Tips on selling a house in the middle of winter Price it realistically, get rid of the clutter, and bake some cookies

February 23, 1997|By BLOOMBERG NEWS

Selling a home can be a stressful experience, especially in the dead of winter when temperatures are dropping, snow is piling up and Americans take the concept of cocooning to a higher level.

Brokers agree that the winter months are the toughest months to sell homes. It's almost impossible to lure potential buyers -- cash-strapped from the holidays -- out from in front of a roaring fireplace to shop for a new home.

"People tend to panic a little bit when they see snow and they nTC stay in the house," said Joanne Figge, an owner and broker with the Prudential Residential 1 Realtors in Columbus, Ohio.

Yet, if you absolutely must sell during this time of year or if you don't mind a lot of mud, snow and salt tramped through the house, the effort needn't be futile. You can even turn a negative -- the slow season -- into a positive. Any buyers in the market now surely must be motivated. And many of the houses on the market in competition with yours are probably dogs left over from the previous selling season.

In any case, sellers can get out of their houses quickly without slashing thousands of dollars off the asking price by following a few simple tips offered by brokers around the country.

The first step, say brokers, is for sellers to be realistic in valuing their home because inflated prices won't attract attention, especially with fewer buyers in the market.

Just because your home is the only one on a block with a two-car garage, sauna and sun room, doesn't make it more valuable.

"We always caution people not to over-accessorize because they certainly won't get full value back," said David Tuscany, owner and broker of Re/Max Suburban in Sterling Heights, Mich.

The nonprofit, Washington-based United Homeowners Association operates a toll-free line (800-UHA-6644) that allows sellers to find out what homes in their neighborhoods have sold for recently. The service costs $5.95.

Roomier rooms

After setting a price, the next step is to clean up any clutter. This will make rooms seem roomier.

And don't forget to wash the carpet, tidy up the garage, clean out the fireplace and make sure everything is in working order. If necessary, repaint certain rooms in neutral colors such as beige or white.

"A good idea is to replace all brass in and out of the house, including the kickplates on the doors and the light fixtures," Tuscany advised. "This could be done for under $100."

It's also wise to have a professional inspect that snow-covered roof to make sure there are no problems.

If not, buyers can demand -- and get -- a reduction in the sales price based on the useful life of the roof and the likelihood that they would have to replace it with a new one.

"It only costs $50 for an inspection and could end up saving a seller thousands of dollars if the buyer thinks it needs replacing," said Linda Law, an owner and broker with Re/Max Cherry Creek in Denver.

Unlike other times of the year, you may be able to save some money by overlooking stuck or squeaky windows. That's because few prospective buyers think to check the windows when it's cold out.

Next, make sure to dig out pictures that show the house during the spring and summer, when flowers and trees are in full bloom.

"People want to see that the daffodil bed out front and the fish pond in the back are really there," Figge said.

After a thorough cleaning and inspection, you're now ready to show the house. Just make sure to shovel the snow from the driveway and walkway before prospective buyers show up at the front door.

Then, probably most importantly, pull open all drapes and turn on the lights in every room, including the basement.

"A lot of times a house can be pretty dark and gloomy in the winter," Law said.

"And if the lights aren't on in a particular room, people tend not to go in and they might not see that great little wine cellar or finished basement."

Put on a pot of coffee, open a new box of tissues and set out a few peppermint drops to help stem runny noses and soothe sore throats.

If you have time, freshly baked cookies are a nice touch.

It also doesn't hurt to create a little ambience by lighting a few scented candles and turning on some easy listening or classical music. No hard rock or rap.

"These things appeal to the senses and project a real homey feeling," said Lee Scontz, a broker and office manager with Coldwell Banker/Fraser and Fraser Real Estate in Truckee, Calif., near Sacramento.

Using these tips helped Re/Max's Law sell a home on New Year's Day, after getting a phone call from the buyer the day before requesting a tour.

"The house was even sold for what the sellers were asking," Law said.

Pub Date: 2/23/97

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