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"Home Selling Season: Let the Dating Begin"

Steven Clipp, Architect | March 2015 Issue

There is a Joni Mitchell song that goes ‘I’ve looked at life from both sides now’.  Well, this past year I have looked at both sides of the home selling / home buying experience.  Even for someone who has spent their career dealing with it professionally, the process can be disturbing when it is personal.

Objectivity is the key on the selling side.  Look at your home as others would see it.  Identify the flaws and fix them.  Be realistic about price, especially in light of current market conditions.

With clients, I look at a hundred houses a year.  This past year I was the client.  I am always amazed at how poorly many ‘for sale’ homes are presented.  Would you go out on a first date without dressing up and putting on makeup?

Do the inexpensive stuff first:  Cut every shrub around your home in half.  Trim the low limbs from trees.  Identify the best view of your home and the best view from inside your home, then clear any vegetation that obscures those views.  Powerwash the house, especially the front porch.  Paint the front door.  Make the buyer’s first kiss enticing.

Declutter, take half of the stuff out of every room and every closet.  Depersonalize, forget about you.  Give the Buyer a chance to envision their personality in their new home.

Get expert, objective advice before doing the expensive things.  Do not replace the kitchen unless yours is so bad even you can’t stand it.  New research suggests it doesn’t pay back.  Thanks to HGTV Buyers can easily imagine redoing a kitchen to match their personality.  A new bath however may be worthwhile.  Buyers appreciate it but would not do it on their own dollar.  Do not get too fancy, do not overspend.

More importantly, be realistic about repairs.  Hire a home inspector to identify the problems the Buyer’s home inspector would discover.  Fix these things upfront, before you put the house on the market.  Your premarket fix will cost half what the Buyer will demand to fix the issue if it is found during the Discovery Process.  Plus, a house that appears in tip-top shape, without flaws, makes a great impression.

Now, as to price.  Starting out too high often leads to a long time on the market, a stale house, a series of price cuts and finally a sale at less than the house could have sold for.  Up to $700K there are lots of comparable sales.  Believe them.  Buyers will coldly compare your house to sold homes and your price needs to appear reasonable.  Many Buyers are loathe to bargain aggressively if your price appears fair. Use that psychology to your advantage.  Remember, a quick sale will usually net the highest price.

At the luxury end of the market accept that what you paid for your home has little bearing on what it will sell for.  Just like a stock it is only worth what the market will pay today.  Almost no one will pay you for the special high-cost touches you put in.


Compared to the selling experience, buying a home can be a lot of fun.  If the seller needs to be objective, home buyers should lead with their heart.

Just like online dating, make a list of your must haves; how many bedrooms and baths, how many square feet, a first floor master and space for a garden.  Decide what neighborhoods and design styles would work for you.  Then look for a home that excites you. 

Unless the house is new, most Buyers are planning to make some changes to their purchase.  On average a Buyer will spend $60,000 on improvements and decoration.  If you are buying a house with the expectation of doing renovations/additions it makes sense to have an expert such as myself look at the house first.  I can give you an accurate picture of the potential outcomes and the costs before you make an offer.  Sometimes I will tell you to run as fast as you can.

I advocate identifying three possible homes and then touring them with an Architect.  The Architect can confirm the potential the Buyer sees in each property and explore their improvement ideas, including realistic costs.  He can also identify problems that are invisible to the Buyer.  Together you can rank the properties and assess what is a good price for each.   Knowledge is power.

But sometimes there just isn’t a house that gets your heart racing.  To find Nirvana you just have to build.  I think that is the point where I am.  Luckily I know a good Architect.  He can help me find a lot with potential and translate my dreams into my dream home.

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