- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 20, 2004

A fresh coat of paint on the front door, flowerpots on the porch and a well-trimmed lawn create a polished, inviting look and are just a few simple improvements suggested for homeowners preparing for an open house.

Area Realtors say curb appeal should be the first priority when getting ready for an open house, to entice as many potential buyers as possible.

Realtors say that if home shoppers pull up and see a cracked, peeling front door and overgrown shrubs, they won’t be motivated to tour the home, no matter how nice it is inside.

“I have had people drive up to the house and say, ‘No, it looks terrible; I don’t want to go in,’ ” says Patrick Mayo, a Realtor with Prudential Carruthers in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase office.

“If the home is not appealing from the outside, they won’t even make it to the door,” he says.

Experienced professionals say it is critical to consult with a Realtor every step of the way to ensure that the open house will attract buyers and get top dollar.

The first step is to advertise and get the word out about the event.

Matthew Spinosa, a Realtor with Keller Williams in Manassas, says he usually sends postcards, hands out flyers, puts up signs and places ads in a number of local papers about a week before the open house.

“One time, one shot, one paper doesn’t usually cut it,” Mr. Spinosa says.

Once the open house has been marketed sufficiently and the outside of the home looks appealing, the homeowners should focus on scrubbing, decluttering, and putting away personal objects such as photos and knickknacks.

“You want the buyers to be able to picture their own stuff there, not feel like someone else is already comfortable there,” Mr. Spinosa says. The sellers should also ensure that the interior is bright and fragrant. They should open shades, turn the lights on in each room and put out scented candles or even bake cookies.

After making sure the entire home is sparkling clean, the next goal is to make the rooms look as large as possible by clearing out unnecessary items.

Mr. Spinosa even advises his clients to clean out about half of each closet to ensure that the area looks spacious enough for any buyer. “If they see that the closet is jammed, they’ll say, ‘Wow, there is not enough room here for me,’ ” Mr. Spinosa says.

Mr. Mayo agrees, saying that many times, he has advised sellers to throw out unnecessary items to free up space and to put furniture in the basement to get it out of the way.

He remembers working with sellers in Chevy Chase who had furniture blocking one of the nicest focal points in their home. “They had a nice fireplace, but they had a chair in front of it,” he says. Luckily, Mr. Mayo got to the open house early and recommended that the chair be moved so that prospective buyers could enjoy the fireplace.

Christina Macro-Long, a Realtor with McEnearney Associates in Arlington, points out that one of the Realtor’s main responsibilities is “staging” — determining the best features of the house and how they can be highlighted during the open house.

“Every house has its own unique features,” Mrs. Macro-Long says. “It’s about positioning the house, so we focus on its benefits.”

For example, the open house might be staged so that the recently renovated kitchen becomes the primary focus, or the landscaping could be marketed as the biggest selling point.

A seller should not have to spend a lot of money getting the home ready for viewing if they have consulted with a professional who can look at the home from a different perspective and offer low-cost alternatives.

“We want people to prepare for the open house with the least amount of money by doing the most impactful things,” Mrs. Macro-Long says. For one house, that could mean painting the walls; for another, it could mean revamping the floors. “Every property is different,” she points out.

Liz Brent, a Realtor with Evers and Co. in the District, says she wants her sellers’ homes to look as much as possible like those featured in the Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn catalogues. But every seller can make significant enhancements without overspending, she says.

Ms. Brent has helped many homeowners brighten their existing spaces, whether that means putting a piece of furniture in storage or suggesting a different paint color.

She believes that if sellers don’t consult a Realtor, they may make changes that detract from rather than improve the overall feel of the home.

“Sellers may sometimes make the wrong changes,” Ms. Brent says. “They may take down all wall art and pictures and paint everything white, which really makes it stark. You have to have the right mix and make it homey.”

In addition to offering their perspectives on the improvements that need to be made to the house, Realtors should also offer their knowledge of the community during the open house.

They should be able to give helpful facts about the local schools, activities and points of interest to prospective buyers who may not know much about the neighborhood.

“I work in downtown Silver Spring, so I have to know the area, because it’s changing so much,” Ms. Brent says. “Buyers don’t know a whole lot about the area. They may not be sure where they are, so it’s critical to have information for them.”

In addition to welcoming buyers who have already been approved and definitely want to buy, Karen Barker, with Long & Foster in the District, says the open house should also attract those who are “just looking” and want to see what is on the market, and what types of improvements area homeowners are making.

She says that although they may not have intentions of buying, they can pass on the word to those who do.

“You want those [customers] — even those who are not serious candidates — to come in,” Mrs. Barker says. “They will tell co-workers and friends who are looking, and may bring the next person in.”

All of the Realtors agree that the homeowner needs to back away from the process, stay away during the open house and let the potential buyer experience the home on his or her own.

Having the homeowner present can be distracting to the potential buyer, who will feel pressured to make small talk, and it can be difficult for the seller to hear comments about the home.

Mrs. Macro-Long says she has attended open houses with the seller present and that it changes the dynamics of the interaction.

“They are so trying to sell that it comes across that something is wrong,” she says. “The buyers just want to walk through and get a feel for the home.”

One note of caution to those hosting an open house: Make sure all valuables are put away in a safe place.

Even if a Realtor is very careful, he or she can’t keep watch over everything.

Mr. Spinosa says he always advises his clients to keep valuable items out of sight.

“That’s the only downside of the open house,” he says. “If a candidate comes in with a couple of kids and their brother-in-law, it’s difficult to keep an eye on personal items, too.”

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