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When you decide it's time to sell your home, what you do or don't do to get the place ready for the market will determine whether potential buyers come flocking or go fleeing.
Face it: Your house may have some icky issues. And if you don't address them, you'll have fewer showings and get fewer offers.
Here are the 20 biggest buyer turnoffs and how to avoid them.
1. The place looks hideous from the street
You’ve driven by the front of your house so many times that you barely take notice. And unfortunately, once you decide to sell, most of your focus will be on the interior, not the exterior.
Huge mistake, according to Cindi Hagley, broker/division manager with The Hagley Group in Pleasanton, California.
"I've had buyers in my car, when we drive up to a house, who don’t even want to go in because of how crappy it looks. It could be a dead yard, debris in the yard or a crappy door," she says.
Solution: Improve your curb appeal. Mow like you mean it, and buff up that door!
2. Your decor could make buyers scream
To cast the broadest possible net for buyers, it's smart to strike wall displays, posters and other visuals that could offend.
That might mean anything from a nude sculpture to a banner celebrating your favorite NFL team. A Hillary Clinton bobblehead is as much of a danger as a signed, showcased copy of "The Art of the Deal."
"Any décor that may be controversial or sensitive to others, such as political memorabilia, military or religious icons, tend to turn people off," says Julie Dana, The Home Stylist in East Aurora, New York.
Hagley agrees: "If you have one culture that does not embrace another culture, it can be a deal-killer."
Solution: Keep it neutral and upbeat or delete.
3. Your home has dings, cracks and defects
As a homeowner, you've lived with a number of household flaws and mechanical nuisances so long that you no longer notice them. Unfortunately, prospective buyers will.
"One of the biggest things that turns off buyers is any maintenance that needs to be done," says Dana, who's also the co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Staging Your Home to Sell.
"If right away, in the first few seconds of seeing the house, those potential buyers are starting a chore list, the sale is gone," she says. "It could be anything from cracks in the wall to a loose doorknob."
Solution: Fix them. Now.
4. That wall-to-wall carpeting has got to go
Depending on your locale, wall-to-wall carpeting can vary from being a mere annoyance to a deal breaker.
"It's a small turnoff if the carpet is in good condition, especially here in California where buyers who walk in are going to put their own touches on it anyway," says Hagley.
But house shoppers will be curious about what they can't see. "I would be more concerned with what’s under that wall-to-wall carpeting," she says. "Is it hardwood that just needs to be refinished or something else?"
Solution: Roll the dice but be prepared to compromise.
5. To be honest, your place might stink
As visual as the house-hunting experience tends to be, there’s another overriding sensation that can literally stop a walk-through at the front door.
"Urine smell from a pet is probably the single largest turnoff there is!" Hagley gasps.
"In fact, I will not list a home that has a pervasive odor of any kind, because it’s senseless and it makes the Realtor look asinine," she says.
Solution: You’ve been warned.
6. That popcorn ceiling looks so last century
Once hot, popcorn acoustic ceilings now are not. Mostly because they’re a major hassle to repair.
"If it's an entry-level home and you’ve got an excited buyer, that's not going to be a big deal," Hagley says.
"But," she adds, "if you're dealing with a $1 million-plus home, that is a huge deal. In California, you would write into the contract to eliminate that."
Solution: Prepare to bargain, or not. After all, it didn’t stop you from buying, right?
7. That's not a color scheme, it's a conspiracy
Whoever observed that beauty is in the eye of the beholder didn’t have to convince Terry Cannon, broker for Oregon Exclusive Buyers Realty in Salem, Oregon.
"We had one showing that had black tile throughout the whole bathroom, the bedroom was all dark, and it had a spider web painted on the ceiling," he chuckles. "Why would they do that?"
Know upfront that the wallpaper you love and that Candy Crush-themed children's bedroom will not help sell your home.
"Especially female buyers — they'll just turn around and walk right out," says Hagley. "A good Realtor is going to go in and neutralize the home if there's something like that."
Solution: Gray tones are nice.
8. You or your renters need to scram
"The absolute worst" is how Hagley describes sellers who insist on hovering.
"And not only are they there for the walkthroughs and the initial showings of the home, but if they insist on being there for inspections, that's not good," she says. "That is going to be a pain in the butt to sell, period."
In Cannon's view, renters are just as bad, if not worse.
"There are some homes that you just can't get into because the renters don’t want to show the home," he says. "Even though they know we're coming, they leave it such a mess that it's just a disaster inside."
Solution: Vacate for all showings, take your pets with you, and instruct your renters to do likewise.
9. The photos look too amazing
House-hunting online at Realtor.com, Redfin, Trulia, Zillow and related sites will quickly school you in the not-so-subtle art of real estate photography.
"You can find an angle in any kitchen that makes it look like a million-dollar home. I don't see anything wrong with that," says Hagley. "However, you also have to be careful; you don’t want to misrepresent."
True story: The online curb shot of the home my wife and I bought two years ago showed nearly a half-acre of vibrant green grass, which, upon arrival for our walkthrough, was an equally-impressive stretch of Florida sand.
Only later did I notice the disclaimer beneath that online shot: "Lawn courtesy of Photoshop." We purchased the home nonetheless, and today the lawn is grass-green.
Solution: Don't set your listing up for failure by misrepresenting it in photos.
10. You have bad photos -- or no photos
Even worse than photos that try too hard are bad pictures that don't put your home in the best possible light.
Realtors say they've seen listings showing a dumpster parked in front of the house, or the hardwood floors obscured by piles of laundry. Allegedly, one home was put on the market with a photo of the family dog "fertilizing" the front lawn.
The only bigger deal breaker than poor images is to list your home with no pictures at all. Buyers will assume the house has serious issues and will click right on by.
Solution: Once your home is officially up for sale, check the pics on the major real estate sites. If you don't like what you see, ask your agent to take new photos.
11. It looks like a home on 'Hoarders'
Clutter can become a major obstacle to living in, much less selling, a home.
As Hagley points out, a cluttered house instills far deeper fears in many homebuyers than where to pile the laundry.
"If your home looks like a mess, are you taking care of it for maintenance? What do your gutters and roof look like? What might you be hiding with clutter?" she wonders.
Those aren't questions you want to inadvertently pose to potential buyers.
Solution: Thoroughly clean the manse before showing.
12. The driveway is crowded
The outside of your home also can look too cluttered.
Having too many cars in the driveway makes a bad impression on prospective buyers, especially if the vehicles are old and beat up, says Justin Potier, Long Beach, California, area vice president for Carrington Real Esate Services.
"They distract from the curb appeal of the home," Potier said, in an email. "Additionally, they may discourage potential buyers from viewing and/or accessing additional areas of the property."
The less crowded the place looks, both inside and out, the more buyers will be able to imagine how the property will look with their stuff around, Potier says.
Solution: When your home is being shown, go for a drive — and park your other cars down the block.
13. The floors are flawed
Homebuyers need look no further than the flooring beneath their feet to get a quick read on the workmanship (or lack thereof) in a listing.
Poorly installed ceramic tile, hardwood flooring badly butted up to door jambs or base molding, and misaligned or warped laminate will send up a huge caution flag for buyers.
They may feel they're being tricked into buying a fixer-upper.
Solution: Take a close look around your home at ground level, and give some attention to whatever looks or feels off down there.
14. The kitchen seems make-do, not modern
Statistically, tricked-out kitchens drive home sales.
But when potential buyers notice that shortcuts have been taken, it's just human nature to wonder what shortcomings might be hiding under the sink.
"I tell people not to be distracted by the bling," says Justin Pierce, president of Snow Goose Homes in Woodbridge, Virgina.
“I’ve seen houses where the countertops aren’t even level," he says. "And sometimes, even good work will look off, because maybe it’s an older home and the finish carpenter is trying to compensate for that."
Solution: If you're going to redo the kitchen before you sell, don't go halfway.
15. The electrical work is shockingly bad
When buyers on a home showing detect electrical abnormalities — a light switch activates nothing, or a grounded outlet shuts down without cause — their immediate instinct is to question the safety of the entire electrical system.
That's a buyer turnoff all too familiar to Reuben Saltzman, a second-generation home inspector with Structure Tech in Minneapolis.
"I remember inspecting a house where they had wired the garage on the same circuit as all their lighting in the kitchen," Saltzman says. Activating the garage door opener overloaded the circuits and knocked out the lights.
Solution: Leave the electrical work to the pros. If you tried to DIY, ask a professional to take a look.
16. You're too stubborn about your price
Buyers don't like a seller who won't budge.
When an offer seems too lowball for you, don't just dismiss it out of hand. The buyer may be willing to negotiate and so should you, says Alison Clay-Duboff, an agent with South Bay Real Estate in Manhattan Beach, California.
"If the offer is rudely rejected, the buyers may not want to work with the seller or their agent in the future at all and may not revisit an offer even after the home has been sitting on the market," Clay-Duboff writes on her blog.
Solution: Be flexible, and don't let your feathers be ruffled by any offer. The buyer may seriously want the house.
Use our calculator to find out how much home you can afford next time you're ready to buy.
17. The yard lacks space for entertaining
If you don't have much of a patio and haven't done much with your yard, you can lose major points with buyers. Today, many people think of outdoor areas as an extension of the living room.
"Homebuyers want to utilize exterior space as livable areas for entertaining or just relaxing," says Potier, of Carrington Real Esate Services.
He says having areas outside to socialize, entertain or congregate is like having more square footage. Plus, it increases the utility of the lot.
Solution: If your yard is a yawn, a couple of pieces of outdoor furniture and a little bit of lighting might make a big difference.
18. The home's safety extras seem shaky
If your home has safety features such as grab bars and power lifts, by all means make sure they work properly and are built and installed to code.
“You are responsible for maintaining the safety of a home — that’s what codes are for, says Tyler Karu, a Portland, Maine-based designer.
"It’s got to be safe, because you’re liable for at least a year for the safety of the people living in the home after you finish it."
Solution: Always make sure safety features are sound, even if no codes apply.
19. The price is too high
No matter how amazing you think your home is, if it's pricey compared to the other houses in the neighborhood, buyers won't bite.
Bill Gassett, owner of Maximum Real Estate Exposure in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, considers overpricing the No. 1 reason why a home won't sell.
"Trying to price your home too high — because you paid a certain amount for it, or because it means so much to you — is a sure way to stall the successful sale of your property," Gassett says, in his blog.
Solution: If your real estate agent is telling you that your desired price is unrealistic, listen! And depending on the market, you may consider listing at a low price in hopes buyers will get excited and wage a bidding war.
20. It's not the house, it's the 'hood
All the remodeling you do on the interior or all the you work you do to enhance the exterior's curb appeal may not matter if your neighborhood is a no-go for homebuyers.
Gassett says it's a problem that confronted many would-be sellers after the housing market collapse.
"The real estate issues that plagued the nation a few years ago left some neighborhoods a shell of what they once were and did severe damage to surrounding home values," he writes.
Solution: If your area has seen better days, you may need to cut your price substantially — or to try to rent your place out until your market comes back.
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