Real Estate News

Spruce the hedge, ditch the clutter: tips for getting the best sales price for your home

Colorful pots of flowers, a spotless brick walk, an upscale door and clean accents provide curb appeal to this house.
Colorful pots of flowers, a spotless brick walk, an upscale door and clean accents provide curb appeal to this house. MCT

Thinking of selling your home this spring? Recent South Florida real estate sales suggest the timing may be good.

Median prices for condos and single-family homes on Miami’s coastal mainland edged higher in the fourth quarter of last year than in 2015 as did median condo prices in Miami Beach, according to the latest Elliman Report. (The exception was in luxury market, where condo prices dropped.)

“The trend of tight housing supply continued to have an impact on Florida’s housing market in December,” says Christine Hansen, a broker-realtor in Fort Lauderdale and president-elect of the statewide Florida Realtors trade association. “While that’s good news for sellers, it’s continuing to put pressure on inventory for first-time homebuyers and those who may be looking for their next ‘move-up’ home.”

For those looking to upsize and possibly take on a bigger mortgage, these market conditions make getting the absolute maximum value on the sale of their existing house more important than ever.

Consider these tips from Marla Martin of Florida Realtors — both before and after you list your home—to maximize resale value with minimal effort and cost.

▪ Boost your curb appeal. You only get one first impression. Ask your agent to tour your home and provide feedback before you put it on the market.

It’s not necessarily expensive to spruce up your home’s curb appeal, said Martin. “You really need to consult a professional who knows what’s happening in your market.”

Agents know better than homeowners what puts a gleam in a buyer’s eyes. Whether your front yard has succulents and a rock garden or an actual lawn, take care of it. Keep any lawn freshly mowed and watered. Groom the trees and trim shrubs. Plant a few trays of blooming flowers, and paint your house trim and shutters. These are all low-cost ways to make the house pop with curb appeal.

▪ Favor steel doors over new kitchens. Be wary of significant renovations such as adding a sun room just before you list your home, because you may not recoup that investment in the current market.

“With most remodeling, you don’t get back what you put into it,” said Martin. “In terms of improvements, all-steel doors recoup the most: about 94 percent of the cost.

“People think redoing the kitchen will bring more bang for the buck, but that’s not necessarily the case. Often people have their own taste, so those countertops you love might not be loved by the buyer.”

▪ Know when to declutter. No matter how elegant your style, too much of a good thing is still too much. Buyers won’t bite if they can’t see beyond the clutter to imagine the home with their own furniture and belongings. That means cleaning out crammed closets, clearing off kitchen and bathroom counters and minimizing displays of collectibles and bric-a-brac.

Rent a self-storage unit, if necessary. The house should look as spacious as possible. If you can afford an interior designer, hire one as a consultant. Your agent may also be able to recommend a staging company to bring in furniture and other décor while your home is on the market.

▪ Fix whatever is broken. Beyond permanent appliances such as dishwashers that are sold with the house, make sure door hinges are secure, window locks work and faucets don’t drip. Martin recommends that sellers replace any burned-out lightbulbs and consider installing sparkling new faucets and fixtures, including door knobs.

Keep a running tally and fold the costs into your asking price. The goal is to show a well-maintained home. That inspires buyer confidence and makes prospects more willing to pay what you’re asking without nitpicking, said Martin.

▪ Create an inviting look. Remember what attracted you to the house when you first saw it? Try to recreate that mood when you have prospective buyers touring the house. Set the dining table with your best dishes. Hang clean, matching towels in the bathrooms. Make the beds. Arrange logs in the hearth. Give the walls a fresh coat of paint.

Martin suggests a finishing touch — place fresh-cut flowers in a vase on the foyer and dining room table. Inexpensive bush daisies and colorful lantana thrive in South Florida and are readily available.

▪ Eliminate off-putting odors. Smells — both good and bad — exert a powerful influence on buyers. Don’t fry fish or stage a crab boil the night before a real estate agent plans to show the home. Also, watch out for those smells that you’ve grown accustomed to. If your pooch has ever had “accidents” on the carpet, steam-clean them and perhaps dry-clean the drapes as well.

Beware of air fresheners because they may cause allergies in visitors. Try baking gingerbread or cinnamon rolls instead (a time-honored real estate agent tradition).

“In addition to getting rid of any odors, pets should not be at home during a showing, if at all possible,” Martin said.

▪ Balance open houses with individual tours. Go easy on the open house events to save time and sanity. It’s a common misperception that open houses will help land a sale faster, but you’re just as likely to attract window shoppers as serious buyers, who will probably want to tour a house without a lot of other people milling around inside.

“The best thing about an open house is word-of-mouth advertising,” Martin said.

▪ Don’t be afraid to wait. Sellers often list in the spring or summer because they’ve been led to believe this is when the market heats up. The rationale is that families wait until the end of the school year or summer break to move before the start of a new school year, Martin said.

In truth, boomers and millennials are expected to dominate the buying market this year, making fall and winter equally good times to list a home for sale. In fact, it might make you even more competitive in a seller’s market.

Award-winning journalist Steve Evans covers mortgages for He is a former managing editor of general media in the Central Virginia Newspaper Group and has worked as a senior writer for SNL Financial and as a reporter for the Bristol Herald Courier, The Progress and the Richmond-Times Dispatch.