'Clean and clear' are the keys to a fast home sale

November 13, 2009|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

A plumber and his homemaker wife hadn't planned to sell the campus-area house they bought for their daughter's use during her college years. But after learning that the place had gone up in value, they made the sudden decision to sell.

But before they put the Victorian-style house on the market, their real estate agent told them to get the house ready by mid-August or miss the window for their best prospects: the parents of other students entering the university.

"Fortunately, they got down to brass tacks and had that house ready to sell in less than 30 days. Then someone bought it immediately," recalled Mark Fullwiler, a Coldwell Banker broker affiliated with the Council of Residential Specialists ( who was the couple's listing agent.

Most sellers don't have as narrow a time window as the owners of the Victorian. But many would like to sell as quickly as possible, often because they're under financial duress due to job loss. Indeed, Fullwiler estimates that a quarter of all sellers are now under pressure to move quickly.


"More people are selling nervously now. These are the kind of people who've received a pink slip from their employer after 18 years on the job," he said.

Besides financial reversals, another factor prompting many homeowners to sell this year is the federal tax credit of up to $8,000 that's available to first-time buyers who close on a purchase by Dec. 1.

Though it's a challenge to prepare a long-time residence for sale quickly, Fullwiler has witnessed many clients who've met the test in as little as two to four weeks. Here are tips for sellers:

Find an agent who gives you the unvarnished truth about your house.

Donna Goings, another broker affiliated with the Council of Residential Specialists, said sellers in a hurry should be sure to hire an agent "who's brutally honest about what their house needs."

The best agents wouldn't shy away from telling you, for example, that your taste in art could offend many visitors or that your '80s-era dining room chandelier is out of place in your '30s-style house.

As Goings says, a candid agent will save you time by pinpointing the most important changes you should make to the property and sparing you upgrades that aren't truly necessary, such as redoing a backyard patio.

Concentrate your initial efforts on enhanced street appeal.

Nowadays, most home purchasers are "drive-by buyers," meaning they want to preview homes before agreeing to go inside.

"Your curb appeal has to pop. If the buyers like your place from the road - and find the inside commensurate with their expectations - you're a long way toward a sale," Fullwiler said.

Because fix-up money is usually limited for those selling a home under pressure, he urges you to focus your resources on the front view.

"Bring in a landscaping company if you must. Also, clean and paint your front door, or install a new one if that would help. The front door must be perfect," Fullwiler said.

Focus next on your kitchen and bathrooms.

Once you've enhanced your curb appeal, it's time to improve the looks of your kitchen, which "is a major selling feature for buyers - even those who do little cooking," Fullwiler said.

After completing the kitchen upgrades, focusing your attention on bathroom upgrades can be very cost effective.

"The bathrooms are tremendously important and may not be expensive to improve," Fullwiler added. "For example, you can get a get a fresh new shower curtain in white for just $4 to $5."

Go on a painting binge.

Most for-sale homes benefit greatly from an interior paint job. And unlike jobs that involve plumbing, electrical work or major carpentry, interior painting is something many homeowners - and their friends - can often tackle on their own.

Need a brush-up on your painting skills? If so, Goings suggests you go for advice to the Web sites of such home center stores as Lowes ( or Home Depot ( Or go to any paint store.

Seek out low-cost help with home staging.

Staging a home for sale involves the removal of excess furniture (which can make rooms seem cramped) and the rearrangement of remaining pieces. The idea is to give the property a model home look.

Professional home stagers often charge several hundred dollars for a full package of services. But an increasing number of real estate agents are taking staging seminars and now offer free staging help to their clients, which Fullwiler said can save you both money and coordination time.

Clean like crazy.

The final step in your crash home preparation process should make your place sparkling clean and free of clutter.

"No part of your house should be left untouched," Goings said.

Given that so few sellers pay serious attention to cleaning, those who do gain a competitive edge, which is especially important to people who must sell quickly, she adds.

"The two big, big words in real estate are clean and clear," Goings said.

To contact Ellen James Martin, e-mail her at

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