Home Truths: What not to do before selling
An estate agent I know tells how he went to show a client's house for a day's viewing and walked in to discover the dining table laid out full and formal. There were linen napkins, silver service, lit candles, goblets full of wine and in the middle of the table: a steaming chicken roast with potatoes and veg.
The viewers who came to look at the house were confused. Had they interrupted someone's dinner? Had they interrupted a very special dinner at that? Perhaps an anniversary meal? No, the agent assured them. This was the owner's OTT take on the infamous "Coffee and freshly baked bread" scenario. This old chestnut assures sellers that all it takes to pin down a sale is an aroma of freshly baked bread and good coffee wafting about. They smell bread and get the chequebook out. The chicken dinner simply distracted viewers from looking at the house.
Selling a house is undoubtedly stressful and in the last week before viewings owners inevitably panic and run around expounding their energies on a variety of tasks to make the property seem more palatable to buyers. That last week is indeed vital but it's important to concentrate on jobs which produce effective results. A roast dinner won't make a jot of a difference.
Most of our homes are, by definition, "lived in," so they will look undeniably tired to some degree, no matter what you do with them. So a good clean up, decluttering and a few licks of paint here and there will not go astray in the final week.
But it is surprising how many home owners forget their real objective: To persuade someone to buy their house for the most money possible. They also fail to take the viewer's goal into account: To find the best house to buy for their money.
"You're selling your home, not yourself -many people forget this. It's not about what people might think about you," says one Dublin-based agent who talks about vendors fussing over new towels and curtains to "give the right impression of their tastes". Many vendors actually work against themselves by doing stuff which puts people off. Another auctioneer cites the owner who insisted on having some "intelligent but fairly intense" classical music playing loudly as the soundtrack for viewings. "It basically unnerved people, so it achieved the opposite of what we needed." Another agent cites the case of vendors who cleaned the house but left their car parked in the driveway in an area where parking was difficult. A number of arrivals left without viewing at all - simply because they couldn't park close enough to the house.
Don't paint your walls if you don't have time to paint your skirts and doors. Painting one without the other simply has the effect of making neglected parts look extra shabby.
Those who scrub their abodes with strong bleach (some do) will put their buyers clean off with a lingering stench that reminds them of public toilets, schools and hospitals as well as making them deeply suspicious of what that smell might be hiding.
And if a 48 hour round the clock painting bender makes the place look brighter just before presenting a home, it will similarly make potential buyers equally suspicious if that paint smell is too fresh. "Just what might you have been painting over at the last minute," they'll wonder. The smell of fresh paint isn't a bad one to have so long as it's mild and a few weeks old and suggests a recent rather than last minute cover-up job.
Over and over agents say this: A thorough deep clean of the house which sees all walls, skirts, presses, doors, switches, light fittings and bathrooms washed down properly is paramount and will last for the whole term of weekend viewings. Ensure that deep dirt like grease is dealt with. Windows should be cleaned to 100pc clarity. Don't leave them open for the viewings if there's a noisy road outside. Remove absolutely all clutter.
Moulds and mildews should be scraped off with a blade before being washed. If you use bleach, use a mild solution of Milton fluid so the smell doesn't linger. Dust and cobwebs should be addressed. Odours which the owners themselves sometimes don't notice must be dealt with. Pets are a particular problem as owners don't smell what assaults the senses of visitors. Use plug-in fresheners.
Cat and dog beds should be removed well in advance along with the pets themselves. Favourite spots on rugs, carpets or sofas that pets favour must be thoroughly cleaned. If you smoke, don't smoke in the house for at least a week before viewings and remove all ashtrays well in advance. The smell of socks in teenagers' rooms is another issue - remove dirty laundry to a shed or outbuilding for days before showing a home. Don't boil cabbage, turnips or parsnips in the days before a viewing.
When the viewing comes, get yourself, your pets, your children and your car out. The last thing the buyer or the agent needs is a needy vendor lingering.
But all is for naught if the price isn't right. No amount of cleaning and scrubbing or staging can sell a house if the price is too high. Estate agents are appointed because they are house sales experts who know the value of property. Don't assume you know better. What percentage of owners don't take their agent's advice on price? My agent friend says a whopping 50pc!