Doing the deal right can save tens of thousands of dollars in your pocket

By Amy Newman

Getting a buyer to walk through the door is only half the battle when you place your home on the market. Your actions prior to listing can have an enormous impact on how long your home sits on the market and the final sales price. To help, we spoke with real estate professionals to uncover the eight most costly seller mistakes and how you can avoid them.

Mispricing the property. Homes sit on the market an average of 42 days, says Mike McLane, associate broker and certified residential specialist with Jack White Real Estate in Anchorage. Price it right, and you could find yourself with multiple offers within a week of listing. But how do you know if the price is right?

“Comparable market analysis from a real estate agent is the best way to price a house,” he says. “We have access to all the sales data.”

Avoid the temptation to overprice the property, he adds. An overpriced home will sit on the market and lead buyers to assume it has problems, when the only problem is that it wasn’t priced right. When you finally adjust the price, you can expect fewer offers for less than asking price, he says.

Not hiring a real estate professional. Everybody wants to save a buck, but think twice before hammering that “For Sale by Owner” sign in your yard. A home sale is a legal transaction that requires a written contract, which the majority of sellers have no experience drafting.

“A contract can be your worst nightmare if it’s done wrong,” says Chris Swires, a certified residential specialist with RE/MAX Dynamic Properties in Anchorage. A real estate professional who handles contracts on a routine basis will make sure yours isn’t missing an essential clause that can halt the sale, or open you up to legal trouble down the road.

Not getting a home inspection prior to listing. It’s a rare buyer who does not request a home inspection. So avoid any surprises by getting one completed prior to listing.

“I have not met a house in my 40 years in the business that doesn’t have something that can be found by a home inspector,” says Eva Loken, associate broker with Jack White Real Estate in Eagle River. And don’t think that just because the inspection checked out when you purchased the home that you’re in the clear, she says. Building codes change constantly, so what was considered up to code even five years ago could not be any more.

Not making repairs. If the home inspection uncovers major problems, such as foundation issues or roof in need of replacement, make the repairs if you can afford them, Eva says. If you can’t, at minimum get an estimate of the repair cost and adjust the sales price accordingly.

Easy repairs – burned out lightbulbs and leaky faucets, for example – should be completed before the home is listed, she says. If you need to paint the interior, skip the designer colors and go with a neutral shade, she adds.

Making too many major upgrades. “Buyers today expect houses to look like those flip houses they see on TV,” Eva says. But adding granite countertops or stainless steel appliances just to increase the sales price could actually cost you in the long run.

“You won’t ever get your money out of a kitchen or bathroom remodel,” Mike explains.

Instead, focus on the small details that pack a punch without breaking your wallet.

A bathroom is instantly upgraded with the installation of “modern and sexy shower fixtures,” like a rainforest showerhead that costs about $50, Eva says.

Replacing outdated kitchen cabinet pulls, door knobs and light figures are also easy, inexpensive fixes, Chris says.

Not cleaning the house. Potential buyers must be able to envision themselves living in your home. But that cannot happen if their vision is clouded by dirt and grime. But how clean is clean?

“It needs to be on the sparkly side of clean,” Mike says. That means no odors, no dog poop in the yard and most important, a clean carpet.

“I can’t stress that enough,” he says. “Even if (the carpet) is a complete junker, as long as it’s clean, folks will think that there’s a sense of pride.”

Not decluttering the home. Don’t forget to declutter while you clean, Chris says, and aim for roughly one-third of what is currently in the home.

“Pack stuff up and get down to where you can really focus on the house,” she says. “Anything that speaks of you as an individual needs to go.”

And yes it’s Alaska, but those hunting trophies that adorn the walls may be off-putting to recent Alaskan transplants, who comprise a large number of home buyers – so play it safe and put them in storage.

Ignoring the front of the house. Your home’s curb appeal – or lack thereof – can mean the difference between a buyer walking through the front door, or driving right on by.

“Drive-bys are really important,” Chris says. “It’s a judgment call. Buyers will think, ‘If it looks like that on the outside, I can only imagine what it looks like on the inside.’”

Stand outside and take a good look at the front of your home, she says. Can you read the house numbers? Is the mailbox in good shape? Are the leaves raked and the walkways shoveled?

What about the front entrance?

"The front door and the way to the front door, it’s more important than people even think of,” she says. Dusty steps, dirty windows and cobwebs can be a real turn-off.

Mike suggests painting or even replacing the front door.

“First impressions make all the difference in the world,” he says. “The only thing that you’ll ever get all your money out of is a front door.”

“It’s a crap shoot sometimes,” Eva says of selling a home. But avoid these costly mistakes and you’ll increase the chance of getting top dollar for your home.