By Ann Duff
We live private lives the way we choose to, and if the toothpaste tube is left out or the sofa cushions are lumpy, so be it. But when your house is on the market, the rules change.
You will feel it first when the photographer comes over before the house or condo is launched. Your realtor will direct some instant decluttering, hiding extraneous pillows, ditching those oh-so-popular throws or moving the one green plant from room-to-room and shot-to-shot.
Soon, potential buyers will be touring. Ask yourself how much they really need to know about your life. Pretend you are a stranger looking at the house for the first time. Are you distracted by the overloaded refrigerator door? Are there photos of you with any past or present U.S. president? Is your checkbook and stack of bills on full display? Do you always have to warn people about the trip hazard that is the almost-invisible step into the family room?
This sounds like cleaning, but it is more than that. Opening up the buyers’ imagination to how they could live in the home is important. If every surface is covered in your personal touches, they might not be able to picture their own Thanksgiving in the home. And, if every surface is full, the rooms will seem smaller than they are. You could lose almost a foot if the bookcase is so full it doesn’t have any gaps showing the depth of the space.
So close your computers, move the diplomas and trophies, stash the medications and clear some photos off of the mantle – not to take away your personality, but to maintain focus on the house instead.
Next, leave. If you are tempted to stay and chat with the potential purchasers, don’t. They’ll learn about the hidden path to the neighboring park, the best commuting route or the eccentricities of the neighbors later. In fact, if you can, really leave and go on a trip with a Wi-Fi connection.
You’ll also want to consider a long-weekend away for your pets. A dog’s job is to protect your home with noise – though many just sleep and eat, like mine – and the barking makes the rooms seem smaller or off-limits. Many potential buyers are also allergic to dogs and cats.
When people look at your home, you don’t want them to fall down. People fall; it’s a fact of life, and since they don’t know the complexities of your home, put in extra effort to make sure they don’t trip. Put in a handrail, highlight that tricky transition to the family room or add some extra lighting on the stairs to the basement.
Finally, you never want to apologize for anything not working, so consider doing a pre-listing, walk-and-talk home inspection. Make it more of a consultation with a professional, without a written report or photos, to see what might need fixing.
So take a deep breath, go put the toothpaste away and brag about your practically perfect prize, ready for its new owner.
The writer is a realtor with McEnearney Associates, Inc. An Arlington native and Alexandria resident, Duff began her career in corporate public affairs before changing years ago to selling and leasing properties in Virginia, D.C. and Maryland.