"Hugo, you're going to kill me," I said, "but that fence is too high. Can we bring it down a foot?"
"I built it based on the drawings you gave me," he sweetly replied, pointing to the plans. "Si?"
"Yes, I don't doubt it," I agreed. "It's just too imposing for the front yard - 'no le gusta'." (I have no intention of building a wall to keep my neighbors out. I'm just trying to keep the dog in.)
"Okay Julia, whatever makes you happy," Hugo responded, "I don't like to see you upset."
At which point Hugo and his brother, Carlos, spent the next few days skillfully rebuilding the fence and now it looks perfecto! (Are you picking up on my rudimentary Spanish? Can I get a tutor, por favor?)
After nearly two years of blood, sweat and tears, and more dinero than we'd ever intended to spend renovating our property, I'd like to think that Cliff and I are creating a home that is welcoming and inviting; not one that is unfriendly and unapproachable. (I'd like to think that about our country too. Alas, is it too much to hope for?)
"Unfriendly" and "unapproachable" are sometimes how I feel going into an open house. As the vast majority of listings are professionally primed for Internet exposure, Stagers and Sellers alike, can sometimes get understandably protective about their furniture, accessories and rugs, if not downright prickly. (That's a mistake.)
And while I sympathize that hoards of people can be tough on a house (and the things within it) try to remember that the inconvenience of a scuff mark here and there are temporary, while the potential gain is far more lasting.
That's "no bueno."
Posted signs throughout a home that instruct: "Don't touch," "Don't sit on bed," and "Remove shoes;" might as well say: "Your visit is an imposition and please get the hell out."
For the record, most of us don't want to take off their shoes in a stranger's house. It can be downright off-putting. So unless it's truly necessary (i.e. white carpet or pouring rain), or a deeply-held cultural tradition, you risk sending prospective Buyers and Agents running back to their cars without a glance. Who wants to walk around on a cold floor in their socks, or worse yet, their bare feet? (I don't.) It's an especially curious request when the floors are hardwood and stone. (That one makes no sense to me at all.)
Earlier this year, I visited a home on Brokers' Tour that had all of the signs I mention above and more; "Don't leave anything on the counter," "Don't touch," and in the bathroom, "Don't use." (Really? Note to Realtors: Buyers with young children are invariably going to use the restroom. Let's have some TP and towels handy for them on site.)
Around every corner, there was yet one more instruction as to what NOT to do. To top it all off, the house was easily $200,000 overpriced. (Good luck.)
"What did you think?" the Agent asked as we sat down on the steps to put our shoes back on.
"I think the house is very 'unfriendly'," I finally said when pressed further. (A tempered response for this highly opinionated gal; in truth, I was beyond annoyed.)
Here's the deal, unless a sign points to a life-or-death situation as in, "Keep off! Deck is unsafe," avoid such decidedly, unfriendly signage. In fact, better to think of your house as a "speed date" with the understanding that Buyers and Realtors alike, are going to quickly move through the rooms while forming a strong first impression that's going to decide whether or not to proceed with dinner and dessert. (In fact, they'll start forming their opinions from the curb long before they ever step inside, so don't neglect the front yard.) The last thing you want is a drive-by, which unfortunately, is the equivalent, of"Don't call me, I'll call you."
If attracting qualified Buyers to your property is your goal, your home should virtually sing:
"Make yourself at home."
"Rainbows on roses and whiskers on kittens,"
"Bright copper kettles, and warm woolen mittens..."
(Yes, I know homes don't sing, but I'm trying to make a point about inclusiveness here. BTW - bonus points for those of you who know the movie and the song the last two lines reference.)
While a Realtor isn't expected to be a maid (nor are you hiring us to be your housekeepers or gardeners), it's really not too much to expect your Agent to help keep things tidy and to put out a few cookies before greeting guests. (I've literally baked thousands of these sweet treats through the years. Click here for my famous recipe.)
No, warm cookies or a white picket fence won't sell your house, OR overcome years of neglect, OR offset a listing that's overpriced, but they can certainly entice a buyer to walk into the home instead of running away, and that's the very least that we, as your selling Agents, should do. (The very least.)
Remember, homes by and large are emotional purchases. Just as I imagine a speed date starts off with a smile and a greeting, so too, should a home, which means you should put out the proverbial welcome mats instead. (We'll wipe our feet. I promise.)
While admittedly, it's been a long time since I dated anyone other than my husband, I think good old hospitality never goes out of style and is part of what you entrust your Realtor to create, including a warm welcome and an inviting approach. We're trying to book a second date here, not lose out to the more charming suitor down the street . . . (That suitor may be Canada.)
Like my fence, the difference is easy to surmise. In a home (or in a nation) it's even easier to feel. Whatever the intention, you know it when you see it -and more importantly, when you don't!
How can I help you? (Speaking of dating, can I give you my number? 510.326.0840, and please feel free to "set me up" with any of your friends.)
(To check out my Instagram page, go to: instagram.com/piedmontrealtorgirl)
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.