The latest figures from Hometrack show that houses are taking an average of 10 weeks to sell and that mortgage lending is down by more than 13.5 per cent. With that in mind, you need to make sure that your house is the one that sells.
So what can you do to secure a buyer? Spring and autumn are the key times to sell a property when demand traditionally outstrips supply. Therefore, prices are usually at their most buoyant, so now that the clocks have changed it's officially selling season. On your marks. . . .
Who's buying the house?
This might sound obvious, but in the housing market you can't afford to assume anything. You might think you know who your house is for, but you need to check with the estate agent about to whom they are planning to market it. Are they selling it as a house that needs work? (Prepare yourself for that answer.) Or as one that doesn't have much potential to add value?
Abigail Hall, who styles and stages homes in the West Midlands (www.abigailhalldesign.co.uk), is often called in when a desperate agent is recommending a £10,000 price drop. She says: "Even if you don't have children but your property is near a good school, that is your target market. I have bought boxes of crayons and toys and left them in the corner of a flat to show that there was room for a play space.
"It's all about creating an image for the person who is expected to buy the house. Very often I dress a house in a way that's completely different for the person who actually lives there, but that will work for a potential buyer. A good estate agent will help you with this. Ask them why they have set the price and who they plan to contact about viewings. This will help you style your house."
First impressions count
It's no good having a viewing booked if the prospective buyer drives past without stopping because the outside is such a mess. Trudy Mclindon, of creativehomeseller.com, who dresses houses in Manchester and Cheshire, says: "It's very hard to correct an initial bad impression. If the house looks tatty on the outside it doesn't matter how nice it is inside, it will be very hard to turn that round. Make sure the door is painted and the handles aren't tarnished.
"Hide the bins behind screens – we all have so many of them these days. Perhaps put a plant by the front door to make the place look cared for and well presented. All these little things will make a huge difference and, crucially, get the potential buyer through the door."
The hallway is obviously the first place they see so make sure it's tidy and inviting. Halls are often dark and now that we all have to have eco bulbs, which can take a while to warm up, you need to work even harder to brighten up this space. Mclindon suggests a mirror to bounce any light around: "Make sure you ask the estate agent to put the lights on, or if you can, leave them on before you go out so the place is nice and bright when people walk in."
Obviously, it's crucial to have enough coat and shoe storage, to persuade the buyer that the house can cope with lots of people and for the sake of tidiness. Try not to overload the coat hooks; put the ones you don't need every day upstairs.
The kitchen clincher
It tends to be the kitchen that sells the house, as even the most reluctant DIY enthusiast can cope with repainting a sitting room, which will look very different with their own furniture in it anyway. Likewise, many people prefer to do up their own bathrooms because it's such a personal space.
Hall says it's the old cliché of the kitchen being the heart of the home. "You are selling a lifestyle. Nowadays with kitchen diners, buyers want to imagine themselves cooking at the stove with a glass of wine, while two beautifully behaved children sit at the table drawing," she says.
"It's an aspiration but it's a very persuasive one and if your house presents that image then it will be desirable."
She also recommends a serious clear out. "The kitchen tends to be the most reflective of our personalities and you need to be really clinical about removing all that," she says.
"Get rid of the piles of post and the childrens' drawings. You don't need to have every kitchen gadget you've ever bought on the worktop and while you're putting them in cupboards make sure you clean the inside as well as the outside – people will look.
"You can't fake expensive appliances but clean ones that look new will impress," she adds.
"If the clutter is tidily arranged in cupboards, buyers will feel that the house has enough storage and be more likely to make an offer."
Josie McDowell, who with her partner, Suzanne Aldrige, styles and stages houses for sale and rental in south-west London, says that labels do count.
"If you've got a good coffee maker then leave it on the worktop," McDowell says. "Put the cheap bread bin in the cupboard and leave out the Dualit toaster. Very often people who are buying a house are stretching up to the next level and if they see familiar or aspirational gadgets, they will be persuaded that the house is right for them."
"You would be amazed how few people tidy up before a viewing," Mclindon says. "You don't have to spend a lot of money dressing a house but please put the laundry away and do the washing up.
"In the bathroom make sure the towels are hung up and it doesn't do any harm to have some nice posh soap rather than the supermarket budget one."
Mclindon advises doing a really critical walk through your house before you even put it on the market.
"Ask yourself why you are moving, and if it's because the house is too small or doesn't have enough storage, then try and remedy that for the buyers. Often people have outgrown their houses and they have too much stuff so put some into storage and empty the space a bit.
"I had one client whose house had been on the market for 18 months with only one low offer. I told him everything that was wrong and he put it all right – little things like filling cracked plaster and decluttering – and he had an offer that was £85,000 higher than the previous one within a week of doing all these small jobs."
McDowell suggests plump new cushions which will suggest luxury. "If you don't want to spend much money then see to the remedial work first – dripping taps, cracks and so on. Then do a little shopping. Replace flat, tired cushions, make sure the bed linen is fresh and co-ordinated – you can take that with you to the new house. Perhaps a new bedside lamp and in the bathroom put the toothbrushes and deodorant away. Everyone knows you have them but we don't need to see."
Don't forget the gardenAfter the kitchen and bathroom, the garden can also sell a house. It doesn't matter if your buyers are the gardening type, everyone loves the idea of a lawn for the children to run around on and enough space for some al fresco dining. With that in mind, make sure it's all weeded and mowed and any dead plants have been removed. Spend some money on a few flowers – apparently yellow invokes the buying emotion, so get some daffodils in.
Finally, make sure your garden furniture isn't too tatty and on a nice day put some cushions out and perhaps a pot of coffee and a cup to show how lovely it can be to sit there.
Hard work pays off
House doctors are as one when it comes to the small jobs, and although many of them would recommend spending between 1 and 2 per cent of the asking price on larger items – such as painting and carpeting – there are plenty of little things you can do without spending that kind of money.
McDowell's mantra is light and space. "You need to do whatever you can to increase both of those," she says. "If the curtains are heavy and blocking the light or view of a lovely garden, then take them down. There's a fine line between minimal and neutral and stark and bare, so be careful not to remove everything, but if it's there make it count."
Remember, the idea is that by investing a little time and perhaps some more money, you will achieve the price you want, which makes it a worthwhile investment. And people are persuaded by fresh paint and the notion that the house has been well cared for.
If the taps are dripping, prospective buyers may assume that the drainage is about to break, which is an expensive job, and they are more likely to buy another house in the same area which is better presented.
As a final tip, check the competition online at either Rightmove or FindaProperty and make sure you're in the lead. But be honest with yourself – just because you don't like their style doesn't mean your house will sell faster or for more money.
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