Sometimes I’m walking through a home with buyers, everything is going great, and then something happens that makes their face totally drop.
Sometimes it is hard to realize how much clutter affects people’s perception of a house, but as someone in this business I can tell you it makes a massive difference!
It surprises me how hard it is for many buyers to see past the most superficial clutter, but I’ve seen that it can make the difference between loving a home and crossing it off the list.
People want to be able to envision themselves living in a home, and when a room is cluttered with toys or personal objects, it is hard for buyers to mentally place themselves in the space.
When marketing your home, setting up a system to easily hide clutter and personal items when showings are scheduled (I recommend large plastic bins you can toss things into and place in the basement or the garage), can make a huge difference in terms of how long it takes for your house to sell and the final sales price.
2) Mildew and Mold
Mold is one of the scariest problems you can deal with when you own a home.
It can be incredibly persistent, extremely expensive to clean up and difficult to deal with, and it can be a health issue.
Most buyers will not touch a home with an extensive mold problem, period. And even if you don’t have one, any hint that you might will send lots of buyers running for the hills.
If people comment that your basement smells “mildewy” then you have a problem. That smell can set off alarm bells. Try putting in a dehumidifier to see if that addresses the problem, and if not, hire an expert to see if you can diagnose the source of the problem and come up with an action plan.
3) Structural Problems
Right up there with fear of mold is fear of structural problems. When buyers see a floor that looks like there are as many waves as on the ocean or with a slope big enough to prevent furniture from being able to be used in a certain spot, it makes people nervous.
Uneven floors are not always a sign of structural problems (sometimes it is just settling), but it can be, and it will scare some buyers.
If you know your home has these kinds of issues, get it inspected by a professional and document what they find and what needs to be done to repair it (if anything).
Even if the situation isn’t great, having it all laid out in writing with an action plan will alleviate a lot of the anxiety buyers have when they see such a thing. Yes, if it costs $15,000 to address the problem that is scary, but seeing that number in writing is a lot better than fearing that the whole house is about to crumble.
Get ahead of it.
4) Lack of Attention to Small Details
Houses are complex systems, and when you walk through a house, you only see the outermost details. Whatever is behind the walls remains a mystery .
Yet when that outer layer shows noticeable defects, it makes buyers believe the less visible parts of a home are likely to be more neglected.
Holes in walls, stains on carpets, missing or broken outlets, and peeling paint may just seem like minor issues that a buyer can address when they move in (you might be thinking they will likely just repaint the walls anyway), but that isn’t the point.
The point is that these flaws will signal to a buyer that there are bigger problems lurking and that this house will be a project.
5) Strong Odors
Most of us have experienced having a visceral reaction to a strong odor. When something smells bad, it is hard to focus on anything else.
Everyone reacts to smell differently and some people are more sensitive to certain smells than others.
For me and many people I have worked with, a strong cat pee smell is the worst. Sometimes smells are so bad, we have trouble even walking through certain rooms.
Dogs, smoking, trash, and mold can also be the cause of unpleasant odors.
Some smells like smells from trash can often be dealt with relatively easily by removing the source of the smell and basic cleaning.
Other odors can be persistent and tough to deal with, especially if they have seeped into the walls or floor.
Smoke smells usually require a full carpet cleaning and wall/ceiling painting.
Pet smells can be even more persistent. Usually centered on the floor (because of pet accidents), the first remedy is to try cleaning the floors. Carpets often hold the smell the most, and if the pet urine soaked through the carpet, you may have an even bigger problem on your hands.
You may need to treat the subfloor and replace the flooring which is no inexpensive task.
Preventing smells is obviously the top choice, but when that doesn’t happen, do what you can to reduce smell as much as possible before putting your home on the market.
6) Layout Flaws
Is there no bathroom near any of the bedrooms?
Is there no place to put coats or muddy boots?
Is the kitchen the size of a bathtub?
These are the kinds of challenges that can make a home sit for a long time. It just won’t work for a lot of lifestyles.
Some of these problems are solvable, but some of them are not. Your home has the amount of space it has, and even if there are ways to reconfigure things, it can be very expensive.
The best solution when you have a layout problem is to try to show off how people may be able to modify their lifestyle to make the house work for them.
If there is no coat closet, for example, put up a coat rack and set up a bench and place a few pairs of shoes under it.
If the kitchen is small, at least make it look cute, and maybe put up a few wall shelves in the dining room to display dishes and cups to show that the a buyer has a place for all of their stuff.
7) Water in Basement
Water or moisture in the basement is a pretty common problem.
However, most buyers know that water is the biggest enemy to a house.
Water is the precursor to mold, rot, and a whole host of problems.
Water scares buyers. If you’ve ever had water in your basement, you will need to disclose it. Hopefully you took action to remedy the problem.
The remedy, of course, depends on the source of the problem.
If your washer leaked, did you fix the machine and have the water professionally cleaned up?
If water was coming in from outside, did you install gutters or have a sump pump put in?
If your basement just tends to get a bit of dampness, have you installed a dehumidifier to prevent mold?
It will be critical to show that you took action to remedy the problem.
Recurring water in the basement will turn a large number of buyers completely away so don’t ignore this!
8) Creepy Basement
Many times I walk through a beautifully renovated home only to walk down to the basement and feel like we just walked back into the 1970s.
It ruins the whole experience.
While we were upstairs, my buyers had been under the illusion that everything was new and shiny about the house, but as soon as they see a dated basement they are immediately reminded that they are actually in an old house that potentially has old house problems.
Also, the kind of buyers that are attracted to a beautifully renovated upstairs are the same buyers who are particularly terrified of a basement in disrepair.
The lesson is to make the top match the bottom or at least not to let the gap in quality be so extreme that it feels like you are in two different houses.
When you are making renovation choices, try to balance out your budget so no part of the home becomes completely neglected.
9) Best House on the Block
You might be proud that you own the nicest home in the neighborhood, but when it comes to resale, this is a big disadvantage.
Many buyers are looking to get into the best neighborhood they can afford to live in. Furthermore, any renovations you do in a house that is the best in the neighborhood are worth less than renovations in a home that is of average or below average quality.
What does this mean specifically?
If you do a full kitchen renovation in a home that is of average or lesser quality for the neighborhood, you may make 80% of your money back when it comes time to sell.
On the other hand, the same kitchen model in a neighborhood where your house is the best on the block may only recoup 30%.
These numbers vary depending on the quality of the remodel, the state of the pre-existing kitchen, and the specific neighborhood, but the general gist is that you get more money back when you’re not the best house on the block so keep this in mind before investing in major improvements.
10) Close to Train, Airport, or Highway
Being close to loud noises or unsightly traffic (not to mention vehicle exhaust) is rarely a selling point.
Of course, some buyers will overlook these things if the home has a good location for other reasons (e.g. Winooski is booming because of its cool restaurant scene and proximity to Burlington regardless of its location right on the flight path), but some buyers will absolutely be turned away by the noise issue.
You can’t change the location of your home, but if you suffer from these kinds of issues, make sure you feature other benefits of the location (soundproofing and privacy bushes also can help).
11) House Sold Recently
When you are trying to sell your home just a couple years after buying it, it may raise a flag for some buyers.
You may just be relocating unexpectedly for a new job, but buyers may be afraid that there is something driving you away like obnoxious neighbors, recurring maintenance issues, or a lingering smell.
If you are selling your home a year or two after buying it, make sure buyers know that it isn’t because the house is a dud.
Note: If there are material problems with the house, you still have to disclose them.
12) Roof, Heating System, or Siding at the End of Life
At a minimum, most buyers expect that the roof, heating system, and siding are in working order. And furthermore, seeing such big systems in need of repair can signal to buyers that the home overall has been neglected.
While replacing these kinds of items prior to a sale can feel unreasonably expensive, especially considering that they will not add enough value to your home to justify the price tag, they are pretty important to getting many homes to sell quickly at the best possible price.
I’ve seen too many houses sit on the market for months because a decrepit roof turns away most interested buyers. Sellers will wait months and then eventually replace the roof anyway in order to get the house to sell.
Do it upfront to save yourself the hassle.
13) High Maintenance Oddities
Saunas, indoor pools, bowling alleys, and other such “fun” features can seem awesome in theory, but when it comes to home resale can be a big disadvantage. While some buyers might find them awesome, they are not expectations for most buyers and will perceived as more of a burden than a perk.
Houses with these features need a certain kind of buyer, one that will value these features as much as the original owner. Unfortunately, this will decrease the number of potential buyers for a home and can make these properties sit for months.
Does this mean you shouldn’t ever build yourself your dream sauna?
Not necessarily. If you are going to enjoy it for years, fine.
Just don’t expect to get money back for it when it comes to resale and know that your home might take a bit longer to sell.
14) Too Much Personalization
When I was in high school, I really wanted mural wallpaper on my bedroom wall. Basically, this was a blown up image of a gorgeous waterfall that spanned 12′ across my room.
It was really cool, and it made the place feel like mine.
Of course now when I go back to my parent’s home, I cringe.
When it comes time to resell, it needs to come down and the wall needs to be painted back to a neutral color. When most buyers see that picture, all they will see is someone else’s attempt at individual personalization and add it to the list of “work” that has to be done to make the house livable for them.
When that mental tab of “work” becomes too long, buyers nix houses. It starts to feel stressful, not exciting.
I encourage people to personalize their homes with furniture and things that don’t stick with the home forever.
If your daughter wants a pink bedroom, fine, but plan to paint it back before resale.
When it comes to even more permanent things, just really think about it before you do it.
I’m thinking, specifically, about a home I saw with a toilet in the middle of the master bedroom that looked out a window onto a lake. I’m sure the owner enjoyed staring out at a beautiful view while on the toilet. The only problem is that most buyers would be extremely uncomfortable about using a toilet open to the rest of a room and right in front of a window.
If you must have something to be happy, go ahead. It is your house, and you deserve to enjoy it.
Just know when you make those decisions that not only might you not get your money back, the choice may actually reduce the value of your home. Make the decision with eyes wide open.
15) Nearby Construction
Construction means change, and change is scary. Construction also means noise, and noise is undesirable.
You can’t necessarily control what is going on around your house, but getting as much information about the project and disclosing that when your house goes on the market can alleviate buyers’ fears.
If they know exactly what is changing, what the plans will look like, and how long it is supposed to take, it will help them evaluate the house without carrying the big amorphous fear of the unknown.
16) Messy Lawn and Yard
Yards are work. Buyers hate to be reminded of that.
When you don’t mow your grass, don’t weed your flower bed, and leave your yard equipment out everywhere, buyers of reminded of yard work drudgery.
Your beautiful yard will go from being an asset to a liability in their eyes.
If you hate lawn maintenance, pay someone else to do it while your home is on the market. It is well worth it.
At the end of the day, all houses are sellable. No matter what your problem, your home has some value, and there is a buyer out there.
However, if you plan well and take the right steps before your home hits the market, you will sell your home for more and have less trouble and stress doing it.
Starting early and thinking about selling your home when you buy (and while you live there) is also key.
Almost all buyers eventually become sellers, and if you are a seller now you will probably be buying a new home soon too so don’t forget about these items when making your decision.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pallas Ziporyn is a Realtor based in Burlington, VT. She is the founder and head writer for The Vermont Real Estate Blog, and she works with both buyers and sellers in Chittenden County and surrounding areas.
In addition to her real estate pursuits, Pallas enjoys serving on the Winooski Planning Commission, skiing, writing, and spending time with her husband Chris and their two small children, Leander and Hugo.