Spring-Cleaning Your House for Sale

Contributing Writer

It’s sometimes difficult to think about spring when there’s ice on the driveway and basketball on the tube.

But the birds, baseballs and buds will appear before you know it. And for many, spring will be the cue to think about selling your house.

John with his wife, Elizabeth Lenihan.

John with his wife, Elizabeth Lenihan.

“It’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” says John Lenihan, owner and principal broker of Lenihan Sotheby’s International Realty. “As more people began to put their houses up for sale in the spring, more buyers began looking and therefore more people began listing.”

For whatever reason, it is now almost automatic that in spring people clean out their basements and garages, store their skis and parkas and contact a real estate agent.

Lenihan, whose agency is the fastest-growing in Louisville ($148 million in sales in only its third year of operation), offers a home seller’s primer of things to do.

Get the Right Price

The most important thing, he says, is get the pricing right. “Anything will sell at a price,” Lenihan says. “What you don’t want is the regret from pricing it too low or the frustration from pricing it too high.”

There are a lot of emotional issues that people invest in their homes, so Lenihan recommends sitting down and putting all your expectations on paper. Then call in a professional and ask “How will you value our home?”

At Sotheby’s, they use professional appraising programs, then review the data produced internally to come up with a price.

“We’re trying to avoid opinions,” Lenihan says. “Sellers often have unrealistic expectations. And, sadly, some agents might quote anything just to get the listing. So I would recommend asking all the agents how they came up with that figure.”

Choose the Right Agency

That leads to the second most important item on the checklist: Choose the right agency.

Lenihan recommends asking a few agents to explain how they’ll value, price and market the house. Also ask how many homes the agencies have sold that are like yours. Ask how many listings the individual agent is handling at the same time. Is he or she going to be “overworked and underdeliver”? Will he or she attend every showing, appointment and appraisal?

“Too many agents put on the electronic key and walk away,” Lenihan says. “We call it the ‘list and leave’ phenomenon.”

Ask if they’re going to take professional photography of the home, not just someone with an iPhone. Ask where and how they’ll list the house. And if they list it online – which is pretty much the norm today – are they familiar with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices? When someone Googles homes for sale in Louisville, will your listing show up near the top of that search?

Prepare Your House for Selling

Then get the house sales-ready. If it’s spring, you and your house have just gone through winter and you’re both a little the worse for wear. Start with the exterior. Is there brown grass? Are there still leaves around from last fall? Have you mulched?

Can you see snow or hail damage? Is the paint peeling? Are the gutters loose or sagging or filled with debris?

Then go inside. “Try to see it as the buyer would see it,” Lenihan recommends. “Forget your pride of authorship.”

That means painting, de-cluttering, deodorizing. And be smart. If you have animal heads on the basement wall, consider taking them down. Not everyone approves.

Neaten up the closets, drawers, basement, garage. You’re going to have to do it in 30 or 40 days anyway.

And keep furniture in the house, even if you’ve already moved out. “Few people have the vision to imagine a space with furniture,” Lenihan says. “Besides, furniture makes the rooms look larger.”

Closing the Deal

Getting the deal closed is the hardest part. It’s an emotional event, with both buyers and sellers operating at a frenzy pitch. So try to keep emotions out of it. For once, try to forget that you’re a Louisville fan and the prospective buyer went to UK.

“It’s the largest financial investment most people will make,” Lenihan says, “so treat it only as a business arrangement.”

He suggests that when the prospective couple walks in the door, try to separate the qualitative and quantitative personalities – the one who operates on emotions versus the practical, hard-headed person.

“You can tell,” Lenihan says. “The qualitative person loves the architecture or the view or the landscaping. The quantitative person is talking about the financing, the value, asking for written proof of everything that’s been said.

“We market to the qualitative, but we sell to the quantative.”

And don’t assume, he says, that that will always be the man. Listen to their conversations. More often, these days, the woman is the hard bargainer.

It’s to your advantage, says Lenihan, is to close the deal quickly. “An industry rule of thumb,” he says, “is that you have 45 days to get 96 percent of your selling price.”