MoneySense Magazine, February 2011
Get top dollar for your home
The real estate market has cooled, but smart sellers will always find a way to get the best price for their home.
This article was first published in the February 2011 issue of MoneySense.
Choose the best time to sell
Spring and early fall are prime time for selling homes, says Gregory Klump, chief economist for the Canadian Real Estate Association. Spring generally brings a seasonal peak in demand, largely because people don’t have to fight through the snow to go house-hunting. Early autumn is also a good time, since it gives families a chance to settle in by Christmas.
Other factors may influence timing as well, contends Mark Argentino, a RE/MAX agent in Mississauga, Ont. If you have a house with a pool, for example, you might want to list when the weather is favourable. And when Argentino got a listing for a home in the $600,000 range leading up to the holiday season, he told them emphatically, “This is not the time to list.” December is historically the slowest month of the year, and that means fewer feet through the door, he says. If the listing is on the market for 30 days with no offers, buyers might be encouraged to make a low-ball offer.
Boost your curb appeal
When Kathy Scotland co-signed for a house that her son and his wife purchased three years ago in London, Ont., she couldn’t have predicted that the couple would break up, her son would lose his job, and she’d be left paying the mortgage month after month. She had to sell. Fast.
The house had a number of good points: Scotland and her son had renovated it so that it was clean and fresh inside, and it had an upstairs apartment that would cover part of the mortgage. But Scotland was worried that the young couples who were likely to purchase the house would be put off before they even got in the door. “It had absolutely no curb appeal,” she says. “There was a patch of dirt out front where there should have been a garden.”
That’s the sort of thing that can turn a buyer off in a nanosecond, says Linda Stewart, a Certified Canadian Staging Professional (CCSP) and owner of Madison Lane Designs in Barrie, Ont. “You’ve got about 30 seconds to make a good first impression. If your house looks as if it’s not well cared for, some buyers will just move on to the next house.” Scotland couldn’t let that happen, so she picked up two globe cedars and six little trees that the local garden centre was selling off at the end of the season for $5 each. She added some hostas and sedum from her mother’s garden and a bunch of begonias she picked up for 25 cents each. For less than $100, she was able to transform the front of the house. “It made a big difference,” she says.
Other things that will ready your house for sale include sanding and painting the front door, shutters or garage; cutting the lawn and trimming bushes; and perhaps putting some pots out front with flowers in the spring and summer, mums and cabbages in the fall, or pine boughs in winter. Scotland placed pots of begonias and geraniums at the entrance to her son’s home. “It’s at the side,” she says, “so we wanted to clearly mark that this was where people should come in, and also to give them a warm feeling when they entered the house.”
Exit, staged right
People sometimes ask why they should spend money on a house they’re going to turn around and sell. But staging a house for sale, says Stewart, is for the seller. “The plan is really to help them sell their house quicker and to get as much equity out of the house as possible.” What’s more, many real estate brokers include a staging consultation as part of the service they offer. “That’s where 90% of my business comes from,” says Stewart. Even if you have to pay for it yourself, a consultation can cost as little as $150. And many of the jobs identified by stagers cost little to complete, but pay off big when it comes time to sell.
Here are 10 low-cost projects that give you maximum bang for your buck:
1. Clean it up. A 2010 Home Sale Maximizer Survey by the blog HomeGain estimated the cost of scouring and organizing a house at about $200 and the expected home price increase at $1,700. That’s a whopping 870% return on your investment and a good enough reason to give your home a thorough once-over. Stewart advises steam-cleaning the carpets and washing the floors and walls, dusting the light fixtures, the baseboards and the cupboards, scrubbing out the fridge and stove, and rendering the tile grout mildew-free.
2. Declutter. Keep counters and furniture free of small appliances, bills and sundry items, and make sure there are no stray socks in the bedroom or out-of-place lipsticks in the bathrooms. Tidy up overstuffed closets by tossing what you can, putting some things in storage, and using baskets and organizers to contain what’s left. “Even if the potential buyers have cluttered closets of their own, they open up a nice clean closet and they say, ‘Oh yeah, this is how I like to live,’” says Bergg. “No one opens a closet that’s a complete disaster and says, ‘Oh, we’ll be fine here. This is how we live.’”
3. Give it a lick of paint. The HomeGain respondents estimated the cost of “lightening and brightening” a home at $230 and the pay-off at $1,300—a 570% return on investment. Heithorn-Althoff recommends repainting in light soft, warm neutrals for starters. “Colour can be very personal and very specific colours, like orange or lime green, may not work as part of your overall marketing strategy,” she points out. But getting the right neutral can be tricky, depending on your furnishings and carpets, as well as the size and brightness level of the rooms. If you’re unsure, get help. And if you don’t want to take on the entire house, even repainting trim in high traffic areas can clean up a space, she says. Good trim choices include Oxford White, Decorator’s White and Cloud White from the Benjamin Moore line.
MoneySense Magazine, February 2011