Before you sell, here’s what you need to know in order to maximize buyer appeal — and your bottom line


RAUL JUAREZ | Contributing Writer

You’ve lived in the same place for a few years, but that wanderlust has taken over. It’s time to sell. But how do you ensure you maximize your profit before turning it over to the ebbs and flows of the real estate market? That’s where a good agent can be essential.

Clean and clutter-free. “The least expensive thing to do is to declutter and paint,” says Alicia Treviño, a Realtor with Century 21. “It’s the easiest home improvement to increase market value. But it depends on what the property needs; if it is something major like foundation or roof work, where you are from a financial standpoint goes into deciding what you are going to do to add value to your house.”

“Cleanliness is important,” adds Ed Wiggins, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker. “You will be surprised how many homes are cluttered and dirty.” And he’s not just talking a quick roll of the vacuum cleaner and spritz of Febreze. When it comes to making the most of what is probably your single largest financial investment, you want to put in a lot of elbow grease to see the best profit.

“When I say ‘cleanliness,’ I mean a deep clean — baseboards and everything,” Wiggins says. “I call it ‘un-decorating:’ when you depersonalize your house and take photos away and make it less personal so other people can see themselves in that house. You’re not selling your life, but the home itself.”

Setting the stage. Both agents are firm believers in the value of staging — the process by where you decorate the house with the specific intention of making it a beautiful blank canvas on which prospective buyers can paint their dreams. “You can even ask a friend — one who is critical and is there to tell you what furniture you need to get rid of and who can help you move and rearrange furniture,” Wiggins says. If no friends have the kind of creativity you need, there are professional staging companies who can do it for a price.

Treviño recommends purging your space of extra furniture and making sure the space photographs well. “Professional photography makes a difference in online marketing,” she says. “Good taste is very important; ask a friend with good taste, or follow the guidelines you see on HGTV.”

Taking on bigger projects — judiciously. If you really want to get the most out of your investment, some bigger home-improvement projects can reap dividends … so long as you don’t overspend.

“Obviously, updating the kitchen and bathrooms is something you will always want to do, and quite frankly there are ways to do that very inexpensively these days,” Trevino says. “Paint is your best friend!”

“Updating light switches, outlets and cover fixtures are easy and simple steps to add value,” Wiggins says. You might also invest in hiring a home inspector presale; for a few hundred dollars, he or she can evaluate everything that might be wrong with your house upfront so you don’t waste money fixing things that are fine or making matters worse. (It’s sad to repaint a room only to be told afterwards that a wall needs to be replastered.)

Neutrality trumps individuality. Perhaps counter-intuitively, too much “style” and individual personality can actually detract from your home’s market value.

“Bright color on walls, or painting different rooms different colors, is fine if you live there; if you want to sell, neutralize those rooms,” Wiggins says.

Trevino notes that home gardens may actually discourage buyers — they can be so personalized that buyers who prefer different kinds of plants will find it distracting. And those who prefer low-maintenance yards could be scared off from the rigors of keeping the garden blooming year-round.

“Houses on the inside and outside must be cohesive in nature as well — the outside [should] match the interior,” she says.

’Tis the season. If you have to relocate for work you can’t always choose when to put your place on the market, but there are good “seasons” for selling.

“Summer and spring are the best seasonal times to sell,” Wiggins says, though Treviño adds, “You know your home best, and know when your home looks best.”

Keep in mind that factors other than the property itself can impact when to sell. For instance, the school district you live in might be important to families with children; they might be more inclined to move in the summer, before the fall term starts, to keep from moving their kids around mid-school year. On the other hand, your home might be better for those looking to downsize.

“People are returning to the city — new young couples, empty-nesters, etc., are living closer, and people are commanding more money [for whose who want] a closer commute,” Wiggins says.

On the hunt. Of course, you might not be looking to sell — you might want to buy. There are some checklist items to keep in mind when you’re house hunting.

Check your credit (everyone is entitled to one free credit report a year), get a good agent and find a reliable loan officer, Treviño says. “It is very important to be prequalified for a loan and know what new programs are there for new homeowners.”

Also, be aware of incentive programs, like those targeted to first-time homeowners. Wiggins notes that “teachers in Dallas can get 5 percent for their down payment — they are literally buying places for no money down. It does take some assistance, its important that you trust the person because it is the biggest purchase you will ever buy.”

It also helps to work with an agent who knows the special needs of gay and lesbian homebuyers. In Texas at present, same-sex couples are not protected the same as they are in Iowa or California where marriage equality is the law.

“It is important to have the right connections with the people you are working with and that including the title company,” Wiggins says. “Believe it or not, even if the loan is under your name, it is still possible to have both of parties’ names on the title — not all title companies do that, so you have to make sure your Realtor works with them.”

To View more Defining Homes Spring 2015 stories

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 6, 2015.