The short version of this story is as follows: A “For Sale” sign went in our front yard on a Thursday afternoon. Friday we had six showings. Saturday we had an offer. Sunday we had a bidding war going on. And by Monday morning, our house went from “active” to “contingent” on MLS.
The longer version is, well, just that: longer.
Let me first start by saying that we did not do this alone. We had a Realtor, and we had a good one! There was a lot of Realty magic going on behind the scenes in Realty world that I didn’t really understand (and couldn’t explain to you if I tried). What I am going to share with you is what we (as home owners) did to prepare for the selling of our first home.
1. Set a Time Frame
Like I shared in my first post, the idea that we had outgrown Beloved House #1 started to rear its ugly head a little over a year ago. We had talked casually about moving long before we were truly serious about it. Frankly, the whole process of selling and moving seemed quite daunting. It is. We were in a rental the first time around; when we were ready to move, we simply ended our lease, packed up our stuff, and moved into a brand new ready-for-us home. This would be very different.
But I can only talk so long before I am ready to do. And I was tired of talking. So I gave Hubby and myself a goal. We were going to give ourselves to the end of April, and then the house was going on the market no matter what. That little phrase can be a scary one. Because seriously, I would have spent a year perfecting that house and still would have found just one more little thing that needed to be done.
My reasons for setting a time frame were twofold. First, it moved us from the talking phase to the serious phase. This was going to happen. We were going to do this. A little fire had been lit, and it was time to move our butts. Second, it gave us (mostly me) a stopping point. I had four months to do what needed to be done to get the house looking its best and ready, but that was it.
2. See Your House Through Buyer’s Eyes
Once we made the decision to sell, I began to look at my house differently. I had (of course) already been on MLS looking at what was available in our area for months. I had seen a huge variety of homes: beautiful homes, older homes, homes out of our price range, homes needing renovation. But mostly, what I saw were (and this is terrible) cluttered, messy homes with horrible paint colors. I am not kidding you, people. Toys on the floor, bathroom products around the sink, beds not made, piles and piles and piles of laundry. Now, while I knew there was no way in hell anyone would ever photograph my house looking like that, I was also curious as to what my house would look like.
So I photographed it. And I looked.
I pretended my house was a house on MLS, and I looked at it with a critical eye.
I started with my dining room, for example. It was the first room that you saw when you entered our home. And luckily, it was also usually the cleanest. I photographed it on my iPad and imagined what I (as a buyer) would see if I were looking at this home on MLS.
The first thing that screamed out to me was clutter! There were just too many little things grabbing the eye’s attention. In my home on a day to day basis, these were just those personal touches, and they did not bother me. But in a photograph, it was too much.
Overall, the room just looked really busy. I knew right away from looking at this photograph that little things here and there would be removed and packed away first.
I know it’s hard to let go of the little things that make your house pretty. If you need help in this area, do the following: Google new neighborhoods developing in your area. More than likely, one will have a website and on that website, you will be able to find photos of their model homes. This is a wonderful tool! Model homes have absolutely no personal touches, yet we love them! I mean, seriously, who hasn’t walked through a model home without any intention of buying just to look at the decorating ideas? And usually the decor is very simple. I saw a dining room with three mirrors on the main wall and a bowl of lemons on the buffet table. Imagine this in your own home and it feels a little empty, right? But it sells.
The last thing I knew I’d be fixing was the room color. Now, I loved the room color. My husband loved the room color. It made for a very dramatic entrance when you walked into our home. But it was, in all its intensity, a deep Campbell’s Tomato Soup Red. Yes, someone out there may have been looking for just that color. But for the other 97.5% of people, this color simply = work. Realtors will tell you that paint is an easy fix. But those of us who paint our own homes know easy is a relative term. If I were buyer, and I did not like this color, I would be thinking, “Ugh…that’s going to take several coats of primer.” And then, “And at least another two coats of paint.”
In the words of my husband, “Weekend Killer!”
Here’s the same room taken that same day with just a few minor changes. I removed all of the frames on the bar and buffet table, and moved the dining room table items to the buffet. Already our focus goes right to the middle of the room. Our eyes aren’t wandering all over the place.
I did this process [photographing, critiquing, moving items around, removing items from each of the rooms] several times over the course of four months. This really helped me look at our house through a buyer’s lens. I saw things in the photograph that I would not have noticed just walking into a room. If you are getting ready to sell, I highly recommend trying this.
Here’s the final MLS photo that was used for our dining room. As you can see, I definitely made some changes. Almost all of the items on both the bar and buffet table were packed away. I moved the three glass candles from the buffet to the bar and added a mercury glass dove from West Elm. That was it for decor! On the buffet table, I simply displayed a bouquet of cherry blossoms I found at World Market in a basket-weave vase. All of the art was removed from the walls, including the large print over the bar. Instead, I added a mirror we had used in another room.
The biggest change was the wall color. I had a really hard time convincing Hubby that this needed to be done, but aren’t you glad I did? The final color is Valspar’s Smoke Infusion. It is a shade darker than the rest of the house which is painted with Valspar’s Winter in Paris. Seriously, this photo does not do it justice. It is gorgeous! I’ve used it twice now in the new home. It my new favorite wall color (I do not get paid to say this…I really, really love the color).
3. Clean Sweep
I knew my house had great potential. On some days (this was usually right before we entertained when our house was looking its utmost) I would even use the word lovely. But on a day-to-day basis, my house had one major flaw: four occupants! The house itself is never the problem. It’s the people who live inside that cause the issues, rights? In my household, we lived in what I like to call “a constant state of almost clean”.
More specifically, while two occupants are cleaning one room in the house, two others are destroying another.
Don’t get me wrong. My kids aren’t little hellions, I promise. But like all children their age, they did like to play, and they played wherever their little imaginations took them: bedroom, living room, bathroom, master closet, laundry room, shower, kitchen. My little one tends to stay near me, so at the end of the day, I could follow a trail of his adventures throughout the house, usually wherever I’d been working.
One of the main reasons we wanted to move, in fact, was that we were tired of our home being turned into a playroom, and felt the best way to remedy that was to give the kids a home with a playroom. So I dreaded, and I mean dreaded, the day we had to start showing the house because I could already envision the Mommy Dearest in me coming out as my children innocently tried to be children.
So along with all of the knick knacks and clutter I was packing away from my side job as a “MLS photographer”, I also started packing away mass amounts of toys. I started with high-destruction toys first. These are your Legos, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Marble Tracks, building blocks, and every little hat, gun, suitcase, cup, and any other tiny prop Playmobil has created (I kindly left the Playmobil people). These toys are home killers! They will cause bloodshed to any room in a matter of seconds.
PLEASE NOTE: Do not attempt to pack any of your children’s toys in front of them. Even if you know they haven’t touched that particular toy in months. Children are weird psychopathic hoarders when it comes to their toys. This must be done on the sly, and it must be done gradually.
By the time we actually put the house on the market, my children had a limited (we’re talking tiny) amount of toys in their room, and those that were left were super easy to pick up and put away in a moment’s notice (no small parts or multiple pieces).
Side Note: If possible, the more meticulous spouse should be on duty the day MLS pictures are taken. Unfortunately, I am a teacher and Hubby is a chef. Therefore, he had an easier time being home during the middle of the day. Can I tell you how much it bothered me that due to a sleepover prior to the photo shoot, the daybed had been pulled out, and that’s why you see those carpet marks? Don’t think I didn’t fuss at Hubs for not vacuuming the hell out of those marks before letting them take photo! He was like, “….What?”
Hubby and I rented a storage unit about a month before the house went on MLS and stored everything we had packed up, as well as quite a few pieces of smaller furniture. This is totally worth it, by the way! The less stuff you have, the bigger your rooms will look and the easier it will be to quickly clean for a last minute showing. Hubby sort of huffed a bit at the idea of a storage unit when I first mentioned it, saying we could just store everything in the garage. But I did not want to give potential buyers the impression we didn’t have enough room in our home. And in the end, even he agreed it was a good idea!
4. Choose Wisely
Like I stated earlier, Hubby and I did not sell our house on our own. We had a Realtor and we had a very, very good one! If you are going to use a real estate agent, do your homework.
Now, to be fair, I should state that I was not interested in all of the little business details of choosing someone to represent our home (I left that up to the Hubs). I cared about one thing, and one thing only. That my house looked good on MLS! I know my Realtor would absolutely cringe to hear me say that because I know how hard he worked, and I can tell you right now, my house being photographed was just a smidgen of that hard work!
But as a home owner, I knew I had to get people into my actual home before the nitty gritty of real estate negotiations could even take place. A buyer will spend more time (I’m talking hours) in more online houses, than he will spend walking through an actual home. I knew that if my house looked unappealing online, a potential buyer was just going to move on to the next listing. And I did not want that to happen.
You can use websites such as Zillow or Trulia, or even your local Real Estate agencies to view current homes for sale. When you see a home that has been photographed nicely, look and see who the listing agent is. Start keeping a list; more than likely, a few names will continually pop up. These are the Realtors who are just as much invested in making your house look great as you are.
Here are a few awesome photographs from our MLS listing:
5. Set the Stage
So, sort of a funny little story. The afternoon the “For Sale” sign went into our front yard, I started majorly cleaning and prepping the house that night after the kids had gone to bed: opening blinds, fluffing pillows, vacuuming, just little things.
Now, you have to understand, I am not a night person. About seven-thirty/eight o’clock, I want to be in my pajamas, in my bed, reading a book or pleasantly ending my day on Pinterest. What I do not want to be doing is cleaning! But we had finally reached the finish line. This was it, what we had been working towards all along: we were officially opening our home up to the public. So there was this little part of me that insisted on these last minute final touches, when really, what I wanted to do was go upstairs and relax.
Hubby was patient with me, but he too thought my anxiety was unnecessary. “The listing is not even going online until 8:00 tonight, Kel. We’re not going to have any showings tomorrow. Go to bed.” I listened, but grudgingly. Fast forward to 6:00 am the next morning. Hubby opens his email, and I hear a little intake of breath. “Oh my God. We already have a request.”
And me, “I AM NOW IN CHARGE OF PROJECT-SELL-THIS-HOUSE!”
We had six showings that first day, another six showings on Saturday with an offer, three more showings on Sunday with another offer, and another two on Monday even though we were already in the process of signing a contract.
I made sure before leaving the house each day the house was completely staged and ready. This is not difficult, but it can be a little time consuming in the morning (especially if you are running out the door first thing with two children) so give yourself time.
Here was the little mental list I used:
Turn On All Lights
I made sure every room had a light on (including bathrooms & closets). If you think about it, when you visit a model home, they have a lamp or an overhead light on in every room. You never walk into a dark bathroom; it’s already ready and on display for you. I wanted my house to have that same feel. Plus, we were showing at various times throughout the day. In the late afternoon, my backyard was in shade, which completely affected the living room. I didn’t want someone walking into a dim room.
Open All Blinds
The more natural light you have coming into your home, the better it looks. I made sure to go into each room (even our laundry room) and open the blinds before we left. In several of the main rooms, like our dining room and living room, I did it the night before just to save me time.
From a different perspective: Hubby was super suspicious of homes we viewed that kept all of their blinds closed; he thought for sure they were masking an AC issue.
Turn On Your Fans
If it’s not winter, turn on all of your fans. A cool house with circulating air is just more inviting than a stagnant one.
Clear All Counters
Clear ’em, clear ’em, clear ’em. Since we had done a really good job of putting things in storage, we actually had a lot of empty space in our cabinets that we normally wouldn’t have had. The toaster oven and coffee maker, for example, were stored in a bottom cabinet during showings, but could easily be brought out again as needed. Even our nightstands were down to the bare essentials: a lamp and telephone on mine, and a lamp on Hubby’s.
Stage Your Tables
Whenever I visited a model home, I noticed the tables were already set for entertaining. This is just a nice touch; it adds decor without looking cluttered. I made sure both my dining room table and my breakfast nook table were set with plates and place mats.
And that is it, my friends. From sign to contract, and what we did to make it happen in a weekend! It was an interesting ride; though not one I’d be willing to do again anytime soon. We loved, loved, loved our first home. But we are super excited about Beloved House #2.