Preparing your home for sale is no easy feat. Even if you've kept it in relatively good condition over the years, you have to ask yourself, will buyers, realtors and appraisers be wowed?
First impressions can impact your property value and potentially make it harder to sell your home. Here is a list of things that could negatively affect your home — consider them before putting your property on the market.
1. Not Keeping Up With the Joneses
Whether you skimped on an upgrade to save money early on or just haven't had time to update certain features of your home, not keeping up with the neighbors could hurt your home value. Adrian L. Muller, appraiser and president of Hudson View Appraisal Services, said homes without features that are common in the area, such as a patio or pool in Florida, will have an overall lower value.
2. Zombie Houses
Sometimes, the factors that affect your home value have nothing to do with your property at all. One such example is a "zombie house" in your neighborhood. Zombie houses are abandoned, neglected or dilapidated homes with overgrown yards, said Mary Case Friedner, a real estate agent serving the Hudson River towns of Westchester County, N.Y.
"They can really hurt the value of neighboring homes,” she said.
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Homeowners near shale gas wells can take a major hit to property values, according to one study from Duke University and the nonprofit Resources for the Future. The study found that Pennsylvania homeowners who used groundwater for drinking lost up to 24 percent of their property value if they lived within one and one-quarter mile of a shale gas well.
4. Cracks in the Pavement
You might not pay much attention to wear and tear on your driveway, but appraisers will. They look for signs of physical depreciation, so consider resealing the surface of your driveway before you put your house on the market.
“Large cracks and potholes on the driveway surface raise a red flag in the appraisal process,” Muller said.
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5. Curb Unappeal
If buyers drive by your home or decide to do a walk-through, what they see at first glance makes a difference. If your home is messy or unruly from the outside — say, it needs serious repainting — it could sour a potential buyer's experience.
“At the very least, the lawn, walkway and driveway should be cleared of any debris and look clean and tidy," Case said. "The front door along with the doorframe and window trims should be freshly painted.”
6. An Unkempt Yard
Landscaping has the potential to improve your home value, according to the Appraisal Institute. But if you've let your home's lawn go, now is the time to roll up your sleeves and bring out the gardening tools.
“Dead or dying shrubbery should be removed and replaced with healthy and lush plants, and there should be no weeds anywhere on the property,” Case said.
7. Weird Landscaping Design
Even if your home's lawn is in good condition, landscaping that's too quirky or personal could hurt your home's appeal. Realtor Chris Danuser, who serves clients in the New York City area and in Northern New Jersey, advised against “too-personal touches."
"They can be a turnoff to buyers who might want to develop the yard with their own style," he said. Similarly, large trees leaning over the house should be trimmed back to avoid the risk of collapse onto the roof.
8. A Pool
You might have spent many happy summers enjoying your home pool, but don't assume buyers want to carry on the tradition. Heather Kandawire, a real estate agent in Northern New Jersey, said, “While some buyers see a pool and envision warm summer days lounging on a floatie, soaking up the rays, a majority of buyers won’t even look at a home with a pool."
Why? "Most buyers fear the maintenance, additional insurance and general added expense that a pool demands," she said. However, she did say that luxury homes that sit on large properties tend to do well with pools.
9. A Koi Pond
If you have a koi pond or other decorative body of water on the property, ensure it’s clean and pristine. Kandawire noted that in the countless homes she has shown, she has yet to see a perfect koi pond.
While Muller said that it does have the potential to improve home value, Kandewire said, “Just please clean it before you try to sell.”
At some point, you might have opted for aluminum siding because it's durable, repels bugs and insulates your home. Unfortunately, it can work against you when it comes time to sell.
According to Case, those looking to buy today prefer not to buy a house with aluminum siding, as it can cheapen the appearance of the house. She also noted that “houses with ugly-colored siding are challenging to sell.”
No matter where you live, there are probably some foreclosures nearby. If they are clearly marked as such — and not all are — this can be a turnoff to some buyers. There’s nothing you can personally do about this, of course, but it’s good to be aware of.
12. A Bad Neighbor
Regardless of how perfectly maintained a neighbor’s house is, you might be in a bind if a potential buyer finds them on the registered sex offenders list.
“Living within a tenth of a mile of a registered sex offender would most certainly devalue your home,” Danuser said.
13. Street Traffic
Live on a busy street? It could negatively impact your property value. "Houses on, or that back up to, busy thoroughfares generally have less value than the exact same house would if it were in a more quiet spot," Case said.
14. Noise Pollution
Buyers might also be sensitive to other types of excessive noise around your property. Danuser pointed out that anything from living within hearing distance of a commuter train to an airport — if you can hear the planes — can affect your home value.
15. Unsightly Buildings Nearby
Danuser mentioned that environmental elements like cellphone towers, power plants, landfills and the like can hurt your home value when it comes time for a home appraisal.
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16. A Bad Smell
People are sensitive to smell, so it's no secret that a bad smell, like cigarette smoke, can deter those looking to buy.
A strong deodorizer can be an indicator of a cover up, according to Michelle Beaudoin, realtor and owner of Beaudoin Realty in Western Queens, N.Y. Instead, she advised, “Bake a cake, a pie, brew coffee or use a diffuser with a scent of lemon, orange or apple. These odors will appeal to buyers.”
17. Tchotchkes and Other Clutter
You might love your collection of snow globes and antique perfume bottles, but it’s probably best to store them away while your house is being shown.
“Over-decorating and items of personal interest must be removed,” Beaudoin said. “Beware of clutter.”
18. Upgrades Without a Permit
If you build a little apartment in the basement without the proper permits, your appraisal report won't look too good. A bad home appraisal can actually block potential homebuyers from receiving funding for the home purchase, especially if the home has illegal upgrades.
Paneling in the basement or rec room was a trend a couple of decades ago. Today, you'll want to replace it to avoid looking dated.
"Unless you’re selling a ski lodge in New Hampshire," Kandawire said, "it’s time to tear that paneling down."
20. Carpet Everywhere
Many old homes have beautiful hardwood floors buried beneath carpet. You might love how cozy the rug feels under your feet in the colder months, but when it’s time to sell the house, rip up the carpet and expose those hardwood floors. Kandawire advised you call a professional refinisher to restore the grain to its original luster.
"You’ll add value back to your home faster than you can say ‘my feet are cold,'” she said.