- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2005

I went out with some friends this week to look at houses. They’re moving up from a condominium to a single-family home, and they’re very excited. As we moved from home to home, it was obvious that some owners in this market believe they can offer up a can of worms as caviar.

During a real estate course I took years ago, the trainer used a fantastic example of how human nature dictates the selection process. She produced two $1 bills. One was fresh from the bank. It was so new, you almost had to check to make sure it didn’t have a second one stuck to the back. The second bill looked as if it had gone through Desert Storm and been laundered several times; it was nearly disintegrated.

The trainer went to someone in the front row and asked, “Which one do you want?” The obvious answer was the clean, crisp, freshly printed bill. Why? The value of both was the same, yet the clean one always got selected.

Thus, when we walked into a $370,000 single-family home and found mounds of clothing in the living room, dirty dishes on the table along with opened cans of soup and pots with soup in them on the stove, the home’s luster dulled quickly. Interestingly, this was not an anomaly.

Another home priced at $449,000 was in about the same condition. The agent had not called the homeowners to let them know my friends were coming by. The “for sale” sign had dropped into the grass, and there was no flier about the property inside the house. The bathrooms were dirty. No staging of the home had been carried out.

There even was a bottle of beer on the floor next to the closet in the master bedroom.

We were amazed. The lots were a quarter-acre or less on both homes. How could they demand the money they were asking and not prepare the homes for sale?

Then there were the properties my friends put on their “A” list. These were clean and new-looking inside, with new or nearly new appliances. They had been cleaned by the owner or a cleaning company. A home warranty was included in the asking price. They had plenty of nice features, such as bonus rooms, media rooms and half-acre lots.

Plus, they all were about the same price as the other two properties that were not in condition to be shown.

The requirements to get top dollar have and always will be the same:

• Clean the house. Clean it thoroughly before you put it on the market. If it’s not clean, don’t even consider putting it on the market. You will lose a contract just because of dust and scum.

• Paint the interior. Paint is cheap, but it cleans up any dwelling place.

• Declutter. Get rid of everything you don’t need to live on a day-by-day basis. You don’t need your seasonal decorations. The children can do without half their toys. You probably can live without a third of your furniture. Get it into storage or a friend’s house. Space adds value.

• Have handouts. With more properties on the market, you need to make sure your house is memorable. A good marketing plan includes a flier the buyers can take with them.

• Price it right. Look at all the parameters of your house, not just the number of bedrooms and bathrooms.

One of the houses we visited was on a half-acre lot with a one-car garage. It was built the same year as another one we saw that was listed for about the same price but with half as much land and no garage — not even a carport. They’re in the same area.

Right pricing is mostly the agent’s job, but a stubborn seller can cause an overpriced listing.

When placing your house on the market, keep in mind it’s more involved and requires more work than selling a used car. We’re not talking about a difference of a couple hundred dollars on price. Missing the mark on price and condition could cost you tens of thousands of dollars.

M. Anthony Carr has written about real estate since 1989. He is the author of “Real Estate Investing Made Simple.” Post questions or comments at his Web log (https://commonsenserealestate.blogspot.com)

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