By: Daniel Bortz / Realtor.com
Spring brings out home buyers en masse. But in these waning days of winter, many home sellers are still hibernating. Well, it’s time to wake up! Although technically the peak home-buying period is still a few months away, the time to get your home in shape to sell is right now.
“Put in the prep work before the season starts,” says Peggy Yee, supervising broker at Frankly Realtors in Vienna, VA. If you dillydally, you risk having to scramble to get your house ready to list. Even though it’s a seller’s market in many parts of the country, you still need to bring your A-game if you want to get the most value out of your home.
Moreover, “you want your home to be ready to list at the start of the spring home-buying season,” says Lisa Cahill, co-owner of Evolve Real Estate in St. Petersburg, FL. “If you hold off on getting the process started, you may not be ready to put your home on the market until the late side.”
So what can you be doing now? Allow us to elaborate so you’re ready to roll once that wave of home buyers hits.
Find an experienced listing agent
Before you start making repairs or updates to your home, you’ll want to enlist an expert who can guide you through the process; otherwise you could wind up wasting cash on things that don’t improve your home’s sales value. You can find potential agents through word of mouth or on an online database.
Cahill recommends interviewing at least three agents before settling on one.
“You want a local expert,” she says. “Someone who knows the area and knows how to price your home.”
To ensure you’re hiring a neighborhood specialist, find out how many listings the agent had in your area within the past 12 months—and ask about the average days on market for the listings.
“Just because someone does a lot of business in your neighborhood doesn’t mean they’re necessarily good at selling homes quickly,” says Yee.
Statistics show that the median home spends 65 days on the market, from the instant it’s listed until the day it closes. But this number can vary widely. Use realtor.com®’s interactive map to find out the median days on market in your area and other local data that can help you determine how well your own agent should be performing.
Spread the word
By finding an agent early on, that person can then start marketing your home simply through word of mouth to other agents, letting them know that your house will be listed in the spring. Doing so creates buzz around your listing—and may even lead you to capture a serious home buyer before your home hits the market.
Plus, you can do some early marketing, too—by telling your friends and family that you’re hoping to sell. Go ahead and post some pics on Facebook and see what happens! Maybe your own social network will deliver a buyer right to your door.
When making repairs, focus on the interior
Curb appeal is important, but it doesn’t make sense to do exterior repairs until bad weather is over.
“If you replace siding in the winter, it could get wear and tear before spring,” says Yee. So if you live in a snowy city like Buffalo or Chicago, wait until closer to spring to do exterior work.
Instead, use that time to make updates to your home’s interior based on your real estate agent’s recommendations. Go room to room with your agent and create a list of things you need to fix. Even small repairs, like fixing chipped paint or replacing a leaky faucet, are good to get out of the way during the winter. Also, “when you repair surface issues, buyers are less concerned about finding major problems with the home,” says Cahill.
It’s also a good idea to have your HVAC appliances serviced by a professional now—“that way you can tell buyers that you’ve checked the system and everything is running well,” says Yee.
Dig into decluttering
Clutter can be a huge turnoff to prospective buyers. But even for non-hoarders, a thorough decluttering can take months, says Yee.
“Getting rid of your stuff always takes longer than you think,” she adds. “Even decluttering just one room each week starting today will reduce stress later on.”
Depending on how many personal items you choose to keep (donate or sell the ones you don’t, instead of schlepping them to your next home), it may make sense to rent a storage unit for a couple of months.
Consider professional home staging
Over a third of real estate agents stage their listings, and the payoff can be substantial: On average, staged homes sell 88% faster and for 20% more than non-staged ones. If your agent doesn’t offer staging services, ask for a recommendation.
Why do this in the winter? Because staging costs can potentially add up to thousands of dollars—staging for a 2,000-square-foot home, for example, would cost around $2,000 to $2,400, says Boca Raton, FL, real estate agent Crystal Leigh Hemphill. Knowing how much money you’ll need well in advance can help you develop a budget plan, since staging expenses are typically paid out of pocket, says Cahill.