Selling a home in today's market can be a bit frustrating. There's all sorts of home staging and property preparation advice out there, and some of it seems daunting or impossible to follow unless you already live in a haute home or have a serious bankroll set aside to whip your place into shape.
You can't turn a rancher into a Victorian – so don't bother trying. But you do have more control than you may realize over how desirable your listing looks to potential buyers. In order to know what turns a buyer on you need to know what turns a buyer off.
Here are 6 big-time turn-offs that make buyers cringe at the thought of purchasing your home.
1. Cluttered, dirty and/or "fragrant" houses. You already know this one. Every seller does. Yet, even in 2015, the era of Houzz and HGTV, buyers across America walk into homes that would make your mother cringe every single day. The people who come to see your home are making one of the biggest decisions they'll ever make. Cluttered countertops, neglected toilet seats and unattended litter boxes not only invite the viewer to turn up their nose, they practically compel a buyer to walk away.
Luckily, you have all the control in the world over how your house looks to your would be buyer. Some sellers find it helpful to think not about de-cluttering, but about pre-packing. Everything that is not part of the home's decor or furnishing and that is not a must for your daily functioning should be boxed up, and neatly packed away in the garage or a storage unit. You'll have to pack it all up anyway when your home sells, and doing it in advance just makes it more likely the place will sell, stat!
Also, no matter how long it takes for your home to get an offer, do not show it without it being completely and totally tidied up: no laundry or dishes piled up, countertops freshly wiped down, mail and paperwork put away and smelly dogs or litter boxes cleaned and/or out of the house. Get every family member on board, kids/cats/canines included, and create a morning or evening cleaning ritual to minimize mad, pre-showing dashes.
2. Overpricing. Buying a house in today's market is hard work! On top of all the research and analysis about the market, buyers have to work overtime to separate the real estate wheat from the chaff, get educated about short sales and foreclosures and often put in many, many offers before they get even a single one accepted. The last thing they want to add to their task list is trying to argue a seller out of unreasonable expectations or pricing.
When buyers see a home whose seller is clearly clueless about their home's value and has priced it sky-high, many won't even bother looking at it. If they do love it, they'll wait for it to sit on the market for a while, hoping the market will "educate you" into desperation, priming the pump for a later, lowball offer.
Ultimately, you decide what to ask for your home. But you deprive yourself of the professional counsel and expertise you're paying for if you fail to listen to your agent's advice and insights on the subject of listing price. They will point you to other properties that have sold in your area with similar features and use that data to help you understand the right price range for your home. Worried about setting the price too low? Get buyer's brokers' feedback with an advance broker's open house, and work with your agent on an advance plan for bringing the price down if you get no showings or buyer interest.
3. Deceptive listing descriptions or pictures. Here's the deal: you will never trick someone into buying your home. If listing pics are photo-edited within an inch of their lives, buyers will learn this information at some point. If your neighborhood is described as funky and vibrant, because the house is under the train tracks and you live in between a wrecking yard and a biker bar, buyers will inevitably figure this out.
And misrepresentation alone is enough to turn otherwise interested buyers off. In cases where the buyer feels misled, whether or not that was your intention, they can't help but wonder: If they can't trust you to be honest about this, how can they trust you to be honest about everything else?
Buyers rely on sellers to be upfront and honest – so be both. If your home has features or aspects that most buyers will see as negative, your home's listing probably shouldn't lead with them. But neither should you go out of your way to slant or skew or spin the facts which will become instantly obvious to anyone who visits your home. And in any event, your pricing should account for all of your home's features, pros and cons.
4. New, bad, home improvements. Many a buyer has walked into a house that has clearly been remodeled and upgraded in anticipation of the sale, only to have their heart sink with the further realization that the brand-spanking-new kitchen features a countertop made, not of Carerra marble, but brand-new, pink tiles with a kitty cat in the middle of each one. Or the pristine, just-installed floors feature carpet in a creamy shade of blue – the buyer's least favorite color.
New home improvements that run counter to a buyer's aesthetics are a big turn-off. In today's era of frugality, buyers just can't cotton to ripping out expensive, brand new, perfectly functioning things just on the basis of style – especially since they'll feel like they paid for these things in the price of the home.
Check in with a local broker or agent before you make a big investment in a pre-sale remodel. They can give you a reality check about the likely return on your investment, and help you prioritize about which projects to do (or not). Instead of spending $40,000 on a new, less-than-attractive kitchen, they might encourage you to update appliances, have the cabinets painted and spend a few grand on your curb appeal. Many times, they will also help you do the work of selecting neutral finishes that will work for the largest possible range of buyer tastes.
5. Bad photos or no photos at all. Some of the listing photos that make it online are shockingly bad. They have dumpsters parked in front of the house, piles of laundry all over the "hardwood" floors touted in the listing description, and once, even the family dog doing his or her business in the lovely green front yard. Listing pictures that have put your home in anything but its best, accurate light are a very quick way to ensure that you turn off a huge number of buyers from even coming to see your house!
The only bigger buyer turn-off than these bizarre listing pics are listings that have no photos at all; most buyers on today's market see a listing with no pictures and click right on past it, without giving the place a second glance.
Before your home is on the market, ask your listing agent-to-be to see the online marketing for their current listings, to get a feel for how they operate. After your home is on the market, don't neglect to check top listing sites to be sure that the pics for your home's listing represent your home well. If not, ask your agent to grab some new shots and get them online (and say pretty please, pretty please!).