10 ways to turn off a homebuyer

Jay MacDonald

What a difference a couple of years makes.

Back in 2007, homebuyers would beg to purchase your house. They would even bid more than the asking price for the privilege to do so.

Today ... well, not so much. Once the real estate bubble burst and foreclosures poisoned the housing pool, buyers suddenly regained the upper hand. But instead of buying, they're waiting, convinced that housing prices will continue to drop.

10 home sales killers

  1. Dirt
  2. Odors
  3. Old fixtures
  4. Wallpaper
  5. Popcorn acoustic ceilings
  6. Too many personal items
  7. Snoopy sellers
  8. Misrepresenting your home
  9. Poor curb appeal
  10. Clutter

What's a smart seller to do in this environment?

We assembled a coast-to-coast SWAT team to address the crisis: Chad Goldwasser of Goldwasser Real Estate in Austin, Texas; Terry Cannon, a buyer's agent and broker with Oregon Exclusive Buyers Realty in Salem, Ore.; and Julie Dana, the New York-based "home stylist" and co-author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Staging Your Home to Sell."

They suggest 10 buyer turnoffs that sellers should avoid at all costs.

"If you do all the staging correctly and have a good agent, the house will hopefully only be on the market a few weeks," Dana says. "Then you can go back to living your life."

1. Dirt

Hands down, our panel agrees: Nothing turns off a buyer quicker than a dirty house.

"The No. 1 biggest mistake is not getting the home in the best possible condition. That's huge," says Goldwasser. "I won't even represent sellers at this point unless they are fully aware of how important it is to get their home in the absolute best condition that they've ever had it in."

Goldwasser recommends that sellers go the extra mile, from steam-cleaning tile and grout to replacing carpets.

"If the carpets are old and smelly, you should put in new," he says. "If they're relatively new, you should at least have them shampooed."

Cannon agrees that grime can derail any showing.

"The home should be neat and clean and free of all debris," Cannon says. "If it reeks of cats or the kitchen sinks and counters are so filthy that it almost looks like the food is moving, I won't even want to come in."

2. Odors

Buyers, it's said, buy with their noses. Make sure your home smells fresh and inviting.

"Odors are a big one, especially kitchen odors," says Dana. "I advise my clients not to cook fried food, fish or greasy food while the house is on the market."

Some pet owners mistakenly believe pet smells to which they've become accustomed help make their abode homey. Nothing could be further from the truth.

"If you're a dog person, you tend to think everyone else is a dog person," says Goldwasser. "But the truth is, 50 percent of the population hates dogs and doesn't want to be near them. "Pets in the home? You have to deal with that."

Dana advises her clients to eliminate all traces of pets, not just pet odors. It's important to get rid of pet paraphernalia and have a "pet plan" to make sure the animals are not around when the house is shown.

"A lot of times, people will leave pet items out -- dog dishes, cat litter boxes, etc.," Dana says. "That immediately turns off a buyer because they wonder, 'What has that animal done in the house?' Also, some people really don't like dogs. The minute they walk in and see this big, old dog bowl, they immediately won't like the house."

The same rules hold true for smokers: Remove all ashtrays, clean all curtains and upholstery, and consider smoking outdoors while your home is on the market.

“Pets in the home? You have to deal with that.”

"Interestingly, next to the kitchen, the smelliest room in the house is actually the living room," Dana says. "That's typically the room that has the most fabric, so that is where odors get absorbed."

3. Old fixtures

Want buyers to roll their eyes? Leave old fixtures on your doors and cabinets.

"You need to change out old fixtures in your house," Goldwasser says. "New cabinet hardware and doorknobs will probably cost all of $400 or $500, but it makes a huge difference."

The same holds true for dated ceiling fans, light fixtures and kitchen appliances.

"Homes that have old fans, lights, ovens, microwaves, ranges and dishwashers can really turn a buyer off," says Goldwasser. "Sellers will say, 'Oh, the buyers can take care of that.' Well, yes they can, but it's going to impede you from getting the highest price possible for your home."

4. Wallpaper

Your grandmother may have had it in every bedroom. Your mom may have loved it as a room accent. But today's buyer wants no part of wallpaper.

"Wallpaper is a definite no-no," Dana says.

Wallpaper is a pain to remove and simply adds another chore to a buyer's to-do list, Dana says.

"Wallpaper is extremely personalized. You've spent hours looking over books to pick out the wallpaper you want," she says. "What are the odds that the person walking in the door will also like that wallpaper that you picked out?"

5. Popcorn acoustic ceilings

Times change, and with them home decor styles. Acoustic popcorn ceilings, once the must-have for fashionable homes in the '60s and '70s, now badly date your space.

If you can't stomach the cost or the mess to remove the overhead popcorn, be prepared to credit a buyer in certain markets in order to close a sale.

"The popcorn acoustic ceiling is a major, major turnoff to buyers these days," says Goldwasser.

6. Too many personal items

Psychologically, when buyers tour a home, they're trying it on to see how it fits, just as they would a skirt or a pair of pants. If your house is cluttered with too many personal items, it's like the buyer is trying on those clothes with you still in them. A fit is unlikely.

"Anything that makes your house scream 'you' is what you don't want," Dana says. "I tell all my clients that how we decorate to live and how we decorate to sell are different, and right now, we're decorating to sell."

Sellers should try to eliminate personal items, including family photos, personal effects and even unique colors, she says.

"As soon as you have family photos, buyers get very distracted. 'Oh, did I go to school with him? What do their children look like?'" she says. "Suddenly, you're selling your family, and you're not selling the home."

If you really want to hook a buyer, Dana offers a tip: "I try to place a mirror strategically so that people can actually see themselves in the home, so they can actually picture themselves living there."

“I tell all my clients that how we decorate to live and how we decorate to sell are different.”

7. Snoopy sellers

Realtors and buyers alike generally bristle when the seller greets them at the door for a showing.

"It's so annoying," Goldwasser says. "They will want to walk around with the potential buyer and put in their two cents' worth. It's not good. Normally, there are one out of 10 sellers where it's OK to have them there, and that's because they know what is up with the property and how everything works."

Goldwasser makes a point to shoo his sellers away from showings when he's the listing agent.

"They like to think they know what they're doing, and that's fine," he says. "But when you've sold thousands of homes and you have a system, you know how to get people the maximum value for their home. That's why they hire you, right?"

8. Misrepresenting your home

Misrepresenting your house online in the multiple listing service is a sure way to really upset buyers and their Realtors.

One of Cannon's buyers loved a home she saw online. When he drove by to take a look, he was surprised to find acres of ramshackle mobile homes across the street.

"Sellers are going to paint the best picture they can," he says. "Some listings I've looked at and wondered how in the world they got that gorgeous photo without showing all the junk that's around it. When you get there, you wonder why didn't they just be upfront?"

9. Poor curb appeal

Much is made of curb appeal, and for good reason: It's your home's handshake, the critical first impression that lasts with most buyers.

"You have to totally trim and edge your yard to get it into the most immaculate condition you can," Goldwasser says. "It's a big mistake to not freshly mulch the beds and trim the trees. Every little detail counts.

"To not power-wash the exterior or leave mud dauber and wasp and bird's nests in your eaves and above your doors? You've got to be a fool to do that."

10. Clutter

Whether inside or out, less is more when it comes to clutter.

"I usually start in the closets," Dana says. "Your closets should be half-full with nothing on the floor. Why? Because most people looking for a house have outgrown their previous house. Showing them that you've still got room to grow gives them a reason to buy."

Kitchens and built-in bookshelves should showcase spaciousness by following the rule of three. For kitchens, there should be no more than three countertop appliances. Meanwhile, bookshelves should be divided into thirds: one-third books, one-third vases and pictures, and one-third empty.

The home office should be very generic so any type of professional can imagine living there, Dana says.

"Otherwise, it can be a distraction: 'What does he do for a living? How much money does he make?'" she says.

Dana's tip for toddler parents is to pack away extraneous "kiddie litter" and keep a laundry basket handy.

"When you get that phone call one hour before a showing, toss everything in that basket and take it to the car with you and your kids, and you're all set," she says.



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