Think you might be selling your home in the next few years?
In the Oscar winning film "American Beauty," Annette Bening showed moviegoers how a good realtor can move a home fast.
"I will sell this house today!" she announced over and over, as she scrubbed kitchen counters, vacuumed the floors (in a nightgown), and dusted ceiling fans.
But you can sell your home in a flash too, if you know the secrets to attracting buyers.
Even great homes need cleaning and staging
To learn the secrets to selling your home fast, we went to a picture-perfect subdivision with manicured lawns and rows of brick, 4-bedroom homes built in the mid-1990s.
The homeowner, a woman named Karen who is downsizing, was gracious enough to allow our camera in.
Realtor Michelle Sloan said while it is a great home with an open kitchen and lots of room, it's not perfect enough for a quick sale in today's very competitive market.
"You have to spend a little money to make a lot of money," Sloan explained.
So she shared with us her secrets for a quick sale.
1. Declutter everywhere
Sloan told homeowner Karen that she needs to start by removing 20 years worth of clutter.
"The entire house looks bigger and better when you declutter," Sloan said.
Decluttering also applies to the garage (get rid of the old, unused strollers, wagons and lawn furniture), and even to the yard, where you should trim back overgrown shrubs that now block windows, and keep light out of the house.
2. Hide collectibles
Sloan told Karen to put away personal touches, like the collectibles she had on shelves in the living room. They, too, fall in the clutter category. Just put them in a box for your next home.
"The collectibles are not something you want to have around the house when you go to sell it," Sloan said.
3. Take down family photos
Sloan says family photos are a distraction.
You want a young couple to imagine themselves living in your house, as opposed to them taking over another family's treasured home.
If you have even a few photos up, she says, "they are going to say, 'Oh they went to Disney World, and hey, I think I know him!'"
Granted it is tough for anyone to hear that you have to put away 20 years of family memories. But you are not putting them away forever. You are just helping another family have a blank slate.
Sloan says: "I have to be very diplomatic, and say we are selling your home, not your memories."
With the memories tucked away, Sloan now works to make rooms look better.
4. Enlarge rooms with staging
No, you don't have to call a contractor. To make rooms larger, Sloan says you should remove some furniture, like Karen's giant curio cabinet in the living room entrance.
"The best thing for this would be to put it in another room, or even in storage," Sloan said.
Less furniture shows off more of the floor (ideally, hardwood not carpeting), and makes the home look much larger.
Then you can stage it with a few simple colorful pillows, vases and other contemporary touches (but not Grandma's old throw pillow and hand knitted blankets. Tuck those away, too.).
5. Clean up the kitchen
Sloan says start by scrubbing floors, counters and cabinets. But then tuck away blenders and all the other knick-knacks on the counter.
"We want to see as much of the countertop as possible, so all of this we would put away," Sloan said.
If you have a 15-year-old white refrigerator, Sloan suggests clients spend $1,000 on a new stainless steel fridge if they can afford it.
In some neighborhoods, where most homes have been upgraded to granite countertops, she even suggests to some clients that they replace laminate counters with basic granite (for about $3,000).
She says a $3,000 to $5,000 kitchen investment can bring $10,000 or more at selling time, and make the home sell much quicker.
6. Make closets look larger
Sloan's sixth secret, which is a really good one: remove half the coats and shirts hanging in closets, to make them look bigger. It won't cost a thing.
"We could pare down some of this, take out half the coats," she told Karen. Voila, Karen's closet now looked enormous.
7. Neutralize the paint
Home buyers want a neutral "canvas" on the walls, Sloan said.
Sloan says Karen's sponge-painted bedroom is lovely, but outdated.
"The faux paint is something that really ages it, unfortunately," she told Karen.
Ditto for Karen's 1995 vintage red dining room, which was very popular at the time.
"As far as the red wall and floral wallpaper, both of these really need to be neutralized to get the best value," Sloan said.
Sloan suggests you update interior colors to off white or light gray.
"The most inexpensive thing you can do is paint," she said.
8. Goodbye to brass and other dated fittings
Karen's home was filled with brass chandeliers and wall light fixtures.
Sloan says you can replace brass outdoor lights for as little as $25 each at a home improvement store.
Replacing a chandelier can be pricey, though, so consider spraying it matte black, as many creative homeowners now do. (Cost: $4 for a can of spray paint)
While installing new appliances and granite counters is more than many homeowners can afford, the good news, Sloan says, is that investing just $500 and a few weekends of your time, can add thousands to your home's resale value.
But best of all, those updates can make it sell in no time at all.
Karen was a good sport about it all, and said "we've actually started, believe it or not!"
That's because like Annette Bening in American Beauty, there is nothing more she wants now than a quick sale.
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