve been a full-time Realtor for over 22 years. I still find it surprising how fast the years have flown by. That being said, I have seen the good, bad, and the ugly when it comes to selling homes. And I’m not just talking about polarizing design choices. Selling your home can be easy if you go into the experience with an open heart and mind. You’ll want to remember that determining the market value of your home isn’t dictated by how much you want or feel you need to be paid. (How much you need may, however, determine whether or not this is the right time to sell your home. I.e., can you afford to sell now?) It’s also not determined strictly by the price your neighbor just got for her/his house. Especially, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the price homebuyers will pay for your house is related at all to the price buyers are paying for houses in the area to which you intend to move…unless you are intending to move within your own neighborhood. Even then, there’s more to it than a neighborhoods average price.

The true market value of your home is identified after it is sold. It is defined as “the dollar amount a buyer paid for the property,” and is influenced by numerous factors, many of which are out of your control. However, many is not all, so I want to share with you some key things you have some control over and give you specific things you can do to position your house for a sale that will best advantage you.

If I could magically push only one message into the minds of all home sellers, it would be: In the education we REALTORS® receive prior to being licensed, zero, let me repeat that, ZERO time is spent educating us on sales, marketing, advertising, or merchandising. In fact, you can see evidence of that in the words that lawyers for the National Association of Realtors have carefully crafted to keep us out of trouble. Note that REALTORS® who help buyers are called the “buyer’s agent” and those who help sellers are called the “listing agent.” We list houses in the MLS. Colloquially, people may refer to the listing agent as the seller’s agent because we do represent you at the negotiating table. That is what we are trained to do. We write, review, coordinate, and negotiate contracts on behalf of homebuyers and sellers.

With this truth in mind, I realized early in my career that virtually all listing agents generate the same, minimal, basic materials to help sellers get their homes sold, but we, and therefore you, rely almost exclusively on the house selling itself. BUT, there is nothing in the law or policies that says we must not or cannot do more. So, I do more. I don’t know anyone else who does, and I know basically everyone. I’ve coined a term for myself when I am representing a home seller and that term is “marketing agent.” As a marketing agent, I don’t rely on the home selling itself and I don’t limit myself to just what the MLS requires of a listing. I do all of the MLS stuff and so much more. I will provide you with the most effective guidance for preparing your home for sale, from decluttering to making smart improvements. Then, I bring in the big guns. I hire professionals in various fields to take things to the next, and best, level. You can learn more by looking at the “help me sell my house” section of this website and see just how impactful a home’s marketing can be.

But, back to the point at hand, what can you do to prep for my team of pros to get your home noticed and sold faster and for more money. Here are my top five pro tips:

1. Be engaged in setting the asking price.

For purposes of illustration, let’s imagine you are selling a 10-year-old, single family house on a standard residential lot. I’ll tell you right now that a successful asking price for your home will be largely determined by:

  • The neighborhood it’s in
  • How long the house has been on the market
  • The asking price
  • The price buyers have recently paid for similar houses in similar areas (going back about 6 months, and in rare cases up to a year or two), and in this case, “similar” largely means approximately the same:
    • Square footage of interior space
    • Amenities on or directly adjacent to the property (Do you own a photovoltaic array and wall of batteries? Do you have a swimming pool? Is your property beachfront?)
    • Improvements/updates you’ve made (Does anything in the 10-year-old house look 20 years outdated -OR- have things been brought/kept up to modern day standards and styling?)
    • Condition of any and every aspect of the house and grounds (Does everything about a house look, smell, and feel clean, shiny and new, -OR- does it look the house has been ridden like a rental then put away broken and wet?)
    • Square footage of the property (land)
    • Number of bedrooms
    • Number of bathrooms

REALITY CHECK 1a: No matter what anyone tells you, one thing homebuyers never believe, think, or feel (even if we tell them to) is, “I’m so glad the sellers didn’t rip out this stained wall-to-wall carpet, replace the sticky bathroom vanity, or paint. Now I can choose the finishes I want and do it myself. Just imagine how much more this house would have cost if the sellers had done all the repairs and updates before they listed it.” I cannot count the number of home sellers (and REALTORS®) I’ve heard repeat this utterly nonsensical thinking. It’s not true now; it’s never been true. If you can afford to, don’t go down this rabbit hole. It doesn’t end well for anyone, especially you.

Things that truly have little to no influence on the price buyers will offer for your house:

  • How much you love your home or feel it’s the perfect Barbie Dream House,
  • How much you paid for it originally,
  • How much you still owe on it,
  • The costs you’ve incurred to keep everything looking and functioning like new,
  • The architect who designed the house, (expect maybe if s/he is a STARchitect with a household name of historical significance, for example: Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, etc.)
  • Your listing agent’s name, brokerage, or good reputation

I value your time and care about delivering the best experience possible. I will be honest with you in all things without exception, including how much I believe your house will be worth to potential buyers, and I’ll show you (with receipts) the way I arrive at any pricing suggestions I make.

Reality Check 1b: Overpricing can lead to your home being on the market for far too long. (See above – the second of four things that largely determine how much buyers are willing to pay for a house.)

2. Declutter Your House

I can’t stress this enough, cluttered or disorganized houses turn off potential buyers. Some will never come see a house that they feel looks cluttered or messy for fear of what it might smell like. Remember, when people are shopping for a new house, they need to (and are trying to) picture themselves in each house they see. More importantly, they’ve seen your house long before they talk to their REALTOR® about it or visit an open house. It is safe to assume that everyone starts house shopping without the help of an agent and they are doing it online. How does this relate to decluttering? I’ll share with you what my marketing company’s photographer said to me:

“Personal items, especially all of the cute, often-small, & useful things we collect when we live in a home create either 1) visual noise or 2) unhelpful distractions in photos. We want people to see what they are buying (the house), not the myriad things they are not buying (your stuff). A camera cannot do what our eyes do and prioritize things in terms of visual impact or importance. Everything is reduced to pixels and each pixel has the same potential ‘weight.’ We have to control things by the edits we make to what is visible. It’s generally best to eliminate or reduce in number things like stacks of mail, papers on desks, disorganized closets, cleaning supplies, waste baskets, glass menageries, makeup and styling products, paperback books and magazines, stacks of newpapaers, collections of tchotchkes, refrigerator magnets, post-it notes, etc. Go for bigger statement pieces and, if possible, don’t trust your own eye. Hire a professional stager or interior stylist, then decide to do whatever they tell you to do … even if it inconveniences you during the time you’re house is on the market. The nicer the house looks, the nicer the pictures will turn out, and the shorter the time you’ll be on the market and inconvenienced.”

Paint a pretty picture for homebuyers by reducing anything that might make the photos visually noisy. I will help you identify your wonderful noise-makers, plus, I will hire a stager to help us, too.

3. When choosing a REALTOR® to list your house, you hire friends, family, or that friendly agent you know at your own PERIL.

Let me be very careful and clear here. This is not intended to cast shade on your friends, family, or any other agent. I’m certain they are wonderful people. This piece of advice harkens back directly to what I confessed before. REALTORS®, no matter their level of experience, are not educated in selling houses (marketing, merchandising, etc.) any more than, say, lawyers are. Our job is, first and foremost, to help you navigate and negotiate contracts. The only marketing education we’re ever given (by pounding it into us ad nauseam by our brokerages) is how to apply pressure to home sellers to get them to hire us. It’s sad, but true. Therefore, if you choose to hire a listing agent you know based on your good relationship with him/her, instead of comparing agents to find the tiny number of marketing agents who humbly partner with professional home stagers and marketing companies, you should not expect to attract the greatest number of homebuyers to compete with the highest possible offers. It’s not rocket science; it’s basic math. If you want proof, I can show you examples that will make the difference crystal clear to you and leave you with no doubts. I’ll gladly walk you through the things that create incomparably better outcomes for the home sellers I work with. Examples that can be directly compared to worse results for sellers that hired typical listing agents, across all price points.

Also, remember that we aren’t living in the stone age or industrial age or even the age of information anymore. We are living in the digital age and technology changes almost faster than anyone can keep up. Don’t you want an agent dedicated to knowing and providing the latest and greatest ways of getting your home in front of active homebuyers? I can do that for you. No other REALTORS or brokerages in Hawaii even try. But again, don’t take my word for it, compare for yourself. I’ll show you my way and then you can put it up against any other agent you want. 

That said, if you genuinely don’t care how much your house sells for, like truly don’t care, any REALTOR® can get it listed and sold.

4. Don’t Make Last-Minute Eclectic Design Choices

If you choose to make DIY upgrades to your house to increase the listing value, keep things subtle, clean, classic, and timeless. I’m not saying to add historic, traditional finials to a minimalist, modern home. I’m just saying take a pass on the “fun” neon disco pool lights or installing a “cactus corner” in your otherwise lush, tropical landscaping. Of course, if you’re an interior architect or designer by profession, you do what you know works, but for most of us a good rule of thumb is “The crazier or more unusual a home design, the smaller the pool of homebuyers that will agree.” The last thing we want to pop into the minds of potential buyers is: IT’S TIME TO RENOVATE.

,5. Once your home is on the market, be eagerly absent.

It’s natural to feel protective and expect privacy in your own home. It’s expected that you are king or queen of your castle and people should respect your time and space. I hope you’ve always had those feelings when you are home.

There are probably only two times where expectations of being in charge and making the final decision about things related to your property can, and will, work against you: 1) if the house is on fire or 2) if the house is listed for sale. So, primarily if you are living in the house you’re selling and cannot yet move, decide that now is not the time to get precious or private about who can see your house and when you’re willing to jump up and leave. Making the decision that you are ready to disappear at a moment’s notice before the house is listed for sale will make everyone’s life sweeter and shorten the number of days you’ll be subject to the disruption that is inherent in selling a home.

Of course, for some people, this advice is common sense and easy, but for others, opening your home at someone else’s command feels like a real imposition and can even stir up defiant impulses. If you know, or suspect, that you are in the latter group, I find two things can help:

  1. Be prepared with a day bag ready at the door and an activity in mind that you want to do. Play a little game with yourself that you are only going to allow yourself to do the activity during the time a homebuyer wants to see your house. Look forward to the freedom of being able to go do the thing you have planned and as soon as anyone asks to see your house.
  2. Do a thought experiment wherein you are several weeks into the future, your house is sold, and you are looking for your next place. Ask yourself how you’d like a home seller to respond when you respectfully request to tour the house they are selling. How would you feel if the response to your request came back, “S/he can only see my house on Tuesdays from 9:30-11:30 pm while I’m at my bowling league.”

Always, I will have vetted potential buyers who need to see your property at odd times or cannot come to a scheduled open house. No one will be allowed to disturb you unless they can varify that they are genuinely in the market to buy and can afford your house. Plus, I will always give you as much lead time as possible when I receive viewing requests from potential buyers. However, the hands-down, best way to attract and motivate potential buyers to make offers on any property, including yours, is to make it available to them as often and as immediately as they want to see it. That might sound ridiculous but it’s been my decades-long experience that truly interested homebuyers don’t dilly-dally about gathering as much information as they need in order to place an offer and beat out any unseen competition. In other words, even buyers who want to see the house often, and at seemingly spontaneous hours, don’t need endless repeated visits and you won’t be up and down, in and out of your house like you’re stuck in an endless turnstile for long.

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