Get Ready to Sell with ARDELL – Part 1

So you are thinking you are going to put your house on market in “The Spring”. Well, me too. So let’s do this together, step by step.

1) Set Your List Price.
You will check that again when it is time to list the home, but you can’t start getting the home ready to sell, until you know the price. Zillow says my home is worth $1,061,000. I bought it in September of 2005 for $850,000. Because I’m at a major price tier of under or over a million dollars, I know that if I price it over a million I will have to do a whole lot more than if I price it up to a million. So I’m setting the list price at $999,950. It’s very important to know what price you are aiming for before making your “to do” list.

One of the biggest mistakes sellers make is setting the price AFTER they get it ready for market. To some extent, that is why many sellers overprice their homes. Don’t think all that work ADDS value. That work is needed to achieve fair market value. But if you price it after you have spent time, money and effort, you will likely want to ADD to the price of the home, while in that state of “look at everything I have done”. Price it first, then do the work.

2) What is the Number One Feature of Your Home?
The #1 Feature of your home is that which produces the most return on investment. For my home it is actually not the home itself, but the location and the view. Sitting high up in the “View Corridor” of Kirkland, between 1st and 2nd Street, gives the home that always light and bright feel. Dramatic views of Lake Washington and the Seattle Skyline across the Lake including the Space Needle. We love to sit up on our bed and watch 9-12 sets of fireworks on the Fourth of July. The Kirkland Fireworks are framed right in the window and the bedroom has two walls of windows with the views centered right in the center of the window. Sometimes I wonder if that is coincidence or if the builder who did the addition to this 1921 bungalow in 1994, made sure Mt. Rainier was dead center in the “picture window” in the master bedroom sitting room. Sunsets, sweeping lake views from all of the remaining windows not facing Mt. Rainer. Then when you step out front to go to your car, you are awed by the view of the snow capped Olympic Mountains.

So Step 2 for me is to hire a professional photographer to take view shots. For the cost of $400 to $500, Harley will come over on the day HE feels best, to take those view shots. Don’t leave photos of the view to chance. Get the photographer set from the beginning, and also snap photos on your own, at every opportunity. I already know that while I may be the Greatest Real Estate Agent in the World…or not :), that Harley is much better equipped to take those view shots. Mother Nature may not cooperate when you get to the day you need those photos. So get the photographer in gear now, even though he likely will have to come back again when you are ready to list the home, for the inside shots. Give him a key to the house and say “Come by whenever you think it’s a good day for those view shots.” I have a West facing view, and I also want night shots. So the cost might be double at $800 to $1,000, but money well spent to highlight your #1 Home Feature.

3) Hire a Licensed Contractor
Make a list of all the things you were going to do, but didn’t. Then get a bid for ALL of those things from a Licensed Contractor before you decide which you will do and which you won’t. Choose by cost vs. “let’s not bother”. YOU do the shopping for what is needed, where possible. I already have light fixtures waiting to be hung in the Master Bathroom. I never liked those and they weren’t even put in the right place. So I’ve bought the replacement fixtures and marked where they will go. I’ll do before and after photos in a later segment. I have a huge list from a major change to a travertine floor and hall, to minor things like changing one of the lights from a timer to a switch. I’ll choose which to do based on price and return on investment, but I can’t do that until I know the price. Have the Contractor price out each job separately, then bulk the ones you decide to do for extra savings. Doing one thing costs more per job, than doing ten. After you have “The Big List”, get a new price list of the jobs chosen. It should be even less.

4) Curb Appeal Items
Since exterior items are “weather dependent”, get that list done now! I know I will have to paint the white picket fence, for example. I also know it will look better in a creamy white vs. the bright white that it is. It will need to be clean and dry, so start the cleaning now. You can clean it on a gray and cold day. Make sure you clean it thoroughly now so on a warm dry day, you can get right to painting it without more wet and dry time.

I’m buying a power washer. There are many things that need to be power washed, and in my business I might as well buy a power washer to help my sellers get their homes ready for market. Having a power washer at the ready, instead of hiring someone or renting one, let’s you do each job one at a time on different days as you have an extra hour or two, or are just bored with Step 5. Step 5 is boring, so a little break to go power wash another segment of the big fence job during your “break”, accomplishes two things at once.

5) De-Cluttering

While I have only lived in my house for a little over two years, it seems this job is still overwhelming. We didn’t sort well when we moved from Bellevue to Kirkland back in 2005, so we still have a garage full of stuff that we never unpacked and apparently don’t need. Kim seems to have every T-shirt and pair of jeans he has bought since he got home from Vietnam, up in our bedroom. Lots of “stuff” to sort.

The sorting process involves

1. Give Away – White Kitchen Trash Bags
2. Throw Away – Big Green or Black Trash Bags
3. Need Before we Move – Stored Out of Sight
4. Need for staging – Leave Out in Plain View
5. Need After We Move (i.e. Christmas Sweaters) – Box and Store OFF SITE

Trust me on this one. Put the give away and throw away items in two different colored trash bags and boxes for stuff you are keeping. Otherwise some helpful person will throw away your give away bag, or give away the stuff you meant to keep.
A quick visual of white = give away, black = throw away and box = to storage
will save you from lots of headaches down the line.

As soon as you have a car load of give away, get it OUT of the house and over to the Goodwill, even if it takes several trips. You will feel like you are getting somewhere and it will keep you going, if you get the stuff OUT every time you have ten bags or ten boxes. Trash may end up going to the dump vs. “trash day” deposits, so accumulate 10 bags and then get rid of them.

As soon as you think you are done…do it AGAIN! Looking at things a second time with no bags in the house will likely create a whole new set of bags and boxes. At second glance when the home is more cleared out, you realize that you really don’t need that before you move out.

6) Set your timeframes
I’ve decided I only need Spring and Summer stuff. Those hiking boots I’ve worn 3 times since I bought them can go into a box. All of my shorts and tank tops need to stay. Anything I won’t need before I go to Inman Connect in August is leaving the house! The house will go on market when “the pink trees are in bloom”. I don’t have any “pink trees”, but they are the first sign of Spring to me, along with the daffodils that I do have.

Pink Trees and Daffodils in Bloom is the day I list the house…so much to do before then.

I’ll keep you posted every step of the way, so you can Sell With Ardell, and we can keep each other motivated and on track. We’ve already brought one car load over to Goodwill…but we have a long way to go. Good Luck to all of us!

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ARDELL is a Managing Broker with Better Properties METRO King County. ARDELL was named one of the Most Influential Real Estate Bloggers in the U.S. by Inman News and has 33+ years experience in Real Estate up and down both Coasts, representing both buyers and sellers of homes in Seattle and on The Eastside. email: cell: 206-910-1000

86 thoughts on “Get Ready to Sell with ARDELL – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Real Estate - Information on Real Estate » Get Ready to Sell with ARDELL - Part 1

  2. “I already have the light fixtures…..”

    This part of my brain has never worked right.
    Why is it that we wait till we move to make our home-nest the way we like it?
    Thanks for the reminder. Those lights are going up this weekend so that I can enjoy them while I still live here.

    Posts like this prove that you are The Greatest Real Estate Agent In The World.

  3. Ardell –

    What kind of renovations/upgrades/etc did you do to arrive at your new price? For 18% in 2 years I would assume they were fairly significant, like a full kitchen/bath remodel?

  4. I messed something up getting rid of off topic comments. Let’s keep this about decisions the average seller of a home makes when preparing their home for sale, in any market.

    Off-topic comments referencing other types of sales will be deleted. We’re a little tired of every RainCityGuide post being dragged into a same theme direction.

    Your cooperation is appreciated.

  5. b,

    I have clients who have had 75% appreciation in two years with minimal upgrades. Those are closer to Microsoft and bought earlier in 2005, and have seen 30% or more per year appreciation.

    8% per year is below the average appreciation of the lot alone in this location, East of Market in Kirkland, with a view.

    I think it’s a reasonable asking price…but the market will decide.

  6. Larry,

    Yes! Get those fixtures changed πŸ™‚ For some reason the faucet color and fixture color was not the same when the addition was done in 1994. Brushed gold lighting and everything else was Pottery Barn Chrome and white porcelain.

    I used a picture from the Pottery Barn catalogue to get “the look” and then replicated the fixtures for less. I’ll show before and after pictures when it’s done.

  7. Ardell, I’d like to hear more about your decision making process around what to do and what to not do of the contractor work.

    I’ve decided “do” on the following: Upgrade electric, paint, replace beaten up storm door, kitchen facelift. Not sure about other cosmetic things: resurfacing patio, adding window boxes and new plantings, refinishing hardwood floors. It’s a tough decision.

  8. Genius Ardell!

    Another benefit to blogging…….developing pre-listing marketing buzz on your personal residence, complete with information for the consumer.

    This really is pretty good. Wtih any luck I’ll have a buyer for you.

    I wish you a quick sale!

    Greg Perry

  9. Cindy,

    The trick is to get started now. Too many wait until Spring to get started, and then miss the best market time. I’m thinking I’ll remove the screen door, as I think the house looks better without it. I’ll keep it in the garage in case anyone wants it. I like it, but it doesn’t help the curb appeal.

    What do you have planned for the kitchen?

    I’m doing anything and everything I can do myself, like painting. but I painted most every wall I want to while I’ve lived here, some as soon as I moved in. Keep the contractor work to a minimum and make it count. Painting is the highest return upgrade, if you do the painting yourself. Save the contractor work for things you can’t do yourself.

    How much is the refinishing cost on the hardwood? I was going to do the front room, but it’s soft pine from 1921 and someone may replace it, so I’ve decided to leave it alone.

  10. Greg,

    Not sure yet, but I might do a post on “Can Zillow and Craig’s List Sell a House”? LOL! I’ll probably put it in the MLS at the same time, but with a BAF more like what I myself charge, than the “have to” 3%. Maybe I’ll try one of those $1.00 offerings where the BA gets paid by his own client. Many ways to play around with your own home, that you can’t for clients, like blogging it all the way through.

    It’s going to be interesting…

  11. Ardell,

    Has your plan changed from what you said on Sept 23, 2007?
    Given the changes in the mortgage industry, I may convert to a 90% first with PMI and then pay the first down to 78% to get rid of the PMI. Still weighing my options and I do think interest rates will be lower in 4 months or so. I didn’t use a low start rate loan, so a $200 increase per month is clearly doable for now. The bigger issue for me is managing 2008. I think we will all have to stay on our toes, and work extra hard and smarter, to keep our incomes steady through 2008.

    Or did you just decide it’s time to cash out? Can I interpret it as an indication that the market has peaked? I don’t expect an answer if the answer requires divulging personal info.

  12. yinyang, I don’t know what your current mortgage strategy is but do check out pmi and who will be servicing your new mortgage before you go that route. It’s up to the bank if they’ll release it and often times, they want you to have the mortgage w/pmi for 2-3 years regardless of any appreciation or equity gained from paying down principal.

  13. I appreciate the tone of your question yinyang, and will answer anyone who respects that putting yourself out there is difficult even for me. But a blogger I am, so I’ll do the best I can with the answers.

    Three things happened:

    1) My daughter who lived in my house moved to L.A. around Christmas. It’s just not the same without her. She’s 21 and has a boyfriend there. My 19 year old was planning to move here with her boyfriend. They broke up and he was the one who wanted to move here more. Her tattoo business is really picking up and she was offered a job in Venice Beach at a Tattoo Parlor. My 23 year old and my grand daughter may move here at the end of this year…but may not. I miss them all terribly. While my life and my business are much better here than there, I do want to visit them more. So part of it is just emotional. Rarely is there a real estate sale or purchase that does not hinge on emotional issues.

    2) Kim turned 61. Not sure why that hit me like a ton of bricks, but it did. Originally we were thinking that next year when I turned 55 and he turned 62, we would re-evaluate. But based on what I’m seeing, I think now would be a better time to sell than next year at this time. At least it’s uncertain enough to not risk it. Plus I can’t keep my own real estate sales up and be a Broker of another Company at the same time during this time of year. Better to scale down on expenses, with the market sales volume going down more and more each year, and this year more than ever.

    3) When I took out this mortgage, I could honestly “state” my income with confidence, that it would be steady to up. Right now I could do a documented refi. But even though that is all that is “required”, given the reduction in volume Countywide, I don’t think it would be an honest forecast, even though meeting the standard of lenders today.

    Nothing’s carved in stone yinyang. Some people list their homes and decide to stay in them. No one knows what the future holds in store for them. That’s why I thought it might be of interest to some, like Reality TV, to watch what happens and come along for the ride.

    I’m keeping my eye out for a fixer as close to Microsoft as possible. That would be my next two year choice from a financial standpoint. From a lifestyle standpoint, it would be a similar home at a similar price or less in Juanita, or Finn Hill or Forbes Creek, playing the Annexation and Totem Lake Mall card. But I think land values here in this part of Kirkland may have maxed out. Land values depend on builders speculating. Home values here depend on land values. Many of the smaller builders are having a much harder time getting financing, and a harder time with carrying costs since they can’t rely on a quick sale.

    At my age you think in shorter terms. Two years equals no capital gain taxes. This was a good two year decision and I do not regret it. But looking out over the next two years from here…this is a better house for someone with a five to ten year plan. Kim and I will get married next year and we may opt for a smaller place here and a condo in L.A. so we can get more sun and see my girls more. His daughter is here in Finn Hill starting now for the next six months or so. Having her back in town from Europe for awhile helps. She’s off to play “The Womb” in Japan shortly, but other than DJ “gigs” she’ll be around. I love her like my own.

    Well so much for not divulging personal info πŸ™‚ I have one of those houses that’s not for everyone. I love it, but it’s not your everyday floorplan. So stay tuned. Anything can happen.

  14. ARDELL, sometimes even when I read comments twice, I might misunderstand the comment! πŸ™‚ Now that I’m reading it again, I can see yingyang probably meant to have “quotes” in their comment for your words. I’m often too literal.

  15. Ardell, that was more than I expected. I appreciate your straight answer. Best of luck with the prep and sale.

    Rhonda, sorry for the confusion. Somehow I couldn’t get the “” “” quote tags to work. The quote was indeed from Ardell.

  16. Ardell,
    Can you explain why you think “based on what I’m seeing, I think now would be a better time to sell than next year at this time”? We are debating about putting our house on the market this spring or wait for the market to improve next spring. The market seems very bad right now.

  17. “Off-topic comments referencing other types of sales will be deleted. We’re a little tired of every RainCityGuide post being dragged into a same theme direction.”

    Maybe Dustin should open up a forum.

  18. Teri-

    If the market is doing very bad now and let’s assume prices fell, it will take that much longer for it to pick up. In other words, homes have appreciated alot already and now the market might correct. How long the correction period will last is anyones guess, but I’m willing to bet it won’t end by next spring.

    If you’re looking to sell then I don’t see the point of waiting. Even if the market were to pick up again next spring it might already have fallen so much by then that you’ll end up selling it for same price today. Makes sense?

  19. teri,

    The market is down as to volume, but not price necessarily or much, except for short sales and foreclosures to date and some slight impact. If more arms reset and more short sales and foreclosures set in and the volume continues at this pace or gets worse due to financing…

    Here in Seattle, I don’t think it’s a true correction based purely on the run up of prices. I think it is entirely fallout from the mortgage mess, and I don’t think we’ve seen the worst of that yet. If it were a correction, you could predict it at 3-5 years.

    Any way you slice it, I’m betting on this year being better than next year.

  20. Ardell,
    I am reeling from this post. You have disrupted my world order.
    Best of luck with the sale of your house. I will check back with interest on your progress.

  21. Alan,

    The comps would put it well over $1M.

    I didn’t and rarely do use comps for unique homes in view areas. It’s more about being worth more than this and less than that. Very few homes under a million dollars, if any, that are 3,300 sf of living space with a view in this area. If you go one street West for comps, you are in the Market Street traffic noise and view section. If you go one Street over the other way you lose the view consideration.

    You can find comps for more money up around 18th Ave to 20th Ave, but then you are too far to walk back and forth from the Lake and Downtown Kirkland for most people. If you go West of Market, you have bigger lots and most homes over $2M with the same view.

    Very often “comps” are not so much the factor as the price at which it will likely sell.

    I valued two homes this week for other people using comps. One was a Buchan neighborhood in Issaquah and the other was an older neighborhood in Redmond/Bellevue. You have to have at least one other homes that is somewhat similar to do comps. Mine is the only 3,200 sf home that looks like a 1921 bungalow from the front. There have been similar ones without the 3,200 sf due to addition and without a two car attached garage. There have been many my size in the $1.4M give or take range that are newer homes. There was a tear down up the street with less view that sold for $730,000.

    But “comps” before September of 07 are not necessarily of great value. For me it’s all about under or over $1M when pricing this one. After that, the market decides. A seller picks an asking price based on many factors. The market responds. The primary factor for me were the odds of selling over a million vs. under based on people’s affordability.

    Many would like to live in that strip between 1st & 2nd Street and Central Way and 13th Ave in Kirkland, “the view corridor”. It’s a great place to live. Then it boils down to living further out to get more for you money or buying with Market Street noise if you can’t afford to live between 1st and 2nd where I am. I don’t expect it to be a quick sale.

  22. Of course I learned that the hard way many years ago πŸ™‚ Someone said an agent should move every 5-7 years so they can give good advices. I’ve moved quite a bit more than that, and often with three children as a relo for my husband’s job. You get a lot of first hand experience doing it yourself, and that comes in handy for my clients and blog readers.

  23. JMA,

    There was a home listed on the Wallingford side of Green Lake this week. Older people. Didn’t pack a thing. No showings – sold site unseen and not to builders with multiple offers.

    Some people just want to be done with it and would rather just dump it at a low price. That’s OK too. For some, just moving is enough of a burden.

  24. Pingback: Before listing your home for sale | Charleston South Carolina real estate

  25. On the topic of selling…

    I have 3 possible upgrades/remodel that I’m thinking of doing to hopefully increase the resale value.

    A. Upgrade water heater and furnace. Add central air. All will be energy efficient units.

    B. Remodel the basement. It was originally designed as an entertainment space – dance floor, karoke room, bar, etc. I want to change it to a MIL with additional space for home theatre/game room. I also want to add stairs since the space is only accessible from the outside.

    C. Change out all the windows to energy efficient, double pane, wood units. Something nice, such as Pella or Anderson.

    I have a budget for either A+C or B, but not all 3. What should I do to get the best resale value?

  26. If you are getting ready to sell it in the near future, as I am, none of the above.

    1) Rather, call a heating company now and get the heater cleaned, serviced and make any and all repairs recommended. If the heating company says you need a new one, then get one. If not, then don’t. Make sure they service it well, including replacing filters, and date tag it for the home inspector. Do this every year whether you are moving or not and get a new one based on expert advices. You don’t get any more money for adding air conditioning or having a new heater. No, zero, nada return. Unless the heater needs to be replaced and the inspector calls for a new one, then there would be a new one requested during escrow by the buyer, which often is a better way to handle it than doing it before you put it on market, from a total return standpoint.

    2) When your house sells at $325 per square foot, the basement portion may be valued as low as $10 a square foot, especially if it is mostly underground with small windows at the top of the wall space. MIL’s are OUT of style and limit your buyer pool tremendously. With 30% of buyers GONE from the market place, you don’t want to add things that only appeal to some of the potential buyers, diminishing your buyer pool even further in an already dramatically reduced buyer pool market. Yes to the Theater Room. Not just space for it, but the actual Theater Room with seats and projector in place. Take the MIL money and make a theater room instead.

    3) The return for windows is nominal relative to their cost. Only the aesthetic changes count. More windows, bigger windows, more light coming in is compensable…but not replacements. People may like them, but they won’t pay more for the house unless the sunlight factor is increased or the windows capture more view considerations.

    Likely the things you really need to do for better resale value are not on the list at all.

    If you are staying in the house, get it inspected by the type of inspector who would do it if you were buying it. The FULL buyer inspection. Then put your money where you have issues as determined the way a buyer would determine them.

    This addresses the “needs doing” before the “want to do” items, and a better method for someone who is not planning to sell their home in the near future. Don’t do anything “elective” with your limited funds until you accurately determine what the home needs.

    Most homeowners add want things throughout their entire ownership and never address what the home really needs. Hence all the deferred maintenance items for homes on market that “look” good, but are poorly maintained. There may be rotted eaves or loose flashings causing water intrusion and mold in places you can’t see. Find the need items first. Then most bang for your buck is none of the above as to A, B and C as pure aethetics are King in the money capturing improvements area.

  27. Ardell-

    1. The current furnace setup was built such that it’s impossible to replace the filter without crushing/damaging some part of it. A very poor design that I felt needed to be replaced. The water heater works but is inefficient. I like the thought of air conditioning this Summer. My house gets a lot of sun and it can get dreadful July-August.

    2. Point taken. I was thinking that additonal bedrooms/bathrooms would add value, but this makes sense. How much return on a full blown theatre room can I expect?

    3. The windows are almost 20 yrs old, and some are starting to deteriote/air leaks. They may need to be replaced anyways.

    The roof was replacd in 2006, I spent a pretty pennie on it getting the best cedar shingles available (HOA requirement), so no leaks.

  28. If you are not too far away I’d be happy to pop by and give you my list. What you would get on the Theater Room, depends on the other aspects of the house because it is what appraisers consider “an extra” like addtional land, a pool or a tennis court, etc…

    The total return of all extras combined is usually not more than 10% of what the house would sell for without the extras. So all extras must be considered, and the value of the house without them, to determine the return on a specific extra.

    It’s like a one bath house gets more than the cost back on a 2nd bath, but a 4 bath house only gets 50% back or less on a 5th bath. The total value issues must be considered to determine the return on the “added” component.

    As to the heater, I’ve seen those. What were they thinking? Still I’d call A.S.A.P. Heating, my favorite, and get their take on what to do about it before doing anything.

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