Real Estate TipsSelling January 26, 2014

Preparing a Home to Sell: 2014 Westchester Spring Real Estate Market

“De-cluttering” is so 2008. 

As I advise new clients listing their homes on the market to sell this spring, I am surprised to see how their jaws drop when I start the pre-sale preparations not with tidying up, curb appeal or repairs, but with fighting the battle online. 

Here’s what I mean: Before the 2014 consumer visits a home, they research it online in ways that weren’t even common when most home sellers were buying 5 or more years ago. Yes, it goes without saying that you patch the water damage from that time the tub overflowed and you remove the wall paper from Grandma’s old room. But that only addresses things after prospective buyers choose to look at your home. What about the information about your home they access online beforehand? The people you want to influence are not just those looking, but those who would check your home off their short list because of something they found on the Internet that they didn’t like. 

Here is a list of things to prepare your home for sale in the 2014 information age, which is going to have a dramatic effect on who gets top dollar fast for their home this spring and who has to reduce their price in the summer because they remain unsold.  

  • Grieve your taxes. Property taxes in Westchester County are the highest in the USA. I’ll repeat that: Our fair county has the highest property taxes of any county in the United States of America. In the feeding frenzy of spiking home values of a decade ago, municipalities made sure they got every dime they could justify. Did they adjust down with equal zeal after the crash? Hardly. If your home is assessed for $990,000 and it is on the market for $899,000, you shouldn’t even have to ask if you should grieve the taxes, you should just do it. Buyers love to hear that the seller is in action on lowering the taxes. It is one less thing for them to do and assures them that the current sticker price of property tax is going to be reduced. 
  • Google your address. You wouldn’t believe what people find when they do this. There are newspaper articles with incorrect addresses, websites with inaccurate information, and a ton of other websites that, perhaps worse, have no information on your home that should have a minimum of details. Get your Walkscore. Check your Zillow Zestimate. A broker like myself can show you how to fix inaccurate information before you go on the market so you don’t have to play catch up with a savvy buyer looking for a reason to make a lower offer or not see your home at all. 
  • Run your title report. This is another proactive way of avoiding problems which can kill a deal after months of time dealing with buyers, offers, contracts and inspections.
    • Make sure an old mortgage is discharged.
    • Make sure an old judgement from a 1997 divorce is satisfied.
    • Deal with that easement you forgot about or the encroachment of the neighbor’s fence that slowed down your purchase 15 years ago -forget that one too? 
  • Check the sex offender registry. I learned this one the hard way. Obviously, you can’t make a sex offender move out of your neighborhood. But forewarned is forearmed, and you can find out if that sex offender is a quadriplegic,  a 90 year old defrocked priest, or a married 35 year old with 3 kids who was in a Romeo and Juliet situation when he was 18. Check that registry

Of course, there are still a ton of things to do physically to the house, and often those are also things influenced heavily by the Internet. 

  • Go to the Building Department. Is that bathroom in the basement legal? Do you want to scramble at the last minute and spend top dollar to salvage a closing because you forgot it wasn’t? What about other improvements that may not have a certificate of occupancy? That rear deck?  The upgraded electrical system you had done 3 years ago? If your paperwork isn’t in order before you go on the market, later on a buyer might walk and the town will make you pay dearly at the 11th hour. I have, at different times in my career, dug out deck footings in the rain, demolished sheds, and filled in holes myself to make a deal work. I’d rather go the the gym. 
  • Get the home inspected. You want two kinds of inspections: a regular home inspection, and an environmental audit. Regular home inspections address things that a buyer’s inspection would discover and help avoid stress later. It simply makes no sense to dwell in ignorance about the chimney lining and 100 other things you don’t think about that the buyer will scrutinize closely once they choose your house. An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure in these cases.
  • The environmental audit should be a comprehensive assessment of air quality, mold, radon, testing submerged oil tanks, asbestos, pest infestation,and other concerns that are at the height of 2014 buyers’ consciousness. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen my buyers frown when the other side says things like “My client thought that might be asbestos, but they’ve lived there for XX years with no problem.” Absence of cancer is not exactly a high bar of assurance to people who want to raise their children in a home. Not addressing environmental concerns now can cost tens of thousands later in lost deals and price reductions, to say nothing of the actual remediation costs. 
  • Hire a stager. To me, the argument about whether or not a home stager can maximize the sale price and minimize the time on market was settled years ago when Marie Graham helped me get some listings sold in a very rough market. Stagers do not simply help you de-clutter and decorate with better appeal. They understand buyer perceptions. They know how to deal with pet odor, smoker’s homes, and many other things that the homeowner does not really have at the top of their mind after years living in their home. Staged homes sell faster, and they sell have a far higher likelihood of maximizing market value than a home that was not staged. 

Of course, perhaps the most important thing to preparing home home is choosing the right agent. A good agent will help you get everything done I have described, and our firm actually offers all the inspections as part of our service. The client pays nothing except to make the corrections once they are discovered. A good agent will also have a killer marketing plan that is tailored to the property, an excellent web presence, mega references, a solid track record, and a Rolodex (Wow…I am dating myself)  of resources to handle everything in this article. 

A good agent will also “profile” the most likely buyer for your home and make a marketing plan centered on that model. For example, in Westchester County, many of our buyers are in New York City and looking to relocate to the suburbs. Having a reach into tapping the city dweller market can make the difference in both time and money to an eager seller. You should also understand that the typical home buyer for a Westchester County home is typically very, very savvy and has done their research. They are spending a lot of money, and also bitterly resent even the appearance of anything intentionally hidden or glossed over. Handing the matters on this list will make a huge difference in doing business with that mentality. 

All of this occurs before the sign goes into the ground, before the professional photos and video are shot, and prior to entry into the MLS. It all makes a huge difference in time, money and reduction of stress. As my old high school wrestling coach Bill Carney often said, “it is not the will to win. It is the will to prepare to win.” I like my clients to win.