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Smart Moves

Home Is 'For Sale,' but Is It Ready?


After 35 years of marriage, the retired couple was breaking up.

One of the hardest parts of their "nasty, messy divorce," as their real estate agent described it, was selling their Anaheim Hills house: a Cape Cod with cobalt blue shutters. Among other things, selling meant sorting through more than three decades of accumulations.

The very thought of such an unpleasant project led to procrastination. For weeks, they fussed and fought, making little headway toward their goal of deciding which items should go to the wife, which to the husband, which to charity and which to the dump.

Finally, they accepted a deadline from their agent, Karyn Schonherz, a broker-associate in the Anaheim Hills office of Prudential California Realty.

"I called them every other day to see how they were progressing," Schonherz recalled.

Five days before the deadline to list the house for sale, the couple still hadn't purged themselves of their clutter. So, with their permission, Schonherz took a drastic step. She called a moving company and had all their excess belongings hauled away and placed in temporary storage.

From the day the "for sale" sign went up in their frontyard, it took just two weeks to sell the Cape Cod for a good price.

Had they not de-cluttered their property, they might have been forced to accept 10% to 15% less than market value, real estate specialists say.

Although few home sellers require such dramatic intervention to prep a home for market, many find the process daunting. Planning will more than pay you back for your time, said Harriet Schechter, an expert in the art of organization and the author of several books on the subject.

Preparing your home for market will involve not only purging yourself of stacks of newspapers and shelves of bowling trophies but also numerous other tasks, small and large. Perhaps you'll need painting, carpeting, floor refinishing and yardwork.

The only way to approach the entire project is to break it into small pieces, creating a systematic and time-saving approach, said Schechter, a professional speaker and owner of the Miracle Worker Organizing Service in San Diego.

"It's like the old saying: 'How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,' " Schechter said.

Need a contractor to install inexpensive replacement carpeting without overcharging? Need a quick yet competent house painter? Need a landscaper who is diligent yet modest in his charges? The solutions to your quest could be found in your real estate agent's little black book.

Sometimes all you need from your agent is some objective advice on how to turn your day-to-day habitat into a market-worthy entity--plus a brief pep talk.

"If you can't get it together, ask your agent for help," Prudential California's Schonherz said. "We have a lot of resources at our fingertips that the average homeowner doesn't have,"

Here are some pointers to help would-be home sellers prepare for market:

* Focus on the outside of your home before the inside.

Mohammad Hassan, the co-owner of a Century 21 Fortune Realty in Long Beach, noted that an increasing number of home buyers are previewing homes from the street before setting an appointment to go inside.

Five years ago, about half of all prospects did drive-by previews, compared with 70% today, Hassan estimated.

One reason is that buyers are busier than ever. Another is that the public is becoming more technologically savvy, which means many are spotting home listings on the Internet and then driving by properties that sound appealing. They take the time to visit only those properties they like from the outside.

What does all this mean for Joe and Joanna Seller?

"Sometimes the buyers' first impression of your home is the last impression they'll ever get," Hassan said. Hence the need to focus foremost on your exterior.

Besides painting your home and doing repairs to the outside walls and windows, Schonherz stresses the need to focus on your "soft-scape" (plants and trees) as well as your "hard-scape" (walkways, brick, stone and concrete work).

* Organize your mission.

For every 15 minutes you spend planning, you can expect to save an hour's worth of wasted effort, said Schechter, the organizing expert.

She recommends linking together related chores as a way of saving steps. For instance, you'll save time by hiring a landscaper who will also haul trimmings away from your yard, instead of engaging two contractors.

* Invite your friends to a "purge party."

Although many Americans are plagued with the problem of excess belongings, they still "love to poke around in other people's stuff," Schechter said. "After all, one person's clutter is another person's treasure."

Including friends in your de-cluttering effort should make it less onerous and give you added momentum. And the payoff to others is that they get to walk away with furnishings and other items of their choice.

* Take note of the heavy penalty for inaction.

If you're under time pressure to sell a crowded home you've inhabited for many years, you face two alternatives:

You can either tackle the often unpleasant chores associated with readying your house for market or take a steep discount and sell your house in its current condition.

The reality is that trying to sell a crowded, dirty or cosmetically flawed property could mean settling for far less than the home would fetch were it in good condition and order. The penalty for inaction, Schechter said, can be very steep.

"But if you love your clutter more than your cash, then do nothing," she said.


Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate.

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