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Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Art Of A Good Sale...

Now that the old days are gone, if any house is to sell it has to shine. But sell it can, writes Rose Martin...

IN this market, it’s possible to get a bigger house, in a better location for the same price as the house you have now. The only snag is you have to sell your own, and more than likely at what would be deemed a loss.

But then, the asset value of properties given during the boom were notional, and so too is the price you probably carry round in your head as the value of your own house.

In order to move and get where you want to be, then you must scrap preconceptions if you are to sell.

And that’s not as daunting as it seems — the lower end of the market is doing well, so selling the semi to buy that larger or detached house is possible. You just need to accept the hit and relish the fact that you’re buying low — the swings and roundabout school of property economics.

And when you’ve decided on moving, put the house on the market immediately — but only after you’ve checked out agents, been given quotes for their fees and have checked out the prices made in your area.

Then it’s time to get down to business.

Getting a house ready for sale is one of the most stressful experiences you can go through and it’s a truism that your house will never look nicer or better than when it goes on the market.

We are perverse people — what may be good enough for us certainly won’t be good enough for the visitor.

It’s why the Stations of the Cross is an excuse to paint and clean from top to bottom and why weddings induce not only coronary infarctions, but brigades of tradespeople.

With the passing of the property boom, getting a house in order to sell is more important than ever.

In the old days, a bike shed with potential could be bid up to the stratosphere if it was in the right area, but now any house at all has to shine to sell.

And perversely, the more modest humble houses are holding their own and the big, snooty mansions are maturing like old cheese on auctioneers’ notice-boards.

The reason isn’t just down to the bubble-burst, but perhaps also down to a sharp re-appraisal of what’s important in life.

Like having enough money left over after the mortgage, or being able to live without a credit card or overdraft facility.

Or not wanting to spend anymore than is necessary to purchase a house, hence the need for a finished product.

With this in mind, first impressions for a property sale should start at the price and work from there.

Do not rely on the unfounded assumption that your house is going to be the only property in the whole of Ireland that will buck the market. It won’t.

And try not to get too insulted when you’re told that your particular pile is worth a lot less than you expect. Get a number of opinions and go with a meld of the advice given.

It may be quite normal for us to see property as an extension of ourselves, (isn’t that why the whole country went down the tubes?) but truly, it’s not healthy psychologically.

So step back, run a gimlet eye over your gaff and look at it as if you’re seeing it for the first time. Or stand in the garden at evening time and look in. Is it inviting? Warm? Is the garden tidy and the exterior smart, or does it look a bit haphazard, untidy or worse, uncared for?

Then you need to get to work bearing in mind that awful phrase, ‘kerb appeal’.

Start at the outside and work in: draw up a list and itemise immediate remedial work.

Cut the grass and keep it shorn — it makes such a difference and a lot of people overlook this most basic approach.

Go a bit further and clip the edges and tidy the beds: cut out around trees and underplant with brightly coloured bulbs or annuals — it looks cheery and keeps down the weeds.

Paint the shed. Buy pots and fill them with shrubs. Put the pots in front of the shed and put more on the patio.

Spend a few bob on good garden furniture and lose the greyed plastic stuff, or if money is scarce, pick up a cheap but smart bistro set and see it work wonders.

Clip the hedges, paint the gate and pillars and if all of that’s too much — call in The Man.

Luckily, The Man is not too busy at the moment and should respond to your alarm cries with alacrity. Just nail down a price and let him off.

This will save time and effort for you, the householder, to get stuck into the interior. Again, assess the jobs that need doing and make those calls.

Book the painter for the week after the clear and clean, or block time off work and do the job yourself.

Either way, set out a clear, sensible time frame and tick details on or off the master list as you go along.

Then, begin the big clear-out.

Now, I’ve seen a lot of houses in my time and for me personally, an over-cleared house is sterile, lacklustre and bereft of personality.

Do take down family pictures if you must, (I’m not too nosy, but there are some out there that are) and get rid of bills and appointments or other personal letters, but leave the stuff that makes a house a home.

Hand-prints from playschool, paintings, ornaments, books and magazines all speak to a life led — they give an impression of a house for living in, not a showpiece.

Fresh flowers appeal to the same senses as fresh veg, it’s why supermarkets put them at the entrance, they conjure up all that we like to think of as wholesome and good — ditto at home.

Oh, and in terms of scent, it’s lovely to get a gentle whiff of essential oil — but blaring air freshener is another matter: as with all things in life, less is more.

I broke my rules and bought a few of those stick things in a bottle with a name like fresh cotton: what I got smelled like clothes drying on a radiator — win some, lose some.

But getting back to clutter, an untidy house is not pleasant to visit and it distracts utterly from that which you want to sell: namely, the house.

Keep it within limits and make sure every household member knows the rules: zero tolerance on untidiness is the only option.

Worse of all is a cluttered and dirty house — it will make you want to run a mile.

Honest to God, I did once have to kick an underpants under a bed on my way round — now that is not a way to sell a house.

What a vendor should aim for is something in between — you’re selling the lifestyle, but not the life, if you know what I mean.

It works on the same principle as a farmer’s market — throw in a bit of organic, a bit of down-home country and a bit of art and you have something that people will be drawn to and hopefully, love enough to buy.

In other words, be slightly original and you’ll attract more attention, but also stick to the knitting, art won’t save a draughty, ill-fitted house and make sure that everything works.

Selling your house is also the time for the mother of all spring cleanings and before that starts, you need some judicious pruning.

Get rooms cleared and pack all of the unused stuff for the charity shop, including those I’ll-get-into-them-someday, size 11 jeans, dire wedding outfits, fat clothes and ’90s evening wear — get rid.

And it becomes surprisingly cathartic, you soon get so into the swing of things that two skips later, you’re still firing stuff out.

And when the kitchen cupboards are empty, save them for the stuff you actually use, then you’re ready to start cleaning.

Think CSI, think strobe-lights on the bathroom, think truly, deeply, madly clean.

This is where the true grit and determination of the focussed house-seller comes to the fore and if you’re cute, you’ll co-opt the OCD friend who’s target for cleanliness is the operating theatre.

Once everything is washed, dusted and scrubbed, let the painter do his thing, but err on the side of caution when it comes to colour.

Check out magazines and come up with a compromise between what you think the market will take and your choice of magenta in the bedroom.

There is a stage, which I fondly refer to as chicken-with-head-cut-off where a crisis point is reached and there is lots of running around and quite a bit of squawking.

This is all quite natural and there to remind you that selling a house really is a big step — but, like eating the elephant, is best done calmly, cooly and a bit at a time. Go for it.



Report by Rose Martin - Irish Examiner

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