When you’re looking to sell your home quickly and as painless as possible, you’ll have to go through a process of removing your (or your tenants’) presence from the house. This process is known in the real estate industry as neutralization.
A better name for neutralization, is called depersonalizing. Essentially, your goal is to remove the identity of the home so that potential homebuyers can picture their future in the home without have the “thumbprints” from previous occupants.
How does one go about neutralizing their home? Easier said than done. There are even limits to neutralizing your home.
If you go too far, your home may appear cold and foreign to potential homebuyers, as they’ll have difficulty imagining just what each room’s purpose was (or could be).
Let’s take a look at the topics and particular nuances that can influence buyers to say “yes” to your house and close as soon as possible.
Once you’ve decided to sell your home, you may use your uncluttered home to finally make some renovations to your home, to make it more attractive to buyers.
This might seem like a smart strategy, but be sure to make reasonable limits to the time and money you invest on new flooring, new carpets, and updating old appliances.
The idea to keep in mind is that the improvements you’re making—say, new blue carpeting—might be immediately removed by the new homeowner, or might even be turn-off potential buyers.
Conversely, if you don’t take necessary steps to repair minor repairs, you can turn-off buyers. Look at your home with a buyer’s mindset.
Those nicks, dents, and scrapes on walls and flooring might be invisible to you because you’ve become accustomed to them. But to someone just stepping foot into your home, a loose doorknob, burned out bulbs, or stains on the patio could lead potential homebuyers to believe that these are just the beginning of the problems that you home holds.
A little bit of sanding and spackle can go a long way to getting your house sold.
Photographs, Awards, and Certificates
While you may still be a resident in the home that you’re trying to sell, you must remove most of the traces that allude to the personality that you’ve “carved” into your home. This includes family photographs, awards, and certificates. Why?
The reason is that photographs, either of marriages, children, and other friends/family, tend to give them impression of a “claimed” territory.
It’s harder for a person to picture themselves in a space having their own unique experiences for years to come when they’re confronted with the same patio they envision you using with your family. Nothing speaks more to personality (and eccentricity) than collections.
They have a tendency to overwhelm the senses and create a clutter, diminishing the size of the room—both of which you don’t want to put on display. Similarly, there’s a psychological angle to consider. Suppose you have certificates that indicate you were a doctor or a lawyer.
Would a person who deems themselves beneath that occupational status feel comfortable living in the same house?
Conversely, if persons of those aforementioned occupations were selling a home for cheap, it might suggest that this home has something wrong with that you may be hiding.
Your goal is to help depersonalize your home so that house hunters can psychologically move into the home. Of course, you should leave a few pictures on the wall just so the space doesn’t look empty, but even generic paintings and photographs serve the same function as that family reunion picture in Cancun.
Neutralizing Your Book Collection
Books can be a way of subconsciously conveying to potential homebuyer’s type of person that would thrive in the home. However, when selling your home, you should choose these books carefully.
The rule of thumb is to choose “coffee table books.” Books on architecture, travel, and cuisine are all encouraged. Who is not a fan of any of those topics?
However, some topics can be divisive. Religious books, books on esoteric/niche topics, or books that are controversial. And related to the previous topic, keep your photo albums packed away.
If you’re having trouble keeping these books hidden and packed away, an easy trick is to turn the spines inward to make them truly neutral.
Taking Down Artwork and Collections
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. While you may have made it a focus of your home to showcase your personality through your possessions, including artwork and items you collect, your goal is to appeal to the widest array of people to purchase your home.
Just as you have to hide your books for fear of offending someone, you should take down all artwork that could even be considered remotely offensive. This includes artwork with political messages, nudity, sports teams, religious imagery, and so forth.
Other accents, like family heirlooms, should be taken down as well. While you may be proud of that mounted moose head from your grandfather, potential homebuyers may be put off by hunting wild game.
Getting Rid of Religious Items
While it is certainly fine to be proud of your religious beliefs, affiliations, and convictions, not all homebuyers will appreciate religious items on display.
Some buyers may not be religious at all, while others may carry deep convictions that may find such displays offensive. Buyers that see these particular types of displays may also make inferences about the types of neighbors that you have (which may or may not be true).
Getting Rid of Odors
Our sense of smell can immediately conjure up both good and bad memories.
While some agents have used the lure of a fresh baked apple pie to entice homebuyers’ olfactory recall, bad smells can have a similarly off-putting effect. What’s worse is that homeowners can become acclimated to the scent of a house, leaving them “noseblind” to potential smells.
For instance, cigar and cigarette smokers typically view the smell of smoke as “familiar,” whereas a non-smoker may look down upon the same house.
The same goes for mold smells, especially in basements, where it can seem like the house may be at risk for flooding from sewers or catastrophes (i.e. hurricanes, in proximity to flood plains, etc.).
However, trying to mask these odors with a bottle of Febreze and air fresheners can work against you, as it seems to potential homebuyers (rightfully so) that you’re trying to cover up these odors.
Homeowners should actively work on eliminating the common sources of the smell, including pet odors (see below), mold, cooking odors, spilt chemicals, and so forth.
Be sure to have an agent or someone unfamiliar to your home give you an honest analysis of where particular odors may be lingering.
While it may be somewhat embarrassing to realize that your bathroom smells less than pleasant, it can be even worse to have your home unsold on the market because you didn’t want to replace the carpeting.
Removing Your Pet’s Presence
Simply put, pets are messy. Of all the elements in a home that can cause damages, pets are near the top. While they may be adorable, they also don’t have any qualms about relieving any of their bodily functions around your house.
If you’ve taken the necessary steps of cleaning and removing pet dander, you may also want to consider removing the pet entirely by leaving them with relatives/neighbors, or boarding them during an open house.
Animals can present liability risks while showing your home, not only for bites and personal harm, but an unknowing homebuyer might let your animal out, which can cause you to miss out on displaying what’s really important: your house for sale.
Also, remember to remove food bowls, water bowls, and pet toys/accessories from the home, as some homebuyers may equate this with lower standards of cleanliness.
Not everyone loves reptiles or spiders, so keep cold-blooded animals away during the open house.
No one wants to deal with finding a dead snake wrapped around the radiator, nor do they want to deal with a large spider when they’re in the shower. However, fish kept in clean fish tanks are acceptable, just be sure to scoop out any dead fish ahead of time.
Finally, remember that some homebuyers will preface their decision solely on their pet allergies. You should do your best to cater to them, but know that fully eradicating your home to a person with acute sensitivities may be beyond your reach.
Keep It Clean
One challenge to keeping your house on the market is that you still have to live in it. However, for selling your house, you must remove traces of your daily life. Little messes that are part of living (i.e. cooking, piles of mail, kids’ toys, etc.) can be perceived as distracting and dirty.
It can be difficult to keep it in pristine condition each time a buyer wants to view it, so you may have to change your cleanliness habits until an offer is made. Don’t underestimate how a stack of laundry can negate all of the effort you’ve made to present a neutralized home.
For items of everyday use (i.e. toothbrushes, shampoo bottles), keep them to a minimum and keep boxes hand to store them when needed. Clothing, especially out-of-season clothing, should be packed away, or at the very least, stored beneath beds.
Related to neutralizing your home is staging. Essentially, staging is setting up your home to reflect its purpose. While it may be apparent to you, the person who’s lived in the home for years, a new person may not be able to envision the purpose of each room without some leading.
Don’t Use Shoddy Furniture
Just as you want to make sure your home is spotless and tidy, you want your furniture to also reflect this mindset. Having beat-up furniture, especially furniture that is torn-up by age, usage, or pets will reflect poorly on your home’s appeal, even though the furniture won’t be coming with the house.
There are professional staging companies that can lend furniture for your open house, so be sure to ask your agent for references.
Too Much Furniture
An abundance of furniture can make your room feel much smaller than it really is. Stage your house sparingly, using 1/3 of the furniture that you’ve normally had displayed. This helps accentuate your home’s nature architecture and provides an illusion of spaciousness.
Empty Rooms Should Be Staged
It is in your best interest to stage rooms to give potential buyers an idea of what the room’s purpose is. If you’ve completely cleared out a room that once was your study, leave a simple display of a desk, table, and a lamp. This will communicate a “feature” of the room.
Bare rooms simply aren’t that inviting, as they seem unfinished. Also, the natural feel of empty rooms can create an “echo chamber” effect that may be unappealing to most people (barring musically-oriented homebuyers).
Emphasize Focal Points and Minimize Distractions
It’s not unusual for expertly-staged homes to emphasize a home’s natural amenities. By staging a home with some of the activities that the home can feature, you can entice homebuyers.
For example, a nice view of the sunrise can have reclining patio chairs and a breakfast table, a well-stocked fireplace complete with pokers and a footstool.
On the other hand, you should avoid having distractions and clashes. Having a beach scene for the master bedroom, with sand and beach balls, for a home in Alaska can be off-putting. The same goes for a NY-themed den for a Chicago metropolitan condo.
Color plays a large role in the neutralization process. Essentially, the colors you choose for the interior of your home should appeal to as many potential homebuyers as possible. Let’s take a look at few points to consider when coloring your home for sale:
● Remove wallpaper. It can be a rigorous process to remove this and may turn off homebuyers if it’s not neutral.
● Avoid bright colors. These tend to be an acquired taste and will remind homebuyers of the work they may have to do before finally settling into the home.
● Avoid dark color. Darker colors create an optical illusion that makes a space appear smaller.
● Neutral colors for staging your home are best, as they make rooms appear larger than they are. Adding accents of color, like photographs or paintings, against a neutral background can make a room seem modern and appealing (think of art galleries).
● They also are easier to change in the future, which homebuyers will appreciate when it comes time to move in.
● With carpeting and accessories, think of using complementary colors (i.e. blue and orange, purple and yellow, red and green), following the rule the 80% of the predominate color should be a neutral, with 20% being the appealing complementary color.
● Avoid using too many colors when neutralizing the home. Instead, focus on 3-5 colors to avoid jarring color combinations or a feeling of “separateness.”
● Bear in mind that lighting changes the color you’ve selected, you can use the same hue for incandescent lights and natural lighting, only to get different results. This can help save money and emphasize your home’s lighting variations.
● Make sure that your colors flow from one another. Earth tones and neutrals work best, as we’re accustomed to these colors from nature. Having a hot pink go to a beige is off-putting.
There’s usually no one-way solution to properly stage a house. Those who prefer the DIY method will usually have to do their research beforehand, especially for keeping the process of neutralization within budget. Here’s a few tips to keep it cheap:
● Consult your real estate agent. Chances are that this person has had experience successfully closing homes, so they intuitively know what works and what doesn’t.
Remember that agents are commission-based, so they have the same goal in mind as you, to sell your home as quickly and at the highest price possible.
In addition, they can recommend you to have a consultation with a professional home stager. These people specialize in neutralization and can give you honest tips to sell your home immediately.
● Ask your friends to do a walk-around. Request that they give you an honest opinion, whether it’s odors, color schemes, or any other feature that could be jarring to the eye. Don’t take their criticism personal. The goal is to sell the home, not save face!
● Look at other homes in your area that are for sale. Take notes on how the homes are arranged and what the owners have down to make the home seem inviting. Very often, homes in your local area may have been built in the same style, so you can steal some of their ideas.
Thanks for reading,
Realtor and Professional Home Stager
Licensed since 2005
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