Should You Move Out Before You Sell?

Should You Move Out or Vacate Before You Sell?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.

Seller Stress

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.

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How Important are Parking Spaces and Garages in Silicon Valley?

Cambrian Park Home, built by LeepMost homes in Silicon Valley come with some type of parking space for cars beyond street parking.  Home buyers want to know that there will be a place for their vehicles (and often their “stuff” too).   Garages and parking are sometimes under-appreciated aspects of evaluating real estate, and sometimes there are parking surprises after the close of escrow, so it will be the focus of today’s topic.

Parking and resale value

Because a real estate purchase is a big ticket item, it is always important to consider the ability to sell it later.  (Always buy with selling in mind!)  Will the property you have or are considering buying be hard to sell  in the future if it is not a red-hot sellers market?  Parking can greatly impact “resale value and overall desirability to a large portion of consumers, who may look at that space as protection for a beloved vehicle, a safety feature, a future hobby room, or many other possibilities.

If you are evaluating a Common Interest Development (CID) condominium, townhouse, or planned unit development home with private roads and parking, there will be some special concerns that may be a little different than if you were purchasing a single family home. We’ll consider both.

General principle:  In all types of housing in the San Jose area, usually the most highly desired type of parking arrangement is an attached garage with direct access into the home and with side by side parking provided (not tandem).  This is not true in all cases but is generally true.  You would not find home buyers interested in historic homes (Victorian, Spanish, Craftsman) wanting a prominent two car garage at the front of the house, commanding the lion’s share of the view from the street. (So don’t expect to see that in Japantown, Naglee Park, or the the Rose Garden areas of San Jose.) But for the typical buyer of the more common ranch style house, the attached garage is expected and appreciated, and if it’s missing it may be a challenge to sell the property later because the property will be appealing to a smaller pool of buyers.

Regarding direct access: garages are not allowed to have a door entering into a bedroom. This is for safety reasons since bedrooms are where residents are most vulnerable, and garages are an area of increased safety risk.
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Preparing Your Silicon Valley Home to Sell and Return on Investment

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.

Preparing your Silicon Valley home to sell and return on investmentTo 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.

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Silicon Valley Home Buyers & Sellers Tips – Beware Agent Tricks and Traps

Danger!Often times, if a relationship sours between a consumer and a real estate agent in Silicon Valley and the real estate agent is to blame, it’s not because of an intentional deceit on the part of the licensee, but rather an oversight, a blunder, or a mistake.

Sometimes, though, there are things done by the real estate licensee which are more calculated and truly are not in the buyer’s or seller’s best interest. (This runs both ways, of course – sometimes consumers pull bad stuff on Realtors, too.)  Those are the things we’ll discuss today. Sometimes the consumer never realizes that these occurrences were more than unhelpful. Other times, the buyer or seller catches on – but by then, it’s too late.

First, a short list of a few real estate tricks and traps that buyers should recognize as red flags. We’ll look at each of these in detail below the list.

  • 1-long listing or buyer broker contract commitments
  • 2-Would-be listing agents telling sellers a higher price than is likely to happen in order to secure the listing.  We call this “buying the listing”.
  • 3-trying to sell listing off market to double end it – marketing a listed home, holding open houses prior to the property being on the multiple listing service
  • 4-no lock box or keysafe & all appointments through the listing agent only (often the agent’s idea – this makes it easier for the listing agent to “double end” the sale)
  • 5-bad terms in the “other terms and agreements” section of the listing or buyers’ contract that create more restrictions on the buyer or seller
  • 6- special tricks to help you sell a home – some agents say that they have a huge pool of Chinese buyers, or that they will do “target marketing” on Facebook, or that they’ll host a Twilight Tour…. Often these are gimmicks. The idea that some licensees have is that if they convince you that they are doing something no one else is doing, or have something that no one else has, you’ll sign with them.

Handcuffed by your contract?#1 – How long of a listing time frame is too long? If homes that do sell are selling in an average of 30-60 days (which is often the case in some of Silicon Valley markets right now), then a 90 or 120 day listing agreement is not excessive if the listing contract is signed right before it goes on the market. If it’s signed 2 months ahead of time, that’s another matter – realistically, 3-4 months “on the market” is fair in many cases. A six month listing could be  a little long. A one-year listing agreement is unconscionable unless the property is a luxury home or distressed property with a very long “months of inventory”.

Ditto that with buyer-broker contracts.  Often 6 months is more than enough.  Be careful if your agent wants a longer term than that.

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How to quickly get your Silicon Valley home ready to sell

Tips to Sell FastIf 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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…)

The three greatest temptations for sellers in a raging hot market

House for saleIn a raging hot seller’s market such as we are experiencing today in Silicon Valley, home owners may be subject to some very costly temptations.

Home seller temptation # 1: overconfidence on the market

Because folks read about the dozens of offers on some homes, by extension, it’s easy to believe that every home sells, for top dollar, with no effort or planning on the part of the seller. This is a huge mistake. Perhaps we should even call it a myth since it may be commonly believed.

In today’s wildly hot market, there are still some homes that DO NOT SELL. 

What are the odds that your home won’t sell?

I just pulled some numbers from the MLS today, July 23, 2018. You may find them surprising!

  • In Santa Clara County, there are currently 1274 single family homes on the market
    • 490 of them have been on the market at least 30 days – 38% are not moving quickly & likely need a price reduction, if it hasn’t already been done
    • 211 of the 1274 have been for sale for at least 60 days – 17% have had 2 months worth of open houses, keeping the home spotless, etc.
    • 107 of the 1274 have a “days on market” of 90 days or more – 8% have serious market rejection
  • These are not all luxury homes!
    • 9 are listed at under $1 million
    •  13 are offered between $1 million and $1,499,999 (“normal” houses in our area)
    •  9 are on the market between $1.5 mil and $1,999,999
    • 14 are listed at $2 million to $2,499,999 (these are still not luxury homes in most cases)
    • 11 are priced between $2.5 mil and $2,999,999
    • That’s 56 homes of 107 that are under $3 million. The balance are “high end homes”, which usually are more challenging to sell

The best homes, those which are well priced, well marketed, and are easily shown, sell within 2-3 weeks. After that, home buyers view them as stale listings and assume something terrible is wrong with them. After three weeks, unless the home gets a deep price reduction, it’s unlikely to get multiple offers.

This first temptation is the greatest one, and it often leads to mistakes in areas #2 and #3, listed below. (more…)

Home selling? Small fixes that make a big, positive difference.

Drawer and cabinet pulls or hardwareIf 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)

 

 

 

Home sellers, please review the multiple listing description of your property: errors are not uncommon!

Review the MLSFrequently the multiple listing service has typos and errors regarding homes for sale (and poor or missing photos too).  I have to wonder if sellers even look at the comments, description or photographs online at all – because I am sure that if they did, most of the mistakes would be caught and the marketing would improve significantly.

Just now, I saw in one description that a house features “walking closets”.  Let’s hope not – that’s the stuff of nightmares.  It also claimed that the kitchen is “specious” (which means misleadingly attractive) rather than spacious.  The same real estate agent also misspelled the name of the Silicon Valley subdivision.

When I put a listing on the MLS for my seller clients, I always ask them to check for errors (or misspellings etc.) since they know their home better than I do.  I do not want to represent that fireplaces are served by gas jets if they aren’t, or omit them if they are, as just one example.  Even our most diligent notes can sometimes miss a detail.  Accuracy is important both so that buyers and their agents understand the property well but also so that the home’s features aren’t accidentally left out.   So home sellers: always ask to see the MLS printout on your property.  Do not ask only for the standard consumer version, but request the “agent full” version so that you can also check the private comments aimed at Realtors and other salespeople.

 

 

 

Wallpaper Wars: Staging and Hurt Feelings

Foil bamboo wallpaper sample found in a bathroomFew 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…)