"Fixer" the description stated in our Brokers' Tour guide on Thursday. "Bring clients with imagination and practical know how."
Let's admit it; we've become so conditioned to seeing housing inventory presented as "camera ready," that it's an unexpected novelty to come across a home that's truly in disrepair and represented as such. In today's Instagram world, a typical home is nearly always painted, staged and practically shouts,"happily ever after!" Correct?
And with wildly popular national sites such as Zillow, Trulia and Redfin, as well as more customized sites like Grubbco.com (check out our newly revamped website - it's gorgeous!) posting your listing as soon as it comes out, it follows then, that "image is everything!"
Given that Home Buyers, by and large, are conducting their search on the Internet, would you have it any other way?
So frequent is the "staged" listing here in Northern California that the property that comes to market without such intervention, looks like Cinderella at the ball once the clock has struck midnight. If everyone else is dressed for the prom and you're not, even the neatest of homes are going to look shabby and dated by comparison, and that's not good, but it's also entirely avoidable.
Which is why, savvy Realtors will preach that there is almost always going to be some real preparation and expense involved with getting your home ready to compete with other available listings.
So how much is that going to cost?
Sellers should expect to spend several weeks and anywhere from $25,000 - $40,000 on repairs, painting, staging, etc. before the "For Sale" sign gets firmly planted in the lawn. We don't want your largest investment looking anything but its very best once it hits the open market, and after all, isn't that what you are paying an experienced Realtor to coordinate and oversee? (Yes it is, along with attracting the most qualified Buyers and getting the transaction seamlessly through escrow.)
Believe me, any work you do in preparation is "value added" to the sale and money well spent. "Staged" homes typically outsell their counterparts by VERY large margins . . .
Still, is there an instance when it doesn't make sense (or cents) to go through the trouble and expense of staging a home prior to marketing?
Not that it's necessarily my first choice to bring a house to market looking like it has clearly seen better days, but that when it comes to properties that are truly rundown and in far more need than just "cosmetic fixes" can repair, I think it's not only important to let the public know, but responsible as well. In fact, in such instances when correcting flaws is nearly impossible - without major renovation - presenting and selling a house, as an "AS IS" opportunity is often the smartest course of action.
In my career, there's been more than a few time when just such a course of action applied. Usually these are homes that have been neglected not only for years, but for decades, have had long-time renters who have ignored BIG RED FLAGS, have been foreclosed upon by banks, have been irretrievably vandalized by disgruntled homeowners, have been occupied by hoarders, have had elderly owners who long ago stopped noticing or caring, have excessive structural issues by way of pest, roof, or foundation discoveries, OR are so far beyond repair that to get them ready will require far more money than a Seller, or the trust, has available at the present time.
In short, when a house is closer to "tear down," than to "move in" condition, to present it as anything BUT, is akin to putting "lipstick on a pig." In other words, if caution tape is involved, I want to counsel you to take "CAUTION!"
In these cases, we will clear out the home from top to bottom, investigate it thoroughly, collect bids, bring in professional cleaners, shape up the garden, repair any potential hazards such as broken windows or leaking gas stoves, and have the Sellers or Trustees fill out their disclosure forms with extra care. (DO search your memory banks and write down anything, even if it seems unimportant or it happened years ago).
Forget "Buyer Beware" - caveat emptor is an outdated model and actually doesn't apply to our houses, rundown or not. In every instance, it's our duty and responsibility to help a prospective Buyer understand the real condition of a property, prior to making an offer. (Read the contract if you don't believe me.) When you publicly assert EVERYTHING you know to be true about your home, it's much harder for an informed Buyer to get reasonably upset after the transaction has closed, after the roof has leaked, or after the basement has flooded. (Yikes! Those emails and phone calls will keep you awake at night.)
Listen, I'm not interested in selling anyone "a wolf in sheep's clothing" and take it from me, neither are you.
But isn't that the goal of staging?
At the risk of contradicting my advice above, NO, IT ISN'T!
Here in the Bay Area, even the most neglected of homes is likely to fetch nearly a million dollars and I suspect, that's a lot of hard-earned cash to anyone, no matter their net worth. As such, even the most well-intentioned Buyers have expectations around such purchases (as do the civil courts) and one of them, understandably, is veracity. If we're not telling the truth about the properties we sell, not only are the Sellers asking for a lawsuit, so are the Agents, their Brokers, and the inspectors involved in the transaction.
But even if you're home isn't a wolf, a pig, a dog, or some animal far more ominous, I cannot over stress the importance of DISCLOSURE (!), especially when the home has been made to look "pretty;" when uninhabitable rooms have been presented as "habitable;" (putting a bed in a basement without a heat source does not make it an au pair suite), or when the house appears to be "turn-key" perfect and ready for the next family to simply unpack and move in (especially then).
When it comes to selling your house, I know we want to utilize every advantage in order to bring you the best possible result, but not at the cost of being deceitful. Which means that sometimes "the best result" means leaving the house "AS IS" (warts and all) to avoid any future litigation.
One final note, not only as your Real Estate advisor, but as a serial renovator who prefers the "fixer" and has bought more than my fair share of them . . . I'm comfortable with the "dog" in front of me as long as I've got a clear understanding of the "mutt" I'm taking on. Listen, it's not the condition of your home that's going to make or break a sale, OR haunt you long after the escrow has closed; it's the cover-up, so let's avoid it at all costs!
In other words, let's stage when it makes good sense. Not when it doesn't.
How can I help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.