A decade ago, it was the norm for Silicon Valley homeowners to occupy the home they were selling – today a majority of homes are being sold unoccupied or vacant. Why is that? And should you move out before you sell?
A few years ago, around the mid- to late-2010s, we began to see an increasing number of vacant and professionally staged properties for sale. Last year, most sellers simply felt safer moving out before selling due to the pandemic. Today that continues to be the case.
Over time, the reasons for homeowners to move out before marketing a primary residence have increased. While sellers can certainly still occupy a home on the market and sell it successfully, it’s not our recommendation for most people and here’s why.
First things first, if you are able to move out before you sell it can reduce a lot of stress. And this has almost always been the case.
Twelve Silicon Valley Doors, shown as black & white (photos by Mary Pope-Handy)
Thinking of selling your Silicon Valley home? When your house or condo is for sale, curb appeal is crucial because if buyers don’t like what they see on the outside, they will not bother to see what’s on the inside!
It’s hackneyed but true: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression“.
This is no where more true than with front doors! Staging begins on the front porch.
In my real estate practice, I usually see at least 10 or 15 San Jose, Los Gatos or Saratoga area homes per week – usually many more than that too. A good, clean front door with nice paint or varnish, no dust, clear glass and sparkling hardware gives a good welcome to your home’s visitors, whether they are coming as prospective buyers or simply as guests. Amazingly, though, not every home seller gets this basic principle quite right. Very often, front doors are dusty, dirty, in need of paint or perhaps even in need of replacement.
And we’re just scratching the surface!
A home’s front door sends a message. What message does yours give off? Photos by Mary Pope-Handy
Here (to the right) are some doors I’ve encountered in my work as a Silicon Valley Realtor. What do you think of each of these?
Some homes have a “security screen door” in front of the regular front door, which is mostly obscured. What message does this kind of strong grill give? If it’s the only one on the street, it might imply that one person nearby has concerns about safety. But if there are several doors like this on the same street or nearby, it can give buyers concerns about the safety of the area.
The black door with the white trim in the center is a typical or average San Jose or Santa Clara County door. It has a painted exterior and a fan light window on top, which allows some light into the home. It’s a little more inviting than something without any windows, but there’s no cover for rain or an inviting front porch, either. This type of door is not super expensive, but it does come across as at least fine, if not “good”.
Some of these doors are not the front door. I once viewed a listing which had access through a scratched up door facing the backyard, and when I shared the photo several people asked if it was a short sale or bank owned property. To everyone’s amazement, no, it’s a “regular sale!” This kind of introduction to the property, is anything but regular and left far from a good first impression! It is a discredit to the agent and the seller to put a home on the market with such a terrible first exposure to a property.
Homes which are dark inside, or which feel dark to potential homebuyers, are much more difficult to sell, and virtually always sell for less money than those which are perceived as “light, bright and airy”.
While a property’s owner might love the cozy feeling of dark paneling, deep overhangs and low lighting, it’s not what most buyers want today. To maximize the amount a house, condo or townhouse in Silicon Valley will sell for, it’s imperative to make it as attractive to buyers as possible. In many cases, that means it needs to be lightened and brightened to sell for top dollar.
How to make a darker home a little more light: start with the windows
How can a home owner make a house or home be – or seem – more bright? One of the biggest “offenders” in this area involves windows! Here are a few window-related problems that can make a home feel significantly darker than necessary, together with some potential solutions:
- Tinted windows, such as yellow or other colored glass at the front door or entry way: replace with clear or translucent, colorless glass. If there’s a darkening film (for instance, for privacy), remove it and replace with a clear or translucent but uncolored film instead.
- Curtains/blinds which obstruct part of the window: get tie backs to pull them further back and let more light in (goal is to not obscure windows at all).
- Furniture blocking windows should be moved or swapped out for lower items that do not cover up any of the windows. I see tall headboards often situated right in front of the glass panes – they are counter productive. Perhaps remove the headboard, or place the bed in another location?
- Shrubs and trees covering some of the window: trim back so the window’s glass panes are 100% visible, if at all possible, to let maximum light in.
- And of course, do make sure your windows are sparkling clean!
If you are preparing your Silicon Valley to sell, you may have concerns about both time and money. You probably don’t want to spend a year getting ready, but you do want to make the appropriate changes which will bring a good return on investment. Some home owners don’t understand the connection between the home’s condition and ultimate sale price – their expectations may be a little off.
Sometimes when I meet prospective clients who are thinking of selling their home, I hear immediately, “we only want to sell As Is” and “we don’t want to have to re-carpet, re-paint, etc.”. In the next breath, they tell me, “and we want top dollar for our house”. Those two are often mutually exclusive desires – that is, getting one usually means you won’t get the other. But not always, and I’ll show you how to increase the odds of doing both.
To get top dollar, a Silicon Valley home for sale must appear to be the best value for the money and attract the most qualified buyers who step forward with a strong offer. Buyers will pay more IF they feel that your home is a better value.
There are a number of things which need to be done for that to occur, but one of the most important has to do with the condition and appearance of the property. Confident buyers write stronger offers than buyers who are concerned about the house or condominium and potentially unknown risks. (Buyers are thinking “risk, risk, risk” and “beware of hidden costs”!) Home buying is both a business decision as well as an emotional decision. To get top dollar, your home has to make sense and appeal to buyers on both levels, and we’ll discuss both in this post.
If for some reason you find yourself in a very big hurry to get your Silicon Valley home on the market, you may not know where to begin or how to get it done. Today I’ll give you a quick list of the best things to do, and in order, too!
First, hire a great, full time real estate professional. This Realtor or other sales person will be your partner from the beginning and can give you insight and advice on the best place to spend your time and money for the best return on investment – and which items are the most important in your house or condo’s particular case, given the time restrictions. Your Realtor can also help you with time lines, managing pre-sale inspections (worst case, they can happen after your home is on the MLS), etc. Sometimes home owners begin on their own and make less than ideal choices when choosing paint colors and so on. Since part of the service provided when you sign a listing agreement is good advice, do hire first!
Second, think clean, uncluttered, and “good working order”. The rest of the tips all fall under the broad umbrella of staging – mostly de-cluttering, cleaning, and making sure that things work as intended. Perhaps you won’t be able to make everything immaculate and perfect, but in many cases, with even a few days you can hit the biggest areas fast.
Make a list of everything that needs some kind of minor repair or adjustment. Getting those items fixed will send a message to home buyers that your house or condo is turnkey and not a “fixer”. It may not be conscious, but if home buyers find doors that squeak loudly, doorbells or lights that don’t work, they begin to wonder if there are any big ticket items that are in need of repair or replacement, too. Hire a handyman or contractor as needed so that your home gives the right first impression.
Moving at lightening speed, with the listing signed today and the home on the MLS tomorrow? This isn’t fun, but I’ve done it with sellers at times. In those cases, you may have one frantic 24 hour period. Think of it like you do when entertaining relatives who may go anywhere in your home…
What would you do if you had one hour’s notice before company would be arriving at your doorstep? Here are some quick fixes for the hurry up sale:
- Be armed with large boxes or laundry baskets so you can begin to collect things where are where they do not belong and get them at least generally to where they do.
- Get the floors, counter tops and surfaces almost completely clear. If it’s newspapers, throw them out (show no mercy!). Have a box or basket for each bedroom or room of the house and put the items into the correct basket as you go through the house. For example, you could have one box for the garage, another for the master bedroom, another for the hall bath, etc. Bring all boxes into each room that you are “clearing” and take just one room or area on at a time. You may be moving 6 or 8 boxes or baskets from one room to the next, but it’s a faster way to sort and move things.
- If there’s no time to actually put all of these items away, do what most of us did in college: put the basket or box in the closet. And then close the door. No, it’s not ideal. It’s a quick fix and it will do the job 90-95% of the way. If you’re in a rush, it’s got to be good enough. Ditto that with the garage. If all else fails, put things into the garage. Some buyers may chuckle, but yours will most certainly not be the only house where they see this happen. If you have a truly excessive amount of stuff, get a pod or use a service such as Door to Door, where they bring a container to your driveway, you load it, they then take it away and you get it back when you’re ready to move. (more…)
If you are thinking of selling your home, it can be tempting to tell yourself that it will make no difference whether or not you fix it up prior to marketing it – after all, it’s a seller’s market, right? This is a costly mistake to make, and it’s far from the truth.
Often, cluttered, tired homes sell for far less than they could with just a little touch up. Homes with a few inexpensive fix ups can a fantstic return on investment. I’ll name a few today.
Recently I saw the little cabinet handle photographed here. I remember it from my childhood and if I had to guess, would say it was from the late 1960s to early 1970s. I’m pretty sure we had the same exact hardware on my parents’ first Saratoga house (a lovely, big, George Day tract home sitting on an acre near West Valley college). I’ve seen these same pulls in Almaden and all over Silicon Valley.
But home buyers in the San Jose area don’t want these relics from 50 years ago. They want something sleek. And they don’t want to have to install it themselves after they move in if it can be helped. Seeing loads of little projects can feel overwhelming. “It’s too much work”, I’ll hear them say – and that’s before even looking at the disclosures or the inspection reports! When they think “Silicon Valley real estate”, they want to see something attractive and in today’s styles.
There are many small things that home sellers can do to make a home visually appealling and to give buyers confidence that the home is move-in ready. In addition to decluttering (it cannot be stressed enough how important this is), providing pre-sale inspections and a complete disclosure package that’s been filled out very thoroughly, there are some simple, fairly inexpensive things that will bring a strong return for your expense and hard work:
- Fresh paint (get rid of wallpaper in most cases) is almost always needed in every room and at least on the trim outside. Think neutral shades.
- New carpeting in a neutral shade.
- If you have hardwood, refinish it or at least get it buffed and cleaned – home buyers love hardwood floors and will pay a premium for them (but don’t install if you do not already have them).
- Make sure that the entire home is clean, including the windows and the window tracks, the fireplace, the outside spaces, garage, etc.
- If the cabinets in the bathrooms and kitchen do not look good, consider painting or refacing them, and add new, contemporary looking pulls.
- If the countertops are old and tired, see about installing slab granite or something more contemporary looking.
- Got old light fixtures? replace them – the new ones do not have to be expensive, but they lights should not be thirty or more years old
- Curb appeal matters: buyers do sometimes see a house from the street and decide not to go in. Don’t let that happen to you!
- The front door, mailbox, and front porch areas need to be clean and inviting – it helps to have colorful flowers near the door, if possible.
Every property will have slightly different needs, but these are the basics. Staging is a must if the home is vacant!
Want to sell your Silicon Valley home? Please call or email me and we can set up a time to talk (no obligation, of course).
Please also read:
Preparing Your Silicon Valley Home to Sell and Return on Investment
Digging deeper with disclosures (4 minute video of me talking – a discussion about researching red flags and avoiding problems later)
A while back, I showed a newer home in San Jose’s Cambrian area to some great first time home buyer clients of mine. The house has a nice location and fine floor plan. Some elements of the home were really appealing. But unfortunately, the sellers hadn’t made their home “show ready.” They cut corners.
As we walked through the property, my clients and I noted places where there was neglect. The items were generally not big, but unfortunately there were many of them. Had the owners brought in a painter to do minor cosmetic changes (patch and paint), the home could have looked “like new.” Instead, it was as if the home were full of red flags. Talk about making a bad impression!
My buyers asked me what I thought, if what we saw would scare me off. No, I told them, they all seemed relatively minor to me, but I did understand their concern. One of them explained that “if we see things like this, we believe that the sellers have not taken good care of their home; what else is wrong that we cannot yet see?”
Confident buyers write offers and tend to write good offers. Nervous buyers who are concerned that there are hidden defects (and therefore hidden costs) either don’t write contracts at all or they write lower offers.
If you’re selling a home in Silicon Valley, it’s likely that you’ll have an open house or two. How should you prepare for it for it? Today we’ll go over some tips.
First, plan to be gone during any open house events! (This goes double for pets, with the exception of fish!) One of the biggest mistakes I see is home owners hosting their own open houses. Bay area home buyers don’t want you there – they feel inhibited and worried that they will say something offensive, so they say nothing and hurry out. Serious home buyers will want to linger and will want to imagine where their furniture will fit. They may be mentally remodeling your home too. But if you’re there, they will be very uncomfortable. Hire a good agent who will handle this task for you (or have someone from that brokerage do it).
Second, make your townhouse, condo or house as close to perfect as possible for the open house. Your property needs to be squeaky clean, safe and inviting. I’m presuming that you’ve already done all the fixes and staging needed generally for selling your home. Here’s a list of a few last minute to-do’s:
- Keep your driveway clear of cars so visitors can park there.
- Make all walkways free of tripping hazards (garden hoses, toys etc.) – you do not want your buyers to be “on edge”. Don’t water the garden just prior to the open house or guests might slip (or track in more than you want).
- Your front door should be impeccably clean!
- Color near the front door (front walkway or front porch) is a good “bang for the buck”, so if you have room, provide flowers there. (more…)
Few things evoke so emotional a response as the suggestion that wallpaper ought to be removed when staging a home to sell for top dollar.
Early in my career, I worked with a nice older couple where this became a huge fight (very uncomfortable to witness). In that case, the wife had wanted the big brown floral kitchen wallpaper gone for years, but the husband refused to pay to have it done. When I suggested that it would boost their sales price, he was willing to commit to the work, and she was furious and hurt that he would do it at my suggestion – but not her ardent wish.
Most of the time, though, it’s almost the opposite. One or both sellers desperately love their chosen wallpaper (at the risk of sounding sexist, it’s almost always a female with the wallpaper attachment). The wall covering, be it grasscloth, baby roses or bunches of flowers, seems to be a particular thumbprint on the the house – to the point where it’s almost a hallmark of what makes the house, condo or townhouse “home”. When I or other real estate licensees suggest that the best practice is to remove it, the sellers are very often defensive, angry and hurt at there mere idea of taking it down. It is very difficult for a professional real estate salesperson to tell you what you need to hear if you don’t want to hear it and staging recommendations become a battleground of wills. Of course, it is your house and your money – but if you hire a Realtor to give professional guidance it’s good to take it seriously.
One of the key ideas with staging is to depersonalize the home, that is, to make it more neutral – less your taste and more generic. We do this for many reasons, one of them so that buyers can “see themselves” there and mentally move in. A vegetarian who looks at wallpaper full of hunting scenes will have trouble with that. A professional ball player may have just as much difficulty with wallpaper full of rainbows and unicorns. An article in the New York Times puts it bluntly: “If the color scheme in the house isn’t neutral — blue walls in the boy’s room, pink walls for the girls and foil and bamboo wallpaper in the bathroom — it may be necessary to repaint with neutral colors.” (more…)
A few years ago, I wrote an article on my Live in Los Gatos blog on the question of whether a Silicon Valley home seller should sell the home in its current condition, or improve it with the hopes of selling for more. You can find it here: Should You Repair & Update Your Home to Sell? Or Sell “As Is”?
Today I was doing a comparative (competitive) market analysis for a client in the Blossom Valley area of San Jose and was struck by two tract houses which sold at about the same time, same market conditions, on the same street, with the same floor plan, but for very different prices. We’ll refer to them as Home 1 and Home 2.
Home 1 was nicely remodeled – at least the kitchen and baths were obviously nicely upgraded. The house was furnished when the photos were taken and it looked very inviting. It was listed for about $630,000 and sold for $670,000 in under 2 weeks.
House 2 appeared to be in original condition – in other words, a “fixer” in the eyes of most Silicon Valley home buyers. A vacant home, it was not staged to sell but instead was starkly empty – and frankly, it was not at all inviting. This house was offered at around $550,000 and sold for $490,000 after almost 2 months on the market.
There was more than a 10% difference in the list prices of these two homes. Was that enough? Apparently not. One got bid up 5% more while the other one got bid down more than 10%. The difference in their ultimate sales price is a whopping $180,000, or 37% more for the home in better condition. Did the fixed up home have that much in improvements done to it? That’s unlikely! But buyers worry about having to do remodeling and repairs, and the more buyers worry, the less they pay. It’s a risk-reward ratio. If they risk more by buying a fixer, there needs to be a monetary reward. And they almost always get it.
Perhaps as a busy San Jose area home owner, you don’t have a ton of time or money to put into fixes, especially if it’s a rental or investment property which is now vacant. How can you maximize the return on investment? I hope that it is clear that it’s in your best interest to tweak the condition of appearance of your property to net more. If you’d like some insights on this, please continue reading on this subject at another article on this blog: Preparing Your Silicon Valley Home to Sell and Return on Investment. Or call me for a confidential home selling appointment today!