Preparing your home for sale is no easy feat. Even if you've kept it in relatively good condition over the years, you have to ask yourself, will buyers, real estate agents and appraisers be wowed?
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First impressions can impact your property's value and potentially make it harder to sell your home. So that you don't waste time and money, here is a list of things that could negatively affect your home. Consider these issues before putting your property on the market.
Not Keeping Up With the Joneses
Whether you skimped on an upgrade to save money early on or just haven't had time to update certain features of your home, not keeping up with the neighbors could hurt your home's value. Adrian Muller, president of Hudson View Appraisal Services, said homes without features that are common in the area, such as a patio or pool in Florida, will have an overall lower value.
Sometimes, the factors that affect your home's value have nothing to do with your property at all. One such example is a "zombie house" in your neighborhood. Zombie houses are abandoned, neglected or dilapidated homes with overgrown yards, said Mary Case Friedner, a real estate broker serving the Hudson River towns of Westchester County, New York.
"They can really hurt the value of neighboring homes," she said.
Homeowners near shale gas wells can take a major hit to property values, according to a study by economists from Duke University and Resources for the Future, a nonprofit research institution. The researchers found that Pennsylvania homeowners who used groundwater for consumption lost up to 24% of their property's value if they lived within 1 1/4 miles of a shale gas well.
Cracks in the Pavement
You might not pay much attention to wear and tear on your driveway, but appraisers will. They look for signs of physical depreciation, so consider resealing the surface of your driveway before you put your house on the market.
"Large cracks and potholes on the driveway surface raise a red flag in the appraisal process," Muller said.
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If buyers drive by your home or decide to do a walk-through, what they see at first glance makes a difference. If your home is messy or unruly from the outside -- maybe it needs serious repainting -- it could sour a potential buyer's experience.
"At the very least, the lawn, walkway and driveway should be cleared of any debris and look clean and tidy," Case Friedner said. "The front door along with the doorframe and window trims should be freshly painted."
An Unkempt Yard
Landscaping has the potential to increase home value, according to the Appraisal Institute. But if you've let your home's lawn go, now is the time to roll up your sleeves and bring out the gardening tools.
"Dead or dying shrubbery should be removed and replaced with healthy and lush plants, and there should be no weeds anywhere on the property," Case Friedner said.
Landscaping is also one of those hidden expenses that come with building your own home.
Weird Landscaping Design
Even if your home's lawn is in good condition, landscaping that's too quirky or personal could hurt your home's appeal. Real estate professional Chris Danuser, who serves clients in the New York City area, advised against "too-personal touches."
"They can be a turnoff to buyers who might want to develop the yard with their own style," he said. Similarly, large trees leaning over the house should be trimmed back to avoid the risk of collapse onto the roof.
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You might have spent many happy summers enjoying your home pool, but don't assume buyers want to carry on the tradition. Heather Kandawire, a real estate agent in northern New Jersey, said, "While some buyers see a pool and envision warm summer days lounging on a floatie, soaking up the rays, a majority of buyers won't even look at a home with a pool."
Why? "Most buyers fear the maintenance, additional insurance and general added expense that a pool demands," she said. However, she did say that luxury homes that sit on large properties tend to do well with pools.
A Koi Pond
If you have a koi pond or other decorative body of water on the property, ensure that it's clean and pristine. Kandawire noted that in the countless homes she has shown, she has yet to see a perfect koi pond.
Although Muller said that it does have the potential to improve home value, Kandawire said, "Just please clean it before you try to sell."
At some point, you might have opted for aluminum siding because it's durable, repels bugs and insulates your home. Unfortunately, it can work against you when it comes time to sell.
According to Case Friedner, those looking to buy today prefer not to buy a house with aluminum siding, as it can cheapen the appearance of the house. She also noted that "houses with ugly-colored siding are challenging to sell."
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No matter where you live, there are probably some foreclosures nearby. If they are clearly marked as such -- and not all are -- this can be a turnoff to some buyers. There's nothing you can personally do about this, of course, but it's good to be aware of it.
A Bad Neighbor
Regardless of how perfectly maintained a neighbor's house is, you might be in a bind if a potential buyer finds them on the registered sex offenders list.
"Living within a tenth of a mile of a registered sex offender would most certainly devalue your home," Danuser said.
Live on a busy street? It could negatively impact your property's value. "Houses on, or that back up to, busy thoroughfares generally have less value than the exact same house would if it were in a more quiet spot," Case Friedner said.
Buyers might also be sensitive to other types of excessive noise around your property. Danuser pointed out that anything from living within hearing distance of a commuter train to an airport -- if you can hear the planes -- can affect your home's value.
Unsightly Buildings Nearby
Danuser mentioned that environmental elements like cellphone towers, power plants and landfills can hurt your home's value when it comes time for a home appraisal.
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A Bad Smell
People are sensitive to smell, so it's no secret that a bad smell, like cigarette smoke, can deter those looking to buy.
A strong deodorizer can be an indicator of a cover-up, according to Michele Beaudoin, real estate broker and owner of Beaudoin Realty in Queens, New York. Instead, she advised, "Bake a cake, a pie, brew coffee or use a diffuser with a scent of lemon, orange or apple. These odors will appeal to buyers."
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Knickknacks and Other Clutter
You might love your collection of snow globes and antique perfume bottles, but it's probably best to store them away while your house is being shown.
"Overdecorating and items of personal interest must be removed," Beaudoin said. "Beware of clutter."
Upgrades Without a Permit
If you build a little apartment in the basement without the proper permits, your appraisal report won't look too good. A bad home appraisal can actually block potential homebuyers from receiving funding for the home purchase, especially if the home has illegal upgrades.
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Paneling in the basement or rec room was a trend a couple of decades ago. Today, you'll want to replace it to avoid looking dated.
"Unless you're selling a ski lodge in New Hampshire," Kandawire said, "it's time to tear that paneling down."
Many old homes have beautiful hardwood floors buried beneath carpet. You might love how cozy the rug feels under your feet in the colder months, but when it's time to sell the house, rip up the carpet and expose those hardwood floors. Kandawire advised that you should call a professional refinisher to restore the grain to its original luster.
"You'll add value back to your home faster than you can say 'my feet are cold,'" she said.
A Death in the House
According to Andrew Helling, owner of REthority.com, an online resource for real estate professionals and their clients, there are now services that enable potential buyers to see if a death has occurred in your house -- and if one has, this could be a turnoff for buyers.
"Whether or not it's happened while you were living in the home, there are buyers who will skip your house if they know someone has died in it," he said. "This is especially true if the nature of the death was a murder or suicide, as some buyers are extra superstitious."
Being Located Near a Church
"This may be shocking, but some buyers don't want a church close to their house," said Helling. "Near large churches, traffic increases on Sundays, making it difficult to navigate the roads due to congestion."
An Unappealing Layout
"Layout is the biggest thing that can kill a home's value because it's the most expensive thing to fix," said Avery Carl, a Tennessee-based real estate agent.
Some layouts that could kill the value of your home are split-level homes with bedrooms on the main floor and living areas on the top floor, and any home that is too compartmentalized, as today's buyers prefer an open-concept layout.
Dated Kitchen Cabinets
"You can have the most beautiful countertops and fixtures in the world, but if your cabinets are dated, no one will notice," said Carl.
Like dated kitchen cabinets, brass fixtures can negatively affect the overall look of your home, said Carl.
"Albeit a subtle accent -- and easy to fix -- brass fixtures scream 'dated' so subtly that most buyers won't even know why they found the home to be dated," she said.
Remove wallpaper and repaint before putting your home on the market, Carl advised.
"It's not terribly expensive to take down and repaint, but many buyers aren't handy and assume it will be a huge expense and will write your home off their list immediately," she said.
A Filled-In Fireplace
Some owners of older homes choose to fill in a fireplace rather than maintain it, but this could decrease the value of the home when it's time to sell.
"Buyers seem to always want fireplaces, and when they come across a home where the fireplace appears to have been filled with bricks or otherwise taken out of service, they always question what needs to occur to bring it back into working order," said Melissa Terzis, a real estate agent in the Washington, D.C., area. "Typically, that's a chimney inspection and replacing the chimney liner and cap. The costs and work required can result in buyers reducing their offer price."
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Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.