Friday, January 8, 2016

Clutter can kill a sale....but it can also mean a lower price for the investor....

These days "stuff" is all too easy to accumulate. There are online sites offering free shipping 
and cheap prices. Catalogs galore. "Big box" stores offering great deals in bulk and massive chain department stores that allow for incredible bargain prices. 

We have expanded the idea of basic needs well beyond necessity. Needs are things that we cannot survive without such as food and shelter. For whatever reason, many of our desires have become needs and the result is too much stuff. In a society where shopping has become a recreational sport, and the acquisition of things a daily ritual, we must be cautious not to acquire too much to clutter up our homes.
Many people who live in cluttered environments have developed some numbness to the condition of their homes, meaning that they truly no longer consciously notice or see the chaos of clutter.
From the prospective homeowner’s viewpoint, clutter translates into an undesirable home. Cluttered homes appear smaller. They look darker, and tend to smell. The visual stimuli of a cluttered home can be an immediate turn-off because the combined effect suggests that all of the home’s other features will be rundown, decayed and in need of much repair. A prospective buyer will immediately think the house is nasty and cannot imagine themselves ever bringing their personal items into the home, much less ever actually living in the house. That first impression will forever be etched into their minds and the house will remain as a symbol of filth to most potential buyers. 

The opposite is also true: homes devoid of clutter and kept clean give the impression of being well maintained and not requiring much work.

It is important to understand that when prospective buyers view a home they do so through various lenses. Some will look at a property in terms of its resale value, others will view it as a starter home, and others will view it as their potential home for life.
For those looking at property in terms of resale value, clutter is a good. Clutter means that the property doesn’t show well and as such the potential buyer stands a good chance of acquiring it below value. For those looking at a property as a starter home, the clutter only serves to widen the gap between the desired home and the home they must settle for. People looking at a property as their potential permanent home will imagine themselves occupying it. 

Clutter compromises the ideal image and prospective buyers view the home in terms of cleaning and maintenance.

Properties with clutter translate into increased time on the market and lower values, not only because the clutter decreases the perception of size, air and light, but also because of the perceived level of work involved in maintaining the property. It might behoove sellers to spend a little upfront and hire a professional clutter clearer and/or home stager. This initial cost will be recouped by way of a higher selling price and faster sale.
It never ceases to amaze me when I'm trolling the real estate sites to see houses listed with photo's that clearly show the house at its worst. Many buyers can look past outdated things that can be changed. Shag carpeting or orange laminate countertops can be ripped out and replaced with more modern finishes. Flowered wallpaper can be stripped off and replaced with paint or a more taste specific wallpaper. But when I see that an agent has posted interior shots of a house cluttered with dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, beds unmade, dirty laundry strewn about, etc., the first thing I think is "WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?"
If an agent lists a cluttered, messy and potentially dirty house for $100,000, there is precious little chance of them actually getting that price unless the house is in a prime location worth 3 times that amount. But if an agent gets their client to spend an hour of their time to clear off the kitchen countertops, make their beds and do some general pick up before photo's are taken, the homeowner will come much closer to getting their asking price.
As an agent, you are a consultant for your client. You need to go into the house with the eyes of a potential buyer. You need to instruct and educate your client as to what they need to do in order to get a full price offer in a reasonable time. Anything less than that is a true disservice to your client.  Push comes to shove, roll up those sleeves and offer to help the seller clear out some of that stuff and put away the rest.  Those couple of hours spent helping your client could result in a bigger and a quicker commission.

There was a time when the real estate market was thriving and it was truly a seller's market. A cluttered house may have flown during those times. However, in today's market, it's all about the buyer and buyers are not inclined to purchase a cluttered house when they can go down the block and get a clean one for the same price or lower.

When a potential buyer walks into a house, they don't need to be distracted. Clutter and other personal items distract a buyer's eye. If a buyer has to be careful where they're walking because of the clutter, they are looking down rather than noticing the beautiful molding and high ceilings. They are watching their step rather than seeing the marvelous windows and the view beyond. They are smelling the odor of accumulated dust and last night's dinner.

When you have your house on the market, you should adopt the attitude that your house is no longer yours. It should already be decluttered, cleaned and personal items edited before the listing agent arrives to take the listing photo's. The yard should be well manicured, the walkways clean and the entry inviting. Remember, most prospective buyers will drive past your house before ever asking to view the interior. If the outside looks poorly maintained, they will assume the interior is in even worse condition and will just keep on driving.

The day of the viewing, visit each and every space in your house. Beds made? Dishes off the sink and counter? Toilet and bathtub clean? Garbage out of the house? Curtains wide open? If you have the time and the weather is permitting, open all the windows you can to allow the house to refresh itself. Allergies are an ever growing problem these days and sometimes perfuming a house can back fire. There are a lot of folks out there who are allergic to many air fresheners, incense and the like. Also, if a house is overly perfumed, buyers will often wonder what the homeowner is trying to cover up? Cat not like to use its litter box? Problem with mildew or mold?

As stated above, you want the curtains wide open at a showing. This allows natural light to flood into the house which makes every space appear cleaner, fresher and larger.

Get rid of very taste specific items in your house. You don't have to throw them out. Box them up and put them in the basement, attic, garage or even rent a storage unit. You're going to move as soon as the house sells anyway, so might as well get a jump on the packing, right? Those African masks hanging on your wall may make you happy whenever you see them but for many, it might be frightening and while they may forget that you have beautiful hardwoods in that room, they will never forget that you had those masks on the wall.

Let's dissect some photo's of actual properties that I found listed for sale.


This bedroom is atrocious. The bed's not made, there is clutter everywhere, a water bottle is on the nightstand, the closet is not only over stuffed but has no doors and they have taken a corner of the room and transformed it into an office. Let's not forget the dirty laundry on the bed.

On closer inspection, this room appears to have lovely hardwood floors and a nice modern ceiling fan. However, you have to look hard to notice them with the current condition of the room.

What this room tells me is there is not enough space in this house for an office, there is not enough storage otherwise the closet would not be overflowing and the owners aren't very clean. Let me expound on the "owners aren't very clean" part. When you invite an agent to take photo's of your home to put on public websites where millions of people have access to view the interior of your private space, you are going to want to put your very best foot forward, right? If this is your housekeeping at its very best, what is your everyday housekeeping like?

When selling your home clear out every single piece of clothing that you don't wear on a weekly basis, pack up the winter clothes/shoes if it's warm weather, invest in a nice neutral comforter set and by all means get everything out of the bedroom that is not actual bedroom furniture - yes, that includes the desk/computer. You want your bedroom to appear as spacious and light filled as possible.

Lastly, I can just about guarantee that this room smells bad. Anytime, you have closed blinds, dirty laundry and open containers of food in a small unventilated space, you are going to get unattractive odors. Especially if the room is carpeted and most certainly if the owners smoke.

Next, let's look at a living room that while not overly cluttered is overly furnished and poorly decorated.

You may ask "What's wrong with this room? It's not dirty." No, it's not dirty but it is visually cluttered. This is not a large room by anyone's standards but it appears half the actual size because the homeowners have filled it to the brim with stuff. To make matters worse, the stuff in this room is not to scale with the size of the room. The ceilings aren't high to begin with so don't overfill the room as it makes the ceilings appear lower.

This is indeed a small room and nothing you do can make it appear huge. However, you can maximize the footage in this room and make is appear larger than it really is just by editing out the overscaled furnishings.

Again, rent a storage unit and take at least half of these things out of the room and into the unit. While most stagers loathe TV's, I am of the opinion that TV's need to stay when staging. There are people who don't own TV's, but they are certainly the minority of people in this country. Owning a TV is not an oddity these days. Owning just ONE TV is. With this in mind, I always like to leave one TV in the house because I realize that when a potential buyer walks through the house, they will look for things such as "where will I place my bed?" or "Where will the couch go?" or "Where will we put the flat screen?"

I would leave the sofa, TV and the small plant stand. Then I'd bring in a smaller occasional chair, a mirror to bounce the light around and open the blinds to give this room as much light as possible. Remember, just because you paint your walls white - it doesn't mean the room looks larger. Sometimes the room just looks bland. Since it's a small room, paint it a nice light neutral color with a large LRV number. (LRV stands for "light reflective value" - the higher the LRV number, the more the paint color will bounce natural light).

Most people have a "mystery" room. Usually it's a small bedroom that we don't use. This room collects everything that the homeowner either doesn't use much (Christmas decorations, stuff the kids have outgrown or - in my case - even stuff the kids just haven't gotten around to getting out of your home once they move out). If your house isn't on the market - no big deal - you simply keep the door closed and no one is the wiser. However, once your house goes on the market, this room must have a better identity. A 3 bedroom house sells for significantly more than a two bedroom plus a junk room house. Take a Saturday and armed with garbage bags and boxes, sort through this stuff until the room is clear. You will probably discover that most of this stuff can go to the curb. Slap a fresh coat of paint on the walls, vacuum the carpet and voila! A bedroom has been born!

Where do I begin on this photo? Not only is it cluttered to an inch of its capacity, but it is horribly decorated. Again, take a weekend out of your life and address this room! Take EVERYTHING out and don't bring back the family photo's, keep only a dozen (maximum) of the books and/or video's. If you just have to have the desk in that room, move it away from the window, strip the wallpaper off the walls and paint and by all means, get rid of the granny curtains and the fake flowers above the window. NOTE: Fake greenery isn't fooling anyone. It's just collecting odors and dust and dating the entire house. Since fake greenery went out in 1990, potential buyers will wonder what else hasn't been updated since 1990.

These tips will not only move your inventory quicker but make you - and your client - more money in the process.

As always, enjoy your space!