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4 Essentials to Presenting and Selling a House That’s Still Occupied

Moving can be one of the most stressful experiences in life. If you’re selling your home, that stress starts long before the move itself! In a challenging market, competing with move-in-ready, beautifully staged homes can be discouraging.

Showing your home while you still live in it is difficult, but you can do it. Every seller dreams of quickly finding a good buyer without months of waiting and disappointment. You want realtors to enjoy showing your home and to think of it instantly when talking to new clients.

Beyond the basics of doing the dishes and making your bed, what will help you succeed? What big mistakes should you avoid? Check out these four timeless selling tips.

Set the Stage

No, you don’t need expensive professional staging to sell your home. The important thing here is to consider the entire appearance of your property. The stage your home is performing on will make a big difference. The showing really starts in the neighborhood, on the street, and in the driveway.

Declutter your yard and tidy the porch and outside areas. This is as important as decluttering your home and garage – try to make whatever space you have look as large, clean, and enjoyable as possible. This can be an ongoing process while you’re on the market.

A showing is only successful when the buyers aren’t shocked or disappointed by the setting. This means it’s important not to hide really ugly neighboring properties or commercial buildings in the real estate photos. Instead, show how your landscaping or creative fencing has made your space private and attractive.

For condos or townhouses, be sure that the view is portrayed honestly. If it’s amazing, that’s great. If it’s awful, work with it. Put a trellis on your balcony to get fresh air and privacy while blocking out neighbors or busy roads. Make small improvements you never bothered with while living there. These touches can really make or break a sale.

If you’re in a rural area, make sure that the road conditions are listed accurately. There’s nothing wrong with a long driveway or a gravel road, but everyone should know what to expect. Buyers or agents getting stuck or lost will make for a terrible showing! 

The First 7 Seconds

The first thing that hits you stepping into an unfamiliar house is rarely the appearance. The change of lighting makes you lose focus slightly. The absolute first impression is usually the smell… What smell?

Pleasantly fragrant or overwhelming, if you live in a space, you might not even notice the odors anymore. Ask your family, friends, or realtor to be brutally honest. If you’re selling property that is currently rented, this can be a serious challenge. Renters may not cooperate with the changes you need to make. Make sure that your renters, agents, and buyers are aware of the situation and know what to expect.

If you have strong odors from mold, pets, smoking, cooking, essential oils, or scented decorations, be willing to make some changes while you’re on the market. Tone down the essential oils, box up scented candles and potpourri, and air out your rooms. The smell won’t go away quickly but will lose its powerful edge. 

For unpleasant odors, like indoor animals or cigarettes, consider a more drastic cleaning. Wash the floor coverings, walls, and ceilings with appropriate cleaners. A janitorial supply company will have good suggestions. Don’t simply cover bad smells with a strong fragrance. The problem will seem worse than it is if people wonder what you’re masking.

You may need to take more aggressive steps to have successful showings. If you’ve been on the market for a while with no offers, consider refreshing the whole house with new paint – not just for appearance, but for odor control. Primer products like Kilz and BIN can be painted on walls, ceilings, and even subfloors to eliminate odor.

Remember, many people have allergies and chemical sensitivities. The buyers will still have to put effort into cleaning and fixing up a structure that has been damaged with odors. Your efforts to get the place ready for a successful showing will allow them to see past the smell and notice the real value of your property.

House Pets

Do you love your dogs or cats? Sadly, they can really sabotage a good showing. As any real estate agent can tell you, a normally calm dog may become scared, aggressive, or far too friendly around strangers! Your pets might become overly excited, even if you’re home during the walk-through. What can you do?

For a day with scheduled showings or an open house, seriously consider removing all pets from the property. It can be as simple as having the kids take the dog for a walk or putting the cats in their carriers and taking them for a scenic drive. Removing pets may be inconvenient, but it can be vital to making prospective buyers comfortable and giving them a chance to really look around calmly.

After you remove the pets for a showing, be aware of tidying up pet paraphernalia as well. Put doggie beds and cat litter boxes away, in a garage or shed if possible.

In a situation where the property is rented by someone else, this may be too much to expect. Your renters may be against the sale and afraid of having to move. The realtors and management companies involved can make the best of it to be sure buyers don’t get scared off. On the other hand, a reliable, long-time renter is often very attractive to a buyer, so try to consider their feelings and their schedule. 

Permitting Violations

Be very careful about advertising your property based on illegal improvements. No one wants to get three weeks into escrow with a great buyer only to have the sale fall through when they finish their due diligence! Features you love about your home might not be something your buyers can legally enjoy. Like what?

Unpermitted improvements can include garage conversions, detached apartments, or tiny houses. Buyers looking for rental income or multifamily property will be very disappointed if they can’t legally use those living spaces. Bathrooms added inside the home without permits will also hold up a sale. Creative electrical “fixes” or potential structural issues like wall removals can also be a red flag for a buyer. If possible, make legal changes so that you’re not limited to “cash-only” offers.  

Sometimes, you can get an inspection and a permit for existing improvements. If you can’t, consider removing them before you list your house. This will spare you a lot of hassle later on and keep everyone honest – not worrying about lawsuits, etc. Your buyers will be able to get a conventional loan as well, which is very important in a challenging real estate market.

If you’re selling a rental property, consider doing a personal inspection regularly. Keep good communication with the current occupants to make sure no unauthorized changes have been made and your property is being cared for.

Additional features buyers look for include things like RV pads and hookups. These are common but not necessarily legal on residential lots or land. Check with your county before getting excited. Only include them in the listing advertisement if they’re permitted and a genuine value-add to your property.

Remember the 500-page CCRs or township covenants you didn’t read when you moved in? Now’s the time! If your chicken coops or boat storage shed in the backyard aren’t really allowed, be honest with your agent and potential buyers. Make sure it’s clear that those features aren’t “grandfathered in” or somehow exempt from the rules. Good sales often fall through on small things like this.

Although uncommon in advertising, honesty really is the best policy. It will spare you the grief of showings that go nowhere. It will also help your agent value and market your property accurately. That way, possible buyers won’t feel let down and will appreciate your home as it is.

Selling an occupied house is attainable despite the challenges. Watch out for some big mistakes like distracting pets, offensive odors, and illegal improvements. Get help from friends or a cleaning service if necessary. Be sure your property makes the best first impression, provides a comfortable environment for a walk-through, and is honestly represented in the listing. It will be worth the effort when you get positive feedback from each showing and succeed in making a sale!

Summer House Realty

At Summer House Realty we can assist you in the sale of your home. We provide honest assessments on the condition of your home, comparable homes in the area, and current market conditions to expect. If you need an aggressive real estate brokerage to list and sell your home, contact Summer House Realty today. We have two convenient locations in Amelia Island, FL (904.557.3020) and Augusta, GA (706.955.6436). Call us today for a free consultation.

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