by Carol C. Wheelock, M.Ed.
Everyone dreams of selling a house quickly, without any hassles or delays. Although this is not always going to happen, there are many things you can do to make the process as fast and painless as possible. The most important first step is to take an honest look at your house. The reality is that people are going to form an opinion about it the second they first see it. It is also important to remember that most people have a very hard time looking beyond what is there, and can't imagine what the space could be. You have to show them that your house is the home they are looking for.
Is it ready for that first big impression? First of all, make sure a perspective buyer can find it! A house hidden behind overgrown shrubs is not visible. The yard must be well maintained and free of clutter. The front door must be obvious, with a clear path to it. This is true even if you don't usually use your front door and this is also true in the winter Ð keep that walkway shoveled! Have a number/letter clearly visible, hang something welcoming on the door, paint the door a different color, place flowers or greens near the door and along the walkway, and clear all clutter from the porch or stoop. Your house must be clearly distinguishable from others, even if it is a condo in an area of look-alikes. It also must give the impression of being well-maintained. This is basic curb-appeal. No one is going to buy a house s/he has no desire to enter.
The entry is just as important as the outside of your house. Make sure the door opens easily, without squeaking or sticking. Once again, is the area free from clutter? Do everything possible to create a warm and inviting space. If an area feels constricted potential buyers immediately feel that it takes too much effort to get in, and won't be interested.
This concept applies to the whole house. Cleaning and de-cluttering are priorities. No one wants to buy someone else's grease and grime, and a house that is not clean feels unkempt. If you haven't cleaned it, what else have you not done to take care of it? By getting rid of things that no longer support you, the seller, you will be making a big step toward letting go of your space and preparing to move on. The person looking at the house can now envision him or herself in the space. If it is already full, there is no room for anyone else!
Is it possible to overdo the de-cluttering and depersonalizing? It's possible and you don't want your house to look like a motel room, but in most cases this is not a concern. I do not agree with the advice to put away all family photos. A few Ð very few - photos of a happy family give the idea of a happy home and most people are looking for just that. If there are photos of people everywhere; however, the house feels full, the photos become a distraction, and the focus becomes them and not the house.
In addition to photos, all other collections need to be edited. Too much of anything is not desirable. As a general rule, if more than 50% of a surface is covered, it appears to be cluttered. Look beyond table tops, shelves, etc. and consider the floors and walls too. Cluttered surfaces are overwhelming, distracting, and don't leave any room for a perspective buyer to envision his/her own belongings in the space.
This applies to closets also. Potential buyers will open every closet, inspect each cupboard, and look in the attic and basement. Are yours inspection-ready? The goal is to make it look as though you have more than enough storage space. If every closet, etc, is overflowing it appears that there is not nearly enough.
Every room tells a story and sends a message to those who walk in. Buyers want clarity. If a person has to ask what the room is used for, then it is too confusing and might as well not even be there. This does not mean that a room can't have several functions; it just means that those functions need to be clear. Too often multi-purpose rooms become catch-alls for those things that don't have homes. So not only does that space get viewed as a non-room, but it also sends a loud message that there is not enough storage space.
Furniture placement can make a big difference in how a room feels. Is there easy access from one area to another? If furniture is blocking the path into a room, people will not feel welcome. If your living room or family room has chairs lined up facing the television, toys spread all over, and no place to set a drink or a book, it is not sending the message that of a group of people can readily enjoy each other in that space. Take a good look at your furniture arrangements. Do they invite people in to sit down and talk with each other? Are they comfortable? Is there flow?
The master bedroom is very important, and most buyers today are looking for a master bedroom that feels like a sanctuary, a place that is restful and romantic. It also needs to provide privacy for an individual and/or a couple. Piles of laundry, kids' toys, office furniture, sporting equipment, and even a television, give the impression that the master bedroom is definitely not a sanctuary and that there may not be room in the house for all those other items that are in the bedroom.
Kitchens and bathrooms can be deal-breakers for many buyers. Unless you plan on doing a major project (which will always cost more and be more involved than shown on television), look at a few simple changes that can make a big difference. Clean, clean, clean! Painting or staining cabinets, installing new hardware, and clearing counters will instantly give your kitchen a facelift. If you do the same in the bathroom(s) and add a few new towels, your bathroom will feel and look fresher. Other tips include: keep the toilet lid down, add a few candles, get rid of old rugs, and keep children's tub toys contained.
Nothing makes a room feel cleaner and brighter than a refreshing coat of paint. Avoid extremes. White walls are boring, cold, sterile, and do nothing for a space. On the other hand, an overly bold color statement is apt to turn off some buyers. Obviously, paint is easy to change, but most potential buyers see what the color is and don't go further. So choose colors that are fairly neutral but give a sense of color and add warmth to the rooms.
Many people overlook the importance of lighting. Save the fluorescent lighting for garages and basements. Place lamps where people will need them to read or work. Remove window coverings that cover too much of the window glass, and raise blinds or shades during the day to let in as much natural light as possible. Turn on lights when showing your house so people get the idea that it is bright and can see what is there.
There are other senses to consider when preparing your house for sale. Smell is especially important. Anyone who has animals needs to be aware that others may smell what they have become used to. Keep litter boxes and pet bedding immaculate. Tobacco smoke is a big turn off for the majority of today's house hunters. A good air filter is mandatory if there is a smoker in the house. Avoid overcompensating by too many scented candles or bowls of potpourri. Instead bring in a few scents that are pleasant yet not overbearing. Vanilla and citrus are appealing to most people. .
A thorough preparation on the part of the seller will reap large rewards. Don't expect a buyer to look beyond what is there to see the potential of the house. It's up to seller to show the best of what the house has to offer. It does not have to cost a lot of money. It does require an honest look and some elbow grease. These suggestions are the essential basics for all. Although there are many other factors to consider for specific situations, if you follow this general advice you will be well on your way to selling your house. Make your house the home someone else is looking for.
Carol C. Wheelock, M.Ed. of Feng Shui Vermont is a certified feng shui practitioner who has studied in the United Sates and China. She practices Black Sect or western feng shui. Carol does private consultations for homes, schools, libraries, and businesses; clutter counseling and clearing; spaces clearings; phone consultations; presentations; and teaches workshops throughout the United States. She also does personal clearings.