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10 home selling mistakes to avoid

Illustration by David Cowles
Illustration by David Cowles (Baltimore Sun)

So here's the situation: You put your house on the market in April, like you're supposed to, hoping a family would buy it over the summer. People came to your open house, peeked in your closets and asked the age of your roof. But nobody made an offer, and now it's fall. Should you take your house off the market until spring?

Probably not, say local real estate agents and other housing experts. While it's true that home sales spike in spring and summer months, they can remain strong into fall and winter. According to the Maryland Association of Realtors, 5,128 homes sold in Maryland last October and 4,408 sold in November, compared with 6,591 in July and 6,106 in August of this year.

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"There's really no bad time of year to sell," says Joy Waida of Joy Home Design in Fallston, an interior decorator and accredited home-staging professional. "Maybe more homes sell in the summer, but if it looks good and it's priced right, it will sell."

In fact, your house might be especially appealing this time of year, framed in autumn trees and perhaps decorated with pumpkins and mums.

Ross Mackesey, president-elect of Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and an agent with Long & Foster Greenspring, says Baltimore is brimming with potential buyers not worried about timing their purchase to the start of the school year. Your customers might be people who are downsizing, young couples without children or with children too young for school, families moving within a school district or people who are moving for a job.

So what were you doing wrong, and how can you make a change? Below are 10 common mistakes that experts say might be standing between you and a signed contract.

1. Your asking price is too high. Setting the right price is the single most important thing you can do. "Don't price it too high, thinking somebody is going to come along and make you an offer," says Gina Gargeu, a real estate agent and owner of Century 21 Downtown. The price has to be in line with similar sales in your neighborhood, she says. And if your house hasn't sold in a month or more, ask for less.

2. You're making a poor first impression. If perspective buyers have to navigate a cracked and dangerous walkway to an unattractive front door, they may decide against your house before stepping inside. "You want your house to look as good as or better than your competition," says Gargeu.

3. The exterior and landscaping need freshening. Plant those mums, trim back the hedges and tidy the front lawn. "It's worth it to do landscaping and to paint the front door," says Gargeu. "These are inexpensive things that can be done in a weekend." Waida, the home-staging professional, agrees that a small investment in time and money can make a big difference. "It doesn't have to be crazy. Make sure it's weeded and mulched, get a couple of seasonal flowers and call it a day. Trim your bushes. It's kind of common sense, but people need to be told."

4. The house is cluttered, with too many personal touches. Help potential buyers imagine themselves in the house by removing photographs, your children's artwork and other items that tell them about you. This is not the time to show off your collection of porcelain kittens or your knack for combining country-style furniture with contemporary fixtures.

5. Odors, especially from pets. "We always say if you smell it, you can't sell it," says Waida. Strong odors of cooking, pets or cigarettes are potent turnoffs. Waida recommends vanilla-scented plug-ins, which add the scent of baking. A coat of paint can remove tobacco smells. As for pets, scrupulously remove hairs, food bowls and other signs of their existence.

6. Offering an allowance instead of doing simple replacements/repairs. Instead of replacing a stained and worn-out carpet, you decide to include an allowance so the new owners can pick what they want. Big mistake. Many buyers "are not interested in sweat equity," says Mackesey.

7. You didn't hire a stager. More and more people are turning to professional home stagers to make their property as appealing as possible. Waida says her goal as a home stager is to create a neutral and clean look, with a focal point and focus for each room. "I want to create an emotional connection with just the right amount of accessories," she says. Don't take it personally if she brings in her own furniture and accessories. Stagers can also recommend cost-effective repairs. Yes, it's an investment to swap out light fixtures, replace kitchen cabinets or update a paint scheme, but it's money well-spent, Waida says.

8. Not enough high-quality photographs on the house's website. Everybody begins their house hunt online. "The photographs are extremely important. They are your first showing," says Mackesey. He recommends a slide show with 30 to 40 photos. More people are doing videos, he said, but Mackesey doesn't recommend them because they can be distorting, and also difficult to stream on some computers. Enticing and accurate descriptions are important too.

9. Not seasonally decorated. "Go ahead and decorate," says Mackesey. Waida agrees. "We're selling homes, not houses," she says. "Put away your light-color pillows, start accessorizing with warmer colors. Play to people's excitement about the fall."

10. Bringing in tenants instead of selling an empty house. Yes, houses look better when they are occupied, but tenants don't care as much as you do about making a good impression for showings. Also, an empty house is easier to stage, says Waida. "I prefer the vacant house because I can make it what I want," she says.

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