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Looking for a neat trick to make a house sell in a slow market? Clean it!

In last week’s Blog-off Greg addressed the importance of cleaning your house before listing it in no less than three of his posts: #43, #78 and #98. When you’re posting over 100 articles in one day you don’t have the luxury of putting a lot of thought into your posts, but keeping your house clean while it’s on the market shouldn’t require a lot of thought. This should be obvious to everyone… It should be obvious to those of us who make a living marketing homes, of course. But this isn’t a trade secret. This is a precept that every seller, represented or not, should take to heart.

So when I was showing a buying client houses this past weekend, I was surprised to see these comments in the Remarks field of the listing:

This house is priced right and just needs cleaned up.

The remarks go on to highlight the features of the house. And everything that was promised in the remarks was dead-on accurate! It’s a wonderful floor plan in my favorite Surprise community, priced $22,000 under the most recent sale of this same model in the same subdivision. The only discernible difference between the higher priced structure, which went under contract only two weeks after it was listed earlier this year, and the house we saw Friday, which has now been on market for six and a half months, is the higher priced house had “fresh paint,” and Friday’s house “needs cleaned up.”

I had warned my clients before we entered, and told them that the seller was paying, with a low list price, for someone else to clean the house. The house is vacant, so I expected dirty walls that need painting, a dirty perhaps pet-soiled carpet, maybe some nicks or dents in the sinks or on the dishwasher. I had expected the type of problems that maybe a down-on-his-luck seller couldn’t afford to invest in fixing. But the house is only five years old, and as I said, empty, so I had hoped for better.

Instead, we were faced with an empty home filled with trash. Nothing big, nothing that would have demanded attention of The Junk Guys. Yes, the walls needed a fresh coat of paint and the carpet needed to be shampooed. But there was no pet damage, no damage at all. Just garbage: cigarette butts, dirty tissues, empty bottles, empty sticky remnants of thoughtless frozen dinner containers that had been popped into the microwave for three minutes, numbly eaten over the course of another three minutes, then tossed aside to the floor with no further thought. It looked like a very sad ending to someone’s broken dreams.

And if I felt the despair of that sad little house, you know that my clients could hear it sobbing. You could easily imagine a difficult divorce here, or any number of other stories of loss and despair. There was no way to imagine a happy life here. But how different that story could have been, at least in the eyes of a prospective buyer. For less than $100 the seller or his agent could have had a cleaning crew come in to bag up the garbage and clean the surfaces. That probably would have been enough. If not, another $250 would have bought a good carpet-cleaning. For another $100 the back yard would have been rid of all weeds. Someone was already taking care of the front yard, per the HOA requirements. So why not walk around to the back and handle the whole yard? Why do only what is mandated, but neglect everything else that’s required?

I don’t know the sellers’ story… I can only imagine. What I cannot imagine is taking that listing and allowing the house to be shown in that condition. Even if the sellers insist on shooting themselves in the foot, why would a listing agent join them in self-destruction? Taking a listing takes time and money. Why do something with half the effort when you know that anything less than full effort is doomed to failure? The lister this time around has represented the house for only two weeks, but how, when he took this listing two weeks ago, could he have been blind to such an obvious solution to getting the house sold? In March, when the owners initially put this house on market asking $28,000 more than they are asking for their house today, why didn’t somebody mention that the house needed to be cleaned? And how on earth, could the asking price have been reduced five times over the next six months without this problem ever having been attacked?

I am a Property Staging Consultant. I can accept compensation for consulting on staging a property to sell. I don’t, because this is one of the services we provide when we list a house. But here is some free advice to anyone who is trying to sell a dirty house in today’s competitive market… Don’t ask your listing agent to forewarn prospective buyers that the house is dirty. Don’t agree to reduce your asking price five, ten, fifteen, twenty thousand dollars. Try the obvious solution first: Clean your house! Duh!

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9 comments

9 Comments so far

  1. Joshua October 2nd, 2006 8:37 pm
  2. Nathan Hughes October 3rd, 2006 6:28 am

    Very, very true. I just showed a home listed at $499,000 yesterday and the main complaint was how it had not been kept up. The cleaning was very indicative of how little maintenance had been done over the years. I guarantee that if the proper cleaning had been done, that this house would have sold by now rather than sitting on the market for two months.

    Granted, the other issues with the property are still there, and no amount of cleaning will address the overdue maintenance. BUT, the overall feel of the house was overwhelming when the dirtiness was compounded with the maintenance issues.

  3. Tyler October 3rd, 2006 10:41 am

    “Taking a listing takes time and money. Why do something with half the effort when you know that anything less than full effort is doomed to failure?”

    Important point (that is applicable to so many situations besides real estate) that is often not taken seriously by many agents I know.

    Great post!

  4. ardell dellaloggia October 3rd, 2006 2:56 pm

    Cathleen,

    You should have your own blog, and the cleaner just left my new listing :-)

  5. […] Over at Bloodhoundblog Cathleen tells of a great experience around the importance of cleanliness in the sale-abilty of a home and the dismay over agents who fail to realize this simple fact. Even if the sellers insist on shooting themselves in the foot, why would a listing agent join them in self-destruction? Taking a listing takes time and money. Why do something with half the effort when you know that anything less than full effort is doomed to failure? […]

  6. Dwayne January 12th, 2008 5:32 pm

    This is perfect information to have even though this was written over a year ago,our market has gotten slower, and we need every trick in the book to help make a home stand out now. Thank you for the information and such a great blog.

  7. […] Repairs, painting and cleaning. This can take anywhere from a few days to more than a week. Everything’s a trade-off, and we can’t always do everything we might wish for, but we want for our homes to be as clean, as homey, as livable and as turn-key as we can possibly make t…. […]

  8. […] Repairs, painting and cleaning. This can take anywhere from a few days to more than a week. Everything’s a trade-off, and we can’t always do everything we might wish for, but we want for our homes to be as clean, as homey, as livable and as turn-key as we can possibly make t…. […]

  9. […] Repairs, painting and cleaning. This can take anywhere from a few days to more than a week. Everything’s a trade-off, and we can’t always do everything we might wish for, but we want for our homes to be as clean, as homey, as livable and as turn-key as we can possibly make t…. […]