My house has been on the market for six months. I took it off the market yesterday because it's going nowhere. This is my first house, so I'm hardly an expert on the topic, but I think there is a combination of reasons that I didn't get an offer. My official answer is the down market. Interest rates are great right now, but the recent housing boom in my area has created a glut of available housing with not quite so many new job opportunities to bring newcomers to the area. The realtor deserves some of the credit too. It was something she said in our initial meeting that influences my opinion about her today.
"I'm not one of those realtors who just puts a For Sale sign up and you never see again." I have not seen her face since that day, so she stuck her own foot in that one.
These factors are important, but I'm going to focus on my own failings in this matter and explicate things I did and things I should have done without touching on major issues that would need to be handled by a contractor such as roofing or foundation repair. There are things any homeowner can and should do to prepare for putting a house on the market.
Thoroughly clean the entire house I did this. And I didn't. Clean dishes, fingerprint-free doorframes and shiny countertops are just the rudiments. I found out that there are things I walk by every day that contain funk and dust that I am totally oblivious to. You have to clean until it hurts. Brutally examine every corner of your existence and know that when a buyer comes to the door, they are wearing white gloves which they will gleefully run underneath your refrigerator and cackle as they disdainfully show you the five years worth of lint you allowed to accumulate. Don't think for a minute that people will be understanding about these things. They don't have to be. It's sort of like being the only female in the bar. You can afford to be picky and that's what they mean by it's a buyer's market.
Clear out clutter. Make rooms and closets look as empty as possible. If no room, rent a storage unit. Glance at any decorating magazine and you will see that none of the rooms show a sign of life. One vase, a couple of books, a pillow at each corner of the couch, but no bills on the table, no shoes by the door does anyone want to see. I have a lot of books and I like seeing my shelves bursting with them. I like to arrange them in artistic ways. No one cares. So I stripped the shelves of everything but the classics and lined them up by height. This meant that a lot of stuff had to be boxed up. I thought renting storage would be silly overkill so I stacked boxes in the spare bedroom and figured it wouldn't matter. Well it did. People complained that it was messy in there and the look was just not very friendly. They want the magazine photo.
Repair everything that is broken, rotted or otherwise in need. Lot's of stuff around my house is broken, but I'm constrained by time and money so I dealt with what I thought were "the essentials". The day before I put the house on the market, the air conditioner broke down. It was May and it gets hot around here. The repairman told me to stick a fork in this unit, it's done, but for just $2000 he could set me up with a brand new one.
"But I don't have $2000!" I wailed. Actually, I think I just mumbled, "I'll get back to you", and started brainstorming for how I could get the money and how long I could last without A/C.
Clearly, putting the house on the market with no A/C was out of the question, so I pretty much felt like the gods were pissing on me. Four hours later, the repair guy called back and said he fixed it and it would only cost $200. I couldn't decide if I wanted to hit him or bake him cookies. The point of this anecdote is that I put a band-aid on a costly problem that no one is going to know about. (I realize the possibility that the repairman was just trying to rip me off because I'm a guuuurrl.)
However, there is a small cosmetic issue inside the house that EVERYBODY noticed: a small spot on the ceiling where the texture is peeling and a stain is visible. It really is small and I didn't think it was a big deal. The realtor didn't think it was a big deal.
She should have known better!
Everybody asked, "How'd that happen? Did your pipes break? Does the toilet leak?"
"No", I'd say. "The washing machine overflowed once."
Skepticism stared back at me, so I'd explain further. "You see, the washing machine is right above that spot. The toilet is on the other side of the house."
They still looked at me like I was full of shit. So I bought a spray can of texture repair kit at Home Depot. The jet force of the stuff blasted off more texture, the exploding oatmeal inside the can is a different color than the existing texture and now I truly have a mess up there. Beyond a doubt, I should have coughed up $500 to have the ceiling scraped off and repainted. The air conditioning unit didn't factor in at all, but that spot was probably the single most damaging item.
If you don't know how, pay someone else to fix it. See above.
Powerwash the exterior. Paint if needed. This one isn't a factor for me because the homeowners association is responsible for that stuff, but I have a porch and it often has pine needles on it and that apparently bothers people. I also leave my soccer cleats on the porch. They are often muddy. Red sod dries up and lies in crumbled little clumps here and there and a little over there. If someone is actually going to comment to me that this is off-putting, imagine how they would regard peeling paint or dirty siding.
Paint interior if necessary or wash walls, baseboards and windows.Did all that. Almost. I admit it, I got tired. I painted everything back to white except for just two walls which are still light yellow. I figured who's going to care? It's so light anyway, you can hardly tell. A friend of mine who sells a lot of houses asked me if the walls were different colors or if he was just seeing things. I asked him what was the big deal? He just laughed at me.
Clean carpeting or replace if needed.Finally, something I did right! It had red wine stains and a few years worth of traffic marks so total replacement was called for. Still, someone commented that my carpet looked "dated". It isn't orange shag for god's sake!! It's just plain old cream colored carpet, you old bat! Eh...you can't please everybody.
The absolute cleanest rooms in your home should be the kitchen and bath.True and tough to keep up since you use these every day. The dishes, the toothpaste you spit out, the empty beer bottles, pizza boxes, drying underwear, toenail clippings...it all gives buyers an ick feeling and ick does not sell houses.
Let the light shine in. Minimize or remove anything that darkens rooms.Short of installing all new lighting I thought my hands were tied with this one. I have a lot of canned, recessed lights and they are crap. All I could do is open all the curtains in the morning and leave lights on in rooms that didn't get a lot of sunlight. Turns out there is an inexpensive reflector you can insert into a canned fixture that spreads the light around more. Too little too late for me, though.
Replace any old appliances or fixtures.Unless your appliances are new or almost new, people will definitely downgrade you on this. Signs of wear show up around the knobs, on the trim and in the gaskets. A crack or a missing knob makes people think "This thing is going to give out on me as soon as I buy it", or "I'll have to go out and buy a knob. I'm not living in this pukehole!" I sprang for a new refrigerator, but that just made the older stove and dishwasher look more pathetic by comparison, so now they're on the "To Do" list. Especially since the dishwasher is dead now. So maybe the knob was the killing blow.
Work on yard cleanup and maintenance.Again, not an area I'm responsible for, thanks to HOA dues, but I'd be willing to bet at least a whole dollar that if you've got grass tall enough to hide a car, that won't go over too well.
Do your best to keep the house in good showing condition daily.For the first two months I had a routine. Evening: Put out fresh flowers, wash dishes, vacuum. Morning: Put out clean towels, empty litter box, take out trash, make bed. By month number three I had said to hell with the flowers and vacuuming was back down to once a week. Month four, I started leaving my towels hanging over the shower rod again and sometimes you could see remnants of last nights dinner in the sink. Month five, I remembered that I think making the bed is a waste of time anyway and so what if there is a cat turd or two in the litter box. Month six and I'm back to my fully functional slapdash backsliding ways. So I take full responsibility for this. My excuse is that all the showings happen in the first two months when the house is a new listing. I was getting 15 showings a week, but after the second month they dropped down to 1 or 2 a week and I lost interest.
I'm purposely skipping over any discussion about price. That isn't something you do so much as just make a decision on and live with it. I'm pretty sure most realtors just look up how much the last house in your neighborhood sold for, add a little to that and see if it flies. If it doesn't, you'll be getting asked to drop it down a little after the second month.
To put it in a nutshell, I think people just want to know that they would be moving into a house that requires nothing from them but a signature. No painting, cleaning, fixing, drilling, digging, hauling, buffing and definitely no replacing.
So it's been a learning experience. An expensive, time-consuming, humiliating learning experience. I'll do better next year.