A dirty, smelly house will be a tough sell, even if it is the right size and in a good neighborhood.
To talk about things that turn off homebuyers, we contacted experts from coast to coast, including: Chad Goldwasser, owner/broker of Pure Gold Realty in Austin, Texas; Terry Cannon, a buyer’s agent and broker with EBA Realty, in Salem, Oregon; and Julie Dana, a decorator and home stager in the Buffalo/Niagara area of New York and co-author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Staging Your Home to Sell.”
They cite 10 turnoffs that sellers should avoid.
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Dirt, grime and filth
Nothing will turn off a homebuyer faster than a house with grimy floors, crusty kitchen counters and dust and dirt everywhere.
“The No. 1 biggest mistake is not getting the home in the best possible condition. That’s huge,” Goldwasser says. “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 make an extra effort, 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.”
Buyers don’t like to smell foods and pets in houses they tour.
“Odors are a big one, especially kitchen odors,” Dana says. “I advise my clients not to cook fried food, fish or greasy food while the house is on the market.”
Dana also advises her clients to remove all traces of pets, not just odors. It’s important to get rid of pet paraphernalia and have a 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 smoke outdoors while your house is on the market.
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Outdated fixtures and appliances
Buyers are not impressed by tarnished doorknobs, disco-era light fixtures or old ceiling fans.
“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.”
Today’s buyer doesn’t want wallpaper, period. “Wallpaper is a definite no-no,” Dana says.
Wallpaper is difficult to remove and simply adds another chore to a buyer’s to-do list.
“Wallpaper is extremely personalized. You’ve spent hours looking over books to pick out the wallpaper you want,” Dana says. “What are the odds that the person walking in the door will also like that wallpaper that you picked out?”
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Popcorn acoustic ceilings
Acoustic popcorn ceilings, an artifact of the 1960s and ‘70s, badly date your home.
If you can’t stomach the cost or the mess to remove the overhead popcorn, be prepared to credit a buyer in certain markets to close a sale.
“The popcorn acoustic ceiling is a major, major turnoff to buyers these days,” Goldwasser says.
Shopping for a house is like shopping for clothes. Buyers are trying on your home to see how it fits. If personal items clutter your house, a fit is less likely.
“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 remove 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 entice 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.”
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Sellers who hang around the house
Generally speaking, buyers don’t like it when sellers meet them at the door, follow them around, eavesdrop and make unsolicited comments.
“It’s so annoying,” Goldwasser says. “They will want to walk around with the potential buyer and put in their 2 cents’ worth. It’s not good. Normally, there are 1 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 away his sellers from showings.
“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?”
Sellers use photos and words to make their homes enticing. But buyers don’t like it when the words and pictures paint a false portrait.
One of Cannon’s buyers loved a home she saw online. When Cannon drove by, he was surprised to see 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?”
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Poor curb appeal
Seeing a house for the first time is like meeting a person for the first time: Appearance counts. That first-glance impression of a house is called “curb appeal.”
“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.”
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A lot of us live with clutter. We get so accustomed to it that we scarcely perceive it anymore. But homebuyers notice. Where to begin with 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 bookshelves should showcase spaciousness by following the rule of three. For kitchens, 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 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 the kiddie clutter 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.