Sometimes when homes listed for sale in Silicon Valley don’t sell, it’s not about the location, the price, the floor plan or even the marketing. It’s about the pets. Of course, many agents have learned in real estate training classes that “there’s no problem that a better price can’t fix” – and that’s true, but most sellers would rather make the house more appealing and sell for higher rather than only address selling obstacles with a lower price. I think we do sellers a great disservice if we tippy toe around problems and make it all about price, when other solutions might be far better. At the very least, sellers deserve to know that they have a choice. Today we’ll look at the problem with selling a property with pets present and some solutions to help sell the home faster and for more money.
What’s the problem with pets at a home for sale?
There are several things which can happen with pets in the home (or to a lesser extent, the yard) to damage the odds of selling or of selling at a good price:
(1) Odors: For people who don’t live with cats, dogs, bunnies and other furry friends, the odors given off by these companions can seem very strong and unappealing. When we live with animals, we can get used to the smell of them, their bedding or cages and it is very possible that we won’t find offensive what can send buyers screaming out of the house. Once in Los Gatos I previewed a house during the broker’s tour where there were multiple bunnies in cages in one of the bedrooms. The stench was terrible – my family and I have had bunnies (but outside), but I’d never smelled anything so ghastly. I think the cages hadn’t been cleaned in a very long time. Or perhaps the rabbits were extremely old. In any case, I literally had to leave because the odor was sickening.
(2) Fear of the animals: Some home buyers are allergic to cats, dogs, and other pets with fur. Others are simply afraid of them, at least if they are indoors. For some of these people, even knowing that you have an indoor pet (unless it’s in a cage or aquarium) is enough to keep them away. Sometimes listing agents will let buyers agents know that a dog is loose in the house but “don’t worry, Fido is friendly”. That is not a help if the buyer is either allergic or afraid! Some animals will frighten people even if they are in a cage or terrarium. Snakes and spiders may have that impact!
(3) Concern about pet getting out: Often with cats in particular, there are strong admonishments from sellers to “not let the cats out”. This can be tricky if you have a cat that’s smart and gunning to get free. You’re putting more responsibility onto the agent and buyer – so it’s just as likely that similar homes without this burden will be shown rather than yours.
(4) Excessive numbers of indoor pets and hidden damage: Buyers worry about everything, and where pets are included, the more is definitely not the merrier. Lots and lots of indoor animals equals lots of worry! One small hypo allergenic poodle is not nearly as scary as a house with 3 black labs and 3 large tabby cats. Do you have a LOT of animals in your house? Please share them (farm them out) – have family and friends take them, or kennel if necessary – when your place is on the market. Buyers tend to nickname houses and condos, so don’t let yours get called the “animal house“.
What can be done to mitigate the presence (or past presence) of animals in the home when it’s for sale?
So what can you do? Pets are part of the family too, right? Here are some guidelines to help you maximize the sales price of your Silicon Valley home.
- Where pets should be: Do not have animals which are free roaming about the house. Best is to have them not there at all (at doggie day care, for instance, or when you are not working, take them out with you). If possible, have friends or relatives care for them while your house is for sale. Second best is having them in the yard only, with signs letting people know that they are outside. (If it is not too hot, the garage MAY be an alternative too.) If they must be loose, confine them during showings to one room, such as a bedroom, and close them in. Put a sign on the door saying not to enter – or a childproof gate if that works – so that they can’t get loose. If the gate won’t work (say for cats or larger dogs), consider temporarily installing a glass door to that room so that people can see in without getting too close to your animals.
- Controlling odors, hair and dander: Clean bedding, cages, and the pets themselves on a regular basis to keep unpleasant smells in control. Bad odors worry buyers – they are afraid that they won’t be able to get the smell out once they move in! Worried buyers pay less for houses than confident buyers. This is a really serious issue (and applies equally to houses where there are strong cooking odors, cigarette smoke, incense, etc.) that will very heavily damage your ability to sell your house at all as well as maximize your sales price, so it cannot be stressed enough that it’s imperative to make the house odor free. Do not believe that burning candles or baking fresh cookies will take care of it. Many buyers find these actions suspicious and wonder what someone is trying to hide if they come across them. I should add that sometimes the pets are gone but their imprint isn’t. A few years back I sold a house in the Cambrian area of San Jose and the owner’s former (very old) dog used to urinate into a heating register on the floor by the door. Each fall when he restarted the furnace, the fumes were horrible. My seller did find a product that took care of it, with quite a bit of looking. Some veterinarians’ offices sell products that can help. Nothing is as helpful as cleaning, though. The longer you’ve had indoor, furry pets, the more you should consider things such as washing carpets, drapes, and even having your ducts cleaned out.
- Make sure everyone in the household is on board with how to show the house with your pets. The best surprise is no surprise! One evening I was showing a condo in San Jose to some buyers. The family that lived there was home during my showing (often a mistake). A little boy in the house came running up to me with a small snake in his hand and shoved it at my face! Luckily it didn’t freak me out, but I’m not so sure what might have happened to my buyers or others had it happened to them. My buyers didn’t buy that place.
- Repair animal damage where ever you find it: Some pooches will scratch at doors to be let in. Cats may claw at screens. Recently I saw some chinchillas who’d chewed through some blinds. We once had a black lab who pulled a newly installed rain gutter off of our house so that he could gnaw on it! We did replace it and trained him not to go near the new one – and it worked. Buyers see dollar signs with every bit of damage which is visible, but they will mentally add twice that amount in needed repairs because they will be convinced that there’s even more wrong with the property that they cannot see, such as pet accidents on carpeting which has stained the hardwood below.
Also I want to mention that it’s important to protect your pets from people coming through your house. Sometimes parents head in one direction and the kids, toddlers especially, can dart into another. Just as you would not leave out money, valuables or prescription meds, don’t leave tempting (especially little toy-like) creatures where small hands can reach them. Pity the poor mouse or hamster whose cage is on the ground and discovered by a momentarily unsupervised child!
It is possible to sell your Santa Clara County home for top dollar even with pets at the property, but it’s extremely important to make sure that their “footprint” is as close to invisible as possible. You know you’ve succeeded when agents and buyers come through and later comment, “I didn’t even know that they had any pets – I couldn’t tell!”