Sometimes good real estate stories don't come from real estate. This was a lesson in paying attention to detail which I experienced (carelessly, mea culpa) some years back. I wanted to trade in my sports coupe for something a little more practical. I knew I took care of the car, doing regular maintenance, going easy on the clutch, and putting well under the 12,000 mile per year average on it even though it had 5 or 6 years on it. So I took the car into the dealer to see what I could get.
The manager at this Silicon Valley car dealership came out with his checklist and furrowed his brow as he walked around the car. He ran his fingers through the dust on the tires, opened the door and moved the large Coke from McDonald's I had been drinking on the way there, into the rear cup holder which held the loose change from that purchase, so that he could get to the gearshift and put the car into reverse.
Little did I know that this would cause $8.95 to lead to $8,000, but probably not in the way you're thinking.
How $8.95 Led to $8,000
He pulled the car out of the lot, drove it for about a block, came back and said, "Sir, for a car in this condition, I can only give you $7,000 for it."
Of course he was negotiating, but that number came in well under what I'd expected from the Blue Book value. It was clear he didn't want the car and wasn't excited about the prospect of having to resell it.
Did his perception of the car accurately meet the reality of the work I'd put in to keep it in top shape? No, because I:
- Was careless with the way I presented the product
- Came across as someone who negotiated like he ate at McDonald's
- Failed to look at the product from the buyer's point of view
The next day, I got rid of any personal items from inside the car, meticulously vacuumed it, then took it to a wash where I knew they would polish the tires.
Then I took the car to another dealership. It was sunny and the newly-washed car actually glistened because of the cloudless day. That must have helped a lot because when the manager saw the car from a distance, he actually started to trot to get to it faster.
Take this the with appropriate grain of salt: he said, "Even if you don't buy a new car here today, I want you to sell us this one." Negotiated price: $12,500. With that offer in hand, I sold it for $15,000 in a private party transaction to a person who remarked, "I can't believe how clean it is."
That $8.95 car wash led to $8,000: the car wash started me down a better path with better possible results than the path I carelessly ended up on before.
Houses Are Like Cars Except For the Massive Upfront Depreciation
The moral of the story is that little, inexpensive details can make a big difference when selling your house. Here are some quick hits that can pay big dividends in shortening your sales cycle and helping your selling price.
1. Vacuum and steam clean the carpets. You might have your house perfectly staged, but people use carpets as an indicator of the condition of the rest of the house. If the carpet has stains, people will perceive the house as dirty even if the countertops are dustless and the furniture immaculate. With older carpets, a quality steam cleaning may even eliminate the feeling that you need to replace it before selling.
2. Remove odd smells. Nothing is a bigger turn off to prospects who visit your home than a weird smell. What would happen if you marketed your house with the words, "my pet peed here" or "old and musty"? Do you think it would have the same appeal?
3. Spruce up the landscaping. I'm definitely not saying you have to go out and redo all your landscaping, but a set of fresh plants and well-trimmed foliage is like getting a nice haircut before a job interview. It may even spark the imagination of gardeners who currently live in a place where they don't have as much room to plant as they'd like to.
4. DIY. If you have the time and inclination, there are some simple do-it-yourself projects like rejuvenating your existing kitchen cabinets or replacing old-fashioned light fixtures that can make a big impact in terms of how people perceive your home. Just make sure not to splurge on too many completely new items because it's often hard to recoup the cost for big ticket items added right before a home sale.
5. Wash the windows. People concentrate on windows because they're looking at the outside view or seeing whether the windows themselves are double-paned. A dirty window, or worse, bugs on the window sill, can eliminate that positive as a selling point, especially if you have a great view.