1-You’re trying to sell it to the wrong people.
This tops the list. It’s a variant of “reading the room.” We find that people tend to buy homes where they feel comfortable, especially if we’re talking about a detached single-family house versus a condo, co-op, flat. This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget when you Just.Want.Out.
Bear in mind that the neighborhood may have changed since you went through escrow on the property back in the day. Set aside your own memories and baggage and take a good long look at what’s happening within a four-block radius. Are there more kids, or fewer kids? This is a key consideration. Maybe you bought the house when you were a young parent, and you loved the school district. If the nuclear family thing is dissipating all around you, adjust your pitch to prospective buyers. For example, careerists are more interested in access to mass transit than proximity to the nearest Chuck.R.Cheese. Retirees may dig the fact that the house is close to a golf course, a mall, or senior center. You can ascertain some of these demographics from the application.
2-The rooms feel small.
It’s all relative, of course. Again, realize that you’ve gotten used to your dwelling. Like the proverbial frog in the stove-top pot of slowly heating water, we can get accustomed to almost anything with the right combination of denial and time.
Ask a neutral party, “Do this room feel claustrophobic?” If you’re not sure, treat yourself to a whiff of the hard stuff: peep an episode of “Hoarders”, take yourself a long, hot shower, and get packing.
It’s generally good advice to strip the house down to its bones in order to make rooms look roomier. Get rid of those drapes, for example, and replace with cheap rice-paper blinds for a modicum of disposable modesty. Ditch that scuffed, never-played upright piano you inherited from an ex, as well as the thousands of LPs and CDs (if you still have cassettes and 8-tracks, you DO need a “Hoarders”-style intervention), and any rando 90s artwork. Do you really plan to keep all that stuff? Our advice: call or click 1-800-GOT JUNK now, and have them haul away anything you don’t truly love, or can’t sell fast for a quick buck.
3-There’s a residue. Of you. Ewww...
See above. So, let’s suppose you already have done the scorched-earth purge. Ideally, the house should feel like a monk’s cell when you list. You should be sleeping on an inflatable, dining out three times a day, and consuming all media on your cell. A perfectly staged house should be basically empty, with just a few symbolic items on display (really fresh flowers in a cut- crystal vase on the kitchen island, a bowl of individually wrapped bon-bons by the door, a copy of the latest Italian VOGUE in the bathroom).
This means that your stuff has to get gone, pronto. Even your plants (stash these at a friend’s if you’re staying local). And painful as it is to mention, no one wants to see any evidence of your pets, even if the prospective buyers are animal lovers themselves. Remember: they love their own animals, not yours. Again, you’ve worked up resistance to the ooey-gooey ordeal of that kitty litter box, the clouds of dander, the pet hair everywhere. Board the beasts. And absolutely pay a Poop-von-Scoop or Tootsie Roll Patrol service to rid your yard of any lingering canine deposits.
4-One word: carpet.
Back to Fido. For more than a decade, the trend has been away from the affixed wall-to-wall broadloom that our parents’ generation considered a mark of luxury. Tastes change, and today’s buyer wants a clean slate-- literally. A stone, ceramic tile, laminate, or restored hardwood floor -- even new, high-quality lino --floor is highly desirable, starting with fact that it’s easy to keep immaculate. When preparing to list, we generally advise against investing in big-ticket improvements with the expectation that they will improve your sale, but flooring is the exception. Rip out that be-funked carpeting, even if it’s new-ish, and lay down something hard, impervious, cool, clean, and neutral. (Feel free to toss down a fluffy white sheepskin Flokati-- faux is fine-- to soften the effect if you’re getting prison hospital-vibes from all of that new cleanliness.)
5-Nobody likes orange. Or purple (except you).
What worked for Prince at Paisley Park won’t work for you. Color is a highly emotional, utterly irrational thing. Your girlfriend Ashley loves red. You don’t. But your love of shocking Schiaparelli hot pink -- the electric shade that VOGUE Editor Diana Vreeland called “the navy-blue of India” -- makes your straight-laced corporate bud Debra roll her eyes because how can you ever expect to be taken seriously?, blah blah blah.
The safest course is-- you guessed it -- a whiter shade of pale for all of the walls. Somewhere between Navajo White (actually a gray), eggshell and ecru. Yeah, yawn, we know. Again, it’s all about the tabula rasa.
And repaint your front door black. If you’re Asian or Asian-American and/or anticipate selling to Asian or Asian-American buyers, you may have a nagging feeling that you should paint your front door red. But this is a matter of interpretation. If all of the other doors on the block are painted black, slate gray or sage green, we suggest that you follow suit and paint the front door of your new place red instead.
6-The kitchen is jacked.
The kitchen and bath are the two rooms of a listed house where we tend to make the biggest -- and most costly -- mistakes. One reason is that even normal people often get carried away with wacky kitchen décor. We’re not talking about your teapot collection, creepy dried-flower wreath and cutesy pot-holders, but rather more permanent issues, like regrettable novelty tile around the stove. Our advice: save your money and don’t do anything major here. Do not replace major appliances unless they are unsafe or non-functional. Just pack away your pots and pans, remove any weird lighting and replace with something utterly flavor-free, hire state-of-the-art ninja cleaners to scrub everything until it shines, and coat the walls with high-gloss white.
7-The bathroom’s not right.
See above. Needless to say, if there’s carpeting in the loo, shame on you -- it’s unsanitary, so get that ripped out and replaced with tile. We always suggest actual ceramic tile, white of course, and we’re partial to the classic, small, six-sided subway floor-tiles for their décor versatility and understated elegance.
Get rid of anything woodsy. You may have lumberjack fantasies (Timber!!!), but please.
As for the tub, these usually are a liability. Again, we return to our simmering frog-in-the-pot, kitty litter box analogy: you’ve slowly gotten used to it. Tastes and tempos do change, and most of us don’t really have a lifestyle that accommodates marinating in a tepid tank of our own filth. We tend to use the tub as a place to stand while we’re taking a shower. Right?
Make sure the drains and pipes are clear and ready for the “go”. Even though your prospective buyer won’t realistically test the plumbing, having raw sewage back up the first night the new owner settles in is simply too much bad real estate karma.
If it’s really gross, which we’re sure it is, pay to have the interior of the tub coated. A slice of the real: the coating won’t last IRL. In a couple of months, that rubbery layer will peel right off in shreds, like a sad, busted party balloon. But all’s fair in love and escrow, and a new, clean tub surface will push your sale along.
Of course, replace the shower-head. Get a nice, big shiny one with lots of holes and few settings -- this will make your prospective buyers think they’ve stepped into a deluxe suite at the Ritz Carlton. And once that’s installed, never set foot in that shower again (hit the gym locker room instead).
Of course, remove all of your disgusting towels, bathrobes, crusty-capped toiletries, grubby toothbrush; remember, you have to live like an international double-agent on the run from the authorities until Ka-ching, the check is in the mail. Keep a clean towel and your personal hygiene gear in a go-bag in the trunk of the car for a fast getaway.
We aren’t all that well-versed in Feng shui, but this one hurts so good we’re including it. Cacti are amazing. We admire their chutzpah. Speaking of electric pink, their flowers are astonishingly bright. But energy-experts of various types warn against these fierce botanicals because the thorns trigger interpersonal conflict. Have the prickly pears, etc. ripped out, and don’t replant (plant choices, like color choices, are highly personal) : just cover the newly bared areas with small, smooth, black, tumbled pebbles (NOT raw gravel, which also has rough edges).
One last thing. A lifetime ago, an old real estate trick was to bake cookies for the open house, so the rooms smelled yummy. Today, not so much. Today, everybody’s celiac-sensitive, lactose-intolerant, doing Keto, intermittent fasting, whatever. Instead, a big ol’ jug of Fabulosa -- the juicy purple-- is the olfactory way to go. Yes, it’s a supermarket disinfectant. Incredibly cheap. What we’ve learned is that just the aroma says “clean”, even when the housekeeping is in fact a bit sketch. Splash some in the toilets and in all the sinks, then open the door to your sale.