Preparing your home to sell in the winter months
What makes selling a home more stressful? Selling it in the middle of winter. What makes selling a home less stressful? Following these tips and hiring an agent who can, and will shoulder the bulk of the burden. Your lawn is brown, the weather is probably wet and overcast, and, unlike the longer days of summer, you have less time to open it to prospective buyers during the much sought after daylight hours. Not everyone has the luxury of waiting until the traditional spring or summer home-buying season to plant that “for sale” sign in the front yard. While it’s true that in most areas you’ll probably have fewer buyers during the winter, you will have less competition from other sellers. And, luckily, Sonoma County ‘typically’ has mild fall and winter months – save for our “El Nino” years. Be prepared to put a little effort into the process – it’s more difficult to make something look really appealing this time of the year. The trees are baron, the grass is a tinged shade of yellow green and the ground is littered with crunchy leaves. If you do it right, you can really make your house stand out.
- Keep ice and standing water at bay
If the buyer can’t get in easily, the house won’t sell. That means keeping walkways and driveways free of standing water and slippery sheets of ice. Just like trimming the lawn in the summer, make the home looks like it’s been maintained. Consider salting the ice sheets, and revamping the walkways, so as not to allow rainwater to pool.
- Warm it up
If you’re showing your home during the winter, think “warm, cozy and homey”. Think roaring fires and football games. Think spaghetti sauce and pumpkin bread. Think warm blankets and a ferocious storm. Before a buyer comes through, adjust the thermostat to a warmer temperature to make it welcoming, but not too warm – 70° is found to be a very comfortable temperature for most. If you have a gas fireplace, turning it on right before the tour can give the house a little ambience. With a wood-burning fireplace, you’ve got to be a little more cautious. If the house is vacant, don’t chance it. But if you’re still living there and will be there during the tour, it can add a nice touch. Many times, sellers leave right before the buyer’s agent and prospective buyers arrive. In that case, adjust the heat to a comfortable temperature and have the hearth set for a fire. Buyers feel the warmth and see the potential, and you don’t have to worry about safety concerns.
- Take advantage of natural light
Encourage showing during the high-daylight hours. Make the most of the light you do have. Keep the curtains and blinds cleaned and open them as wide as possible during daytime showings. Clean all the lampshades and built-in fixtures, and replace the bulbs with the highest wattage that they will safely accommodate. Before you show the house, turn on all the lights.
- Wash the windows
Windows are one thing that many sellers don’t even consider. In winter, that strong southern light can reveal grime and make it look like the home hasn’t been well maintained. Routinely wash the window interiors, and have a cleaning service to come give you a good scrub down on the exterior.
- Play music softly in the background
To create a little atmosphere, tune the radio to the local jazz station (KJZY). Turn it down so that you barely hear it in the background. Soft music tends to have the most appeal to buyers. I think people tend to stay around a little longer and look a little longer.
- Make it comfortable and cozy
Set the scene and help the buyers see themselves living happily in this house. Consider things such as putting a warm throw on the sofa or folding back the thick comforter on the bed. Tap into the simple things this time of year that make you feel like you’re home.
- Give the home a nice aroma
The number one favorite – Chocolate-chip cookies. Just about everybody likes that smell. Or snicker doodles – love those. Other popular scents: cinnamon rolls, freshly baked bread, apple pie, apple cider or anything with vanilla, cinnamon or yeast. But don’t overdo it, either – candles in every room or those plug-in air fresheners can leave buyers wondering what you’re trying to mask. And let’s be honest – they don’t smell good. Watch the bad smells, too. Pet smells, smoke and musty odors can cling to curtains and carpets. Ask your real-estate agent or a friend to give it a sniff test. Then clean the house, air it out and replace drapes, carpets or rugs as needed before you show it.
- Protect your investment
Some sellers (or their agents) will ask buyers to either remove shoes or slip on paper “booties” over their footwear before touring the house. Many buyers like that, it shows a pride of ownership and meticulousness that resonates with buyers.
- Use the season to your advantage
When the holidays are over (all decorations should come down pretty quick after the holiday), you can still use winter wreaths and dried arrangements around the door to spark interest and add some fun, festive color.
- Set up timers
You want your home to look warm and welcoming whenever prospective buyers drive past. But you’re not home all the time, so put indoor and outdoor lights on timers. Look at the outside lighting around the door. Is there enough illumination to make it inviting? If not, either get the fixtures changed or have new ones added.
- Make it festive
Even if you’re not actually going to be present, greet your buyers as if they were going to be guests at a party. Set up the dinner table with the good china and silver. Have a plate of cookies for your guests, some warm cider or even chilled bottles of water. First impressions are so powerful. If it looks like you’re expecting me and greeting me as company, that’s a powerful impact.