Step One: Clean and Tidy Sells

Let’s be honest here. The majority of us don’t have a maid to clean our place every day. Most people’s homes can get a little messy. After all we live there and we can all fall into the trap of thinking our place is quite fine the way it is – thank you very much.

If you are selling your property however you have to try and put yourself in a potential buyer’s mind. You have to be prepared to step back and take off the rose tinted glasses and be honest about what you see. This can be harder than it sounds but, if you can, it will reward you no end.

The first step to take is to de-clutter your place as much as possible. This means getting rid of things such as old books and magazines, dead flower bunches, ashtrays, laptop computers/play-stations and children’s toys.

All clothes should be put away out of sight and the same with shoes and boots. Where practical outside children’s toys, like bikes and trikes, should be stored away.

The next part of the process can be a bit more radical. Where possible remove as much bulky furniture as you can live without and any broken furniture just has to go. You want to create space and – arty as it sounds – a flow to your rooms.

If you have a dog or a cat, then remove feeding/water bowls and litter boxes. Much as you may love your pets, they can really put buyers off. The smell of pet foods is a real sale killer. I would recommend that if you have a dog or other pet, then for a viewing that they are nowhere to be seen or heard. It might sound a bit cruel but when you’re looking over your bank statement after the sale you can give Fido a happy hug.

Any and all dirty dishes are a no go. Last night’s linguini may have been delicious but a dirty kitchen or dining area is one of the biggest killers of property sales there is. Even if it’s a few cups on the draining board they have to go.

Yes this all sounds like work but when you are counting the money from your sale you will be glad you put the time in.

• Top Tip: I advise clients to take some photos of the room(s) that you are going to de-clutter and clean before and after. You will be amazed at the results and it will motivate you to carry on.

Once you have de-cluttered as much as you can, it’s time to stick on the rubber gloves and break out the vacuum cleaner and clean, clean, clean.

After thirty years in estate agency I can tell you – as would any estate agent worth their salt – that a well cleaned home will always sell faster. If you can show you love and care for your home, potential buyers will feel this. Your property will stay in their mind much longer.

If you really can’t find the time or enthusiasm to de-clutter and clean or it’s just not practical, then it makes real economic sense to get a firm in to do this for you. It truly is money well invested.

• Top Tip: At the risk of sounding cruel, if you have young children in the home it can be a good idea to pack them off to the in-laws or friends whenever you are having a viewing. I am sorry to say this, but often they can distract buyers and more importantly you from the all-important job of selling your property.

Taking this first step costs next to nothing and for the most part is common sense and will certainly help sell your place faster and most probably for more money, but I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve seen properties for sale where even this first basic step has not been taken. It’s a real shame and a real way to lose money.

The next two easy steps, however, are designed to really raise buyers’ desire for your property. They add sparkle and WOW factor and most importantly they get under buyers skin and into their heads. And, they can add a ton of extra cash to your bank account without breaking it first – just what you want.

Step Two: Colour = Money

Just like the use of scents in selling your home, the area of which colours to use is awash with advice, opinion and downright confusion. Here I want to simplify things as much as possible, so this section will be about internal painting only and very importantly it’s about selling your home for maximum profit and in the shortest time.

One thing is for sure: colour evokes emotions in all of us. We just can’t help it. Getting the right tone in your home will not only sell it much quicker but will add a real premium to the sales price.

It is estimated that the capital return on a sales price to a freshly painted home can be well over 200% of the cost of the work. I think we can all agree that’s very worthwhile. I can tell you from over 30 years of estate agency experience and the experience of buying and selling numerous properties over that time, never but never underestimate the power of a good paint job.

Before we put on our overalls or have a painter in I always advise clients to stand back a moment and look at each room in their home individually. Where does the light come in and where does it fall? Is there an urban, city view outside the window(s) or is it rolling hills and greenery? What are the key features of the room? What flooring materials and tones are in and what furnishings if any will be there as the property is photographed and shown? All of this should have a bearing on the tones used. Let me be clear here. What surfaces I’m talking about painting are walls, ceilings and trim (such as door and window frames) skirting board, banisters and other interior railings.

One big mistake a lot of us can make in repainting our home is to be too cheap. After all, we want to sell, we are leaving, why spend more, right? Wrong. Just grabbing a couple of cans of cheap paint and some rollers from the DIY store normally doesn’t yield the best results. Cheap rollers often leave bits of themselves stuck to the walls or ceiling. They also don’t carry enough paint onto the surfaces being painted, making the job so much harder and longer than it need be. Cheap paint rarely gives good coverage, leading to having to give a second or third coat. This costs more time and effort as well as using more paint which ultimately costs more money. Wow, what a waste.

• TOP TIP: Never but never buy cheap paintbrushes. Always buy the correct brush for the job required. I strongly recommend that you use a natural hairbrush when using oil based gloss paints. They paint the surface and not just push the paint around. You will get much better results with oil-based paints this way. Synthetic bristled brushes are not as good on oil-based paints but can be fine with water-based paints. I strongly recommend that you look for brushes that are flagged ended. This means that they have split ends to the bristle. It is normally a good indicator of a quality brush. It will also make your life so much easier as they hold more paint and help give a smooth even application of paint.

I don’t know how many times I have seen homes that have had cracked, chipped and rough surfaces painted over in the vain hope that this will hide what is below. Well folks, it doesn’t, and in a lot of cases just draws the possible buyers attention straight to the problem. Please, before you start to paint, check your surfaces first. There is little point in painting what will ultimately still look cracked, chipped and rough even after you have finished.

In some countries homes have patterned wallpaper in some if not all the rooms (including ceilings). In many cases this is to hide bad surfaces. I highly recommend that all wallpaper (including ceilings) is removed and that any bad surfacing is repaired. Yes I know, it sounds like a lot of work, but the results on selling your property can be remarkable. If you really don’t want to splash out on a re-skim of walls and ceilings, then I would recommend that you use quality, structured wallpaper (NEVER woodchip). You should use natural white wallpaper, as it should be painted over once dried.

• Top Tip: If you are mixing wallpaper paste, never just tip the whole pack into the water and stir. You will just get very lumpy paste and it’s nearly impossible to get rid of the lumps. Stir your water as fast as you can whilst you add a little of the past power at a time. This allows the powder to get absorbed evenly leaving an even past.

• Top Tip: If you are wallpapering, then I highly recommend that you apply the wallpaper paste to the wall as well as the paper. This really helps it stick evenly and allows you better movement of the paper when adjusting to match any patterns in the paper. Only apply paste to the part of the wall you are just about to paper and not the whole wall at one time.

• Top Tip: Don’t try to hide micro cracking in plaster by applying paint. Always skim cracks with an appropriate filler and give this time to dry before a light sanding. Trying to paint over cracks in plaster is a total waste of time. The cracks will continue to show.

So, now everything is repaired and prepared and you are eager to get going with roller and brush, but wait a second – what colours should you use? It’s at this point that a lot of people can make a fatal blunder. They get artistic. They start thinking of the colour schemes they would like to have and before they know it their inner Picasso is let loose. It’s at this point that all the hard work you have put in to now is lost under a burgundy feature wall.

Before any madness can take over what we need to keep firmly in mind is KIS (keep it simple). We want to sell fast and for maximum money, right? Then we need to appeal to the broadest possible spectrum of potential buyers. We need to use tones (yes, I said tones not colours) that promote a sense of wellbeing as well as light and space.

I can’t remember how many homes I have been in over the years where every room was a different colour. My favourite thing to hate is a small living room with a feature wall in bright red or better yet, burgundy. Yuck.

Just like the use of scents to sell your property, the use of colour should be simple too. Please don’t be tempted to overcomplicate things. Remember you are presenting a canvas, not a painting. I strongly suggest that you use just two shades per room and very importantly stick with this per floor. Bathrooms, washrooms and kitchens (provided the kitchen is a separate room and not integrated into the living area) can normally benefit from brighter tones. This doesn’t mean that you should paint these areas fire engine red but, for instance, if you have used Magnolia as a main colour then you might use a bright white or neutral white for walls and ceilings in the bathroom and kitchen.

• TOP TIP: Always use the same paint and tone for trim such as door and window frames as well as skirting boards. This should follow throughout the property even if it’s multiple floors. For selling purposes using a bright or neutral white is recommended.

As we are looking to present our property as a canvas with a natural, clean feel then I would, for most homes, recommend using white tones throughout. You can be forgiven for thinking that white is white but this is far from the case. The fact is there are a ton of whites to choose from and they can be combined in a myriad of combinations. For the most part however, we should perhaps think of whites in three categories.

Bright whites:

Bright whites can be cold as they have a blue to black base to them. This tone is best used in rooms that have little to no natural light or are very small such as bathrooms, utility rooms and cloakrooms. Using warm colour accessories in apple greens, chestnut brown or bright red can help mute the clinical feel you can often get with bright whites. I would recommend using a warm white to offset trim such as skirting boards, window and doorframes etc. to create a monochromatic look. Bright whites can often suit larger architectural spaces but often do not suit bedrooms.

Natural whites:

If you are putting your property up for sale, then natural whites are by far the easiest to work with to repaint. As the name suggests they can provide a clean but liveable look and are much easier to offset against both darker and lighter tones.

Natural whites can be hard to pin down however as they can cover many shades ranging from greys through to beige and creams. Manufacturers like to give natural whites lots of fancy titles such as Ghost, putty, ivory, porcelain, linen etc. If you want to go for some of the darker tones in this line, especially in the greys such as Dove, I strongly recommend you take some testers first. Remember that you will be doing a whole room/floor level in the same tone. I recommend that you don’t get too dark – keep to the lightest tones possible such as mixing a normal commercial white wall paint (normally bright white) with a linen tone. This can give you a very usable creamy white that pretty much goes with everything. One tone I would never paint any property in is beige. Yes, I know, probably the most popular shade going, but ask yourself would you dress yourself head to foot in beige. I hope not.

Warm whites:

Warm whites need room so if your property and rooms are large enough they can work well, especially if contrasted with bright or natural white trim. Warm whites are also good in areas that literally need warming up such as north facing bedrooms.

You need to be careful how you use warm whites as they can overpower and make some rooms look smaller. This is definitely not what you want. Try out a few testers first before committing.

Examples of warm whites can be light cream, ivory, beige, linen, light cappuccino. One of my favourite warm whites is from Benjamin Moore (Elmira White). This gives a great balance between grey and beige. It goes very well with bright white trim.

• TOP TIP: We all lead busy lives and finding the time and energy to do a good job of repainting our property may not be realistic. Never, but never, hesitate to get a professional home painter in to do the job. Yes, it costs but it is well worth the investment.

Dependent on which country you are selling in may limit your choices of paint manufacturers and DIY products. I have listed below some of my favourites for interior paint, brushes and rollers. These are not necessarily the cheapest, but I can attest that they do a damn fine job. I have a maxim: If in doubt, ask. Never hesitate to ask your local paint shop or DIY store what they would recommend for your job or better yet engage a professional.

Interior Paints:

  • Little Greene (High End wall paper as well).
  • Farrow and Ball. (High End wall paper as well).
  • Benjamin Moore. (They have a good colour-matching App).
  • Caparol (IndekoGeo). DIN EN 13 300. Wet Scrub Resistance Class 1. Opacity (Hiding/Covering power) Class 1. Very low odour paint. This is my Top Pick for interior walls and ceilings.
  • Alpinaweiss. DIN EN 13 300. Wet Scrub Resistance Class 2. Opacity (Hiding/Covering power) Class 1.

Interior Paintbrushes:

Interior Paint Rollers:

Step Three: Smells = Sales.

At last the clutter has gone and your home has never looked so clean and sparkling. It is now time to delve into the psychological magic of home selling. The following information cannot only help keep your property fixed in a buyers mind but can add a heap of extra cash to your sale. Nice and oh yes, it costs next to nothing.

A recently published report in the science magazine Nature has estimated that average human nose can detect up to a trillion different scents. This is a huge number – far more than previously thought – but helps to prove what any good estate agent should know: smells get under our skin or more literally up our noses. Smells can and do have a real effect on our mood and our decision processes and in most cases we are not even aware of it.

No self-respecting supermarket or retail chain would forgo the benefits of influencing us with well-placed smells. They have whole teams and computer programmes dedicated to this process because they know full well that smells = Sales = Profits.

I am sure that most of us would not like to think our home is a little on the smelly side. In fact, most of us probably think that our homes smell just fine. But is this as true as we think?

Despite our noses being able to pick up out a trillion different scents we can all become desensitised to our own every day smells especially around our homes.

So, before we start to introduce any new scents to help sell our place we need to get rid of our old ones first.

• TOP TIP: I always advise clients to take out the trash a good hour before any viewing and if it’s not raining or blowing a gale outside to open all the windows and doors at least twenty minutes before. Fresh air is your best friend.

The causes of smells around the home are numerous. After all we cook, eat, sleep laugh, love and live there. It should be no surprise that our homes have their own cornucopia of unique pongs that we have become immune to, but a potential buyers nose has not. So making sure that what they smell does not detract but in fact adds to the charms you want your home to present is all-important.

Most people would start in the kitchen, but I want to begin with bedrooms. Beds and bedding are a very overlooked area of detracting smells. I recommend to all clients that they change sheets, duvet covers and pillowcases before a viewing. In fact, in many cases it is well worth buying new bedding and even a new mattress.

I know. I know. Why should I spend good money on these things when I just want to sell? Right. Well you need to trust me here. Years of experience have taught me the hard way that cutting corners does not help sell property faster and for more money. Just remember that you can catch some big fish with just a small amount of bait, which is a picturesque way of saying the economics are in your favour.

Before we head off to the kitchen let’s stop off at the living area. Sofas, cushions, throws, rugs and carpets are all virtual hand grenades of detracting smells. Where possible get them dry cleaned or just replace them. YES, I SAID REPLACE THEM. Think of it this way. If having a nice clean and smelling nice place adds just 2% to your sales price you will be laughing all the way to the bank. If we take a sales price of just €250,000 + 2% = €5,000 – €1,500 sofa, €500 carpet and €200 cushions. You would gain an extra €2,800. Money well invested with a tax-free profit in most cases.

So finally, it’s on to the kitchen. One of the biggest and most obvious areas of waylaying smells. Especially if like me, you occasionally enjoy a good spaghetti olio with extra garlic in the evening.

So often now kitchens are built right into the living area. Open plan is very popular these days so in many cases your kitchen smells are your living room smells as well.

As previously mentioned, start with a good clean down and remove pet feeding bowls or cat litter boxes and sleeping baskets. We all love our pets. They are part of us – a part of the family. Alas, however they can stink. Yes, I know you don’t think so, but we are prepping for all those people who don’t have pets and really will not appreciate the less than subtle whiff of Tiger’s litter box or Shep’s feeding bowl.

The one thing we should try and avoid at this stage is to try and cut corners and try and mask old smells with new ones. This nearly always results in a complex cocktail of unpleasantness.

Remember that you are aiming for neutrality. I always recommend that clients use neutral smelling cleaning products and where possible and practical they air their homes well in advance of any viewing. Fresh air works miracles.

• TOP TIP: Try never to arrange a viewing just before or just after meal times. You may well love the smell of fried cabbage others may not.

• TOP TIP: I always recommend using a natural smelling cleaning solution. After all you don’t want your living room smelling of bleach or Drano.

Once we removed the causes of bad house smells and achieved as much as possible neutrality it’s time to add the good smells: The smells that can add a ton of money to your home and cost you next to nothing. Now, doesn’t that sound good?

Really good estate agents and home stagers around the world know the importance of smells in selling property. Some swear by baking bread or cookies and others the waft of fresh brewed coffee.

Over the years I have come to know that simple is best. Much as the smell of fresh bread and coffee are pleasing and personally I love a chocolate chip cookie, these things can and are distracting and once a smell is distracting even a pleasant one it becomes counterproductive to the all-important job of selling your property. I have had clients view properties where food and coffee where on offer only to be told that they were starving and was there a café nearby. They did not want to look greedy so couldn’t wait to get out of the home on offer to satisfy their cravings at the nearest Java bean place. Now that’s what I call counterproductive.

If you or your agent is going to use smells to help maximize your properties potential then I strongly suggest that you not only keep them simple but appropriate. After all, your home is not a café.

Alas, scents drift. You can’t keep them in one place unless you shut all the doors and windows. In a property viewing this is just not possible. So if you are trying to use different scents in different rooms (pine in the bathroom and lavender in the bedroom) DON’T DO IT. They will just mingle and the result you were aiming for will be lost and worse will become very distracting.

I know I am going to sound like a record stuck in the groove but keep it SIMPLE. I would recommend that for properties that are all on one level and 100sqm or less use one scent only. For larger and multi-level properties two scents can work, especially if there is a large kitchen dining area that is closed off or toward a garden area.

Personally, I have found that a light orange smell in urban property works well but lemon and basil can work too. Recent tests have shown that a combination of white tea and fig can have a positive effect on buyers and I can attest that this has worked well for us in selling one and two room city apartments. Larger homes especially in country settings we have found really pop with lavender, rose, pine and cedar. I like to use a hint of rose in hallways close to the front door and a breath of lavender in the bedrooms. Rose or Jasmine can be good for a larger living room but not if there is an integrated kitchen. Very little goes a long way. Try using a pinch of cinnamon powder mixed with hot (not boiling) water in a teacup. Stand this in the kitchen area for 30 minutes before a viewing to give a real sense of warmth and unity.

• TOP TIP: Not only keep it simple but keep it light as well. Resist the temptation to overdo it. Scents should be in the background working their magic subtly on a viewer’s mind and not assaulting their nostrils.

I strongly recommend that you resist the temptation to stick on the coffee and bake up some cookies. These smells, despite common belief among those who should know better (are you all living in the 1980s), are too distracting. The last thing you want are your viewers getting hungry and craving a triple shot skinny latte. Sublimely they are going on a guilt trip. They just want to get out and satisfy those cravings. Not good for selling your property. Agents that tell you that these smells work have probably just read it somewhere and absorbed it as prevailing wisdom. Please resist such advice.

Try giving your viewers a small linen sachet tied with a bow that has your contact details on it. The sachet should have the same smell as the primary scent you used that day. This will help any viewer immediately and positively remember your home and better yet there are no calories.

No matter what positive smells you use for selling your property it is very important that they are as light and natural as possible. Always use good quality organic scent oils in your selling process. Getting this right can add lots of extra cash to your bank account fast.

• TOP TIP: Never but never be tempted to just reach for a can of so called air freshener or a plug-in room scent. The clear majority of these things bear no resemblance to reality. Remember that scents must be light, natural and in the background.

Scents that work: Orange, lemon, basil, rosemary, thyme, rose, cinnamon, fig, white tea, jasmine, lime, cedar, pine, vanilla and good old fashioned fresh air.

• TOP TIP: When in doubt about using a scent in selling your property remember that just a good simple airing before a viewing will work wonders.

So now it’s all done and you have taken your three simple and cheap steps to property selling success. Your property should be transformed and perhaps you start thinking not to sell at all but if you still want to then please, please, please don’t throw your hard work away on a less than professional Estate Agent/Realtor/Makler. Like any other industry there are the good the bad and the ugly and ugly gets paid the same in most cases as good.

So how do you go about choosing a GOOD agent to sell your now beautiful place. Read our upcoming article that will cover the five essential questions you need to ask an agent before letting them in the door and what to ask when they are.

Happy selling.

Contributed by Martin Brown. He is senior partner at First Financial Direct Group OHG and has over thirty years of Real Estate experience.