House-selling prep tips from professionals

Subhead: Purge the personal, appeal to broader audience

RE/MAX Premier Realty broker/realtor Sarah Hayenga relaxes in the open concept living space of the Worthington condominium she has recently put on the market. The space demonstrates realtors’ common advice to sellers: Declutter and depersonalize homes for broader general appeal to potential buyers. (Special to The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — Thinking about selling your house?

Then listen closely: It’s not about you.

“If you have a lot of family photos hanging around, it’s good to take them down,” advised Staci Murphy, a realtor with Edina Realty of Worthington.

“You want the buyer to imagine their own things and their family in your home, so if it’s too much about you, it’s harder for people to envision that,” added Murphy’s business partner, Renee Baerenwald.

Sarah Hayenga, a broker/realtor with RE/MAX Premier Realty of Worthington, concurred.


“Having a few small photos here and there is okay, but if you have large portraits or complete photo walls featuring family members, take them down.

“Seeing them makes buyers stop and go, ‘Oh, that’s who lives here,’ and they suddenly think about the current family occupying the space and quit picturing themselves in that house.”

Removing family pictures and other personal mementos can be psychologically difficult for some people, but Hayenga reminds her sellers to keep the ultimate goal in mind.

“It’s a hard message for people to hear sometimes — that their personal preferences aren’t as generally popular — but if you’re trying to sell your house, you’re planning to move anyway, so you might as well start packing it up and putting it away,” Hayenga said.

Baerenwald and Murphy offer similar advice to their clients.

“We urge people to declutter their homes and to remove collections of objects,” said Baerenwald.

“And if there’s an abundance of things — whether that’s furniture or collections — people can have a hard time gauging how big a room really is,” added Murphy.

Additionally, Hayenga points out once again that your personal tastes can deter a quick sale.


“Just because you love it doesn’t mean everyone else does or will,” said Hayenga, noting that realtors strive not to be judgmental but rather try to help their clients maximize a property’s appeal. This trio of experienced realtors — Hayenga has logged nearly 12 years in real estate, while Baerwald has 14 years of experience and Murphy, 13 — reminds potential clients their professional insights can benefit sellers, who needn’t think all should be “perfect” before they engage the services of a realtor.

“People shouldn’t feel they have to have their house all ready for viewing before a realtor walks through it for the first time,” said Baerenwald. “Part of our job is to help guide them in preparing it."

“And we’ve seen it all, so nothing surprises us,” added Murphy. “We can actually save sellers some time and money because they might believe there are all these things they need to fix or change when we can advise them about what maybe isn’t as big a deal.

“I tell them, ‘Let’s concentrate more on this than that,’” she added.

Indeed, it can be the smallest fixes that make a major difference when it comes to the selling process.

“This might seem like nothing, but make sure all your light bulbs work,” said Hayenga. “It can not only be annoying if you can’t turn on a light in a basement, closet or other space, but it also delivers a subconscious message of ‘deferred maintenance.’

“A burned-out light bulb can make a buyer think there are other issues of deferred maintenance, even if you have recently done something major like installed a new roof or furnace,” she added.

Along with ensuring that all light bulbs are functional, Baerenwald suggests being on the lookout for other “minor maintenance things” that you, as a homeowner, have simply ceased noticing.


“Sometimes we’ll do a first walk-through and spot a missing cabinet handle and the homeowner will say, ‘Oh, yeah, we have that right here,’” she commented. “It’s just the little things you get used to that don’t stand out to you anymore — but they will to a potential buyer.”

Another example: Outdoor décor that isn’t in sync with the season.

“Sometimes people leave their Christmas lights up — and that’s okay, if you’re not trying to sell a house — but if it’s March or April I’m probably going to tell a client, ‘Let’s get those down,’” said Hayenga.

Hayenga mentions other easy ways to make a positive first impression.

“Make sure the front door — or whichever door potential buyers will enter — opens and closes easily,” she said. “Placing a flower pot by the front door, or a vintage chair, can make the entrance look even more inviting.

“And keep your house as bright as possible because most people prefer natural light,” Hayenga added. “When you’re heading out for work but know your space will be shown that day, open up the drapes and blinds before you leave.”

Beyond tidying and cleaning up — eliminating large stacks of papers, junk mail or magazines, and making surfaces sparkle as much as possible — these realtors identify an element that can turn off buyers faster than almost anything else.

“When a person first walks in the door of a home, whatever they smell will stick with them,” said Hayenga. “If there’s no odor at all, that’s great, because sometimes even flowery smells aren’t agreeable to everyone, but if there are any noticeable pet or smoke odors, I’m pretty quick to point them out because that can be a deal-breaker.”

Agreed Baerenwald, “The way a home smells is HUGE. If someone smokes in a house, you can tell, and exotic cooking ingredients can be problematic too.”

“If someone with allergies walks in, they might say within the first three steps, ‘I can’t be in this house,’” said Murphy. “Odors can be improved by cleaning carpets, airing out the house or giving walls a fresh coat of paint.”

Contributed Baerenwald, “A little paint can go a long ways, especially if a room hasn’t been painted for many years; it just freshens things up.

“In general, it’s important to have your house smelling as clean as it looks.”

Hayenga said area residents are lucky to have close at hand what it takes to bring their house up to “showing speed.”

“Worthington is fortunate to have several good local resources,” said Hayenga, mentioning Schwalbach Ace Hardware, Runnings and Diamond Vogel, among other businesses that have what homeowners need to make necessary small improvements.

“Even if you have to take down a big family photo and then have a big open space on your wall, visit the Daily Apple or another shop to pick up a more generically attractive decorative piece,” she said.

In short, these realtors say sellers don’t need to worry about installing a brand-new kitchen when it’s really more the little things that will make a difference.

“The best advice I have for a seller is to pretend you’re the buyer of your house and ask yourself if you would consider buying it in its current condition,” said Murphy.

And to keep it all from seeming overwhelming, Baerenwald suggests taking it step by step.

“Walk through, room by room, with a notebook and look around,” said Baerenwald. “Make a list of things that could or should be done in that room and think about approaching it one room at a time.”

Even so, be realistic: selling your house will take a degree of effort on your part.

“I tell people that if you’re not a fan of doing dishes more than once a week, or you don’t usually make your bed daily, those are things you will have to do when you’re trying to sell your home,” said Murphy.

Fortunately, most people seem to get the message.

Said Hayenga, “People are generally receptive to ideas and suggestions when they’re motivated to sell a house.”

Sarah Hayenga can be reached at RE/MAX Premier Realty, 1626 Oxford St., Worthington, 360-8984 (cell) or 727-9812 (office). Renee Baerenwald and Staci Murphy can be reached at Edina Realty, 1425 N. McMillan St., Worthington, 360- 5197 (Murphy’s cell), 507-379-0950 (Baerenwald cell) or 727-7355 (office).

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