Preparation is the key to a fast house sale

As an agent I get to see more houses than most people and obviously I speak to many potential buyers. Whilst there’s no ‘golden bullet’ to sell your house quickly and at the best possible price, there are things you can do to greatly improve the odds of getting an offer. Preparing your home for sale takes time, effort and possibly money, but if you approach this as an investment rather than a cost it will prove effort well spent.

First Impressions

It’s a cliché, but first impressions really do last. The front of your house will normally be the leading photo on your listing on Rightmove/Zoopla and is the first thing your buyer sees when he or she pulls up in front of your house. If the impression is that it is scruffy and uncared for then your chance of selling is immediately reduced.

The next time you approach your house try and look at it as objectively as possible and take note of things you take for granted that might put a buyer off. You might have always meant to clear the rubble from the front garden, or scrap the old Ford Fiesta that hasn’t moved in 5 years. You might automatically walk round the wonky third slab without a second thought. But you can rest assured your viewer will trip over it, turning a minor maintenance oversight into an unwelcome focal point and raising the question “if they can’t be bothered to re-lay one slab, what else haven’t they done?”

While you’re about it, trim the hedges, mow the lawn, top up the gravel and clean the windows, window cills, soffits and fascias. If you have block paving, or slippery decking, get someone to clean it for you. There are companies that will jetwash it for you for just a few pounds.

If the paint on the garage door is peeling, or there’s a flapping cable to your unfinished DIY outside light installation, sort them out.

I recently sold a house where the door had fallen off the electric meter box in the front wall, which created an awful first impression. The vendor’s excuse was ‘it was like that when I bought it‘ but despite repeated nagging from me she still did nothing about it. I temporarily wedged the old door back in place with cardboard, but not all agents will be so diligent.

To redecorate or not to redecorate?

In my experience buyers fall into one of two camps. There are those who are looking for a project and plan to be moving walls and generally knocking you house about. For them the decor is largely irrelevant because it’s going to need redoing when they’ve finished anyway. These people do exist but unfortunately they are a) in the minority and b) usually looking to buy below asking price because of the extra work they plan to do.

The second type of buyer is looking for a house they can move into straight away and get on with their life. They usually have fuIl time jobs and active families and simply don’t have the time, inclination or expertise to take on major decoration (often these people also prefer a low maintenance garden for the same reasons). In my experience these people make up the majority of viewers, and I think that good decorative condition is right up there with kitchens and bathrooms in the list of attractive features.

Another observation is that most of us over estimate the cost of remediation, meaning a well decorated house has a higher perceived value than one needing a refresh. I’ll illustrate the point with a real life case study. I was recently asked to value a house for potential sale. It was a 30-odd year old 4 bed detached house on a popular, established estate close to excellent schools, the kind of houses that families (and estate agents) love. When I pulled up outside I could immediately tell the property was ‘tired’ (see First Impressions above) but if the outside was tired then the inside had been asleep for 10 years! There wasn’t a single well presented room in the house, the paint on the woodwork had all yellowed and the colours on the walls were dark and very ’80s. There was no carpet in the hall or upstairs landing and the stair carpet was so threadbare it was a tripping hazard. The bedrooms were finished in faded emulsion, the kids rooms had clouds painted on the ceilings but worst of all there was mildew across the ceilings in the front bedrooms. However, there were no apparent structural issues, it was purely decorative.

I had to be honest with the vendor and explain that whilst neighbouring properties were being marketed at £360-380k, theirs was worth significantly less because of its condition. We agreed to market at £290k with the anticipation that the low price would generate lots of interest and encourage competitive bidding until it reached true market value. The strategy was partly successful, in that I did more than 30 viewings, but despite that we received no sensible offers; viewer feedback was that the work needed was overwhelming and they didn’t know where to start.

After a couple of months, morale was low. I sat down with the vendors and went through the feedback in detail. I explained they had 2 choices,  they’d either have to sell cheap to an investor, or take it off the market and invest money to tackle the main issues before re-marketing. I gave them contact details for a damp consultant and local decorating companies and left them to it.

Another couple of months went by, then I got a call inviting me to go and take new interior photos. To my delight, they’d taken my advice constructively and acted on it – new carpets to bedrooms, hall, stairs and landing; the damp issue on the ceilings had been investigated and resolved; all bedrooms had been professionally decorated in classic magnolia and white; the bathroom had been cleaned and redecorated. The transformation was amazing and although there was still work needed I suggested we should re-market much nearer its potential market value, I suggested £350k. The second couple to view put in an offer at full asking price and the sale completed quickly and smoothly. The cost of this transformation? Less than £5,000!

This example illustrates the return on investment can be very high, yet all too often vendors say to me that there’s no point in redecorating because the buyers will only redecorate in their own style later. This is just lazy thinking. I reiterate that most buyers have limited appetite for renovation, unless the price is so low that they can see a big profit. Put another way, if there are two similar houses, and all other things are equal, it’s the newly decorated one that will sell first, even if it is priced £10k higher. Food for thought!

More FREE information

If you are just starting to think about moving you’ll need an idea of the current value of your home. As a starting point you can get a reasonable idea by using an online valuation tool.  There are lots of them out there but the best is Hometrack. Their reports include hard-to-find local market analysis, plus a Hometrack valuation estimate based on their Automated Valuation Model – the same system that 15 of the top 20 UK mortgage lenders use. Normally these cost £19.95 but if you request a valuation via the EweMove website you can get a HomeTrack report FREE OF CHARGE!

Also, take a look at our book The 39 Steps To Avoid A House Sale Nightmare. It’s  packed full of practical information to help achieve a quick sale at the best price. You can order from Amazon for £9.95, but if you contact me I’ll send you a FREE copy.


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