Many of you already know that I am a Realtor®, in addition to doing some sales work for a local paper and a bunch of volunteer work. The Michigan Governor’s stay home executive order has had a dramatic impact on that aspect of my life.
We all know that we are supposed to stay home, wash our hands a lot and practice social distancing. We can do that. The real estate market has been effectively shut down by the Governor’s stay home order. Realtors are not considered to be essential components of the infrastructure under this order and, thus, are not allowed to show homes during the shutdown or to visit homes in order to list them. It’s disappointing, but a logical precaution to take.
What if you are a would-be home seller or buyer? What else could you be doing, while you wait out the government mandated self-quarantine?
If you want to sell your home, use the time to work on the little things that can increase its value or allow it to sell faster, once the government releases the market from this shutdown. There are lots of advice articles (some in posts to this blog) on the things that home owners should do to get their homes ready for market. Most of the time homeowners just don’t have (or take) the time to do therm. The result is a house that is really not ready for visitors or which leaves a bad first impression because of those little things. You have the time now that you are confined to your home to get those things done. Walk through your house with an eye to identifying all of those little things that you know are there, but which you have trained yourself to ignore. Things to look for and make note of include:
- Declutter each room – what can you take out of the room to make it look bigger and cleaner?
- Cleanliness – what needs dusting, cleaning , vacuuming, or wiping – just do it
- Small repairs – replace those missing or worn/dirty plug covers or light switch covers
- Larger repairs – fix those tape and nail pops in the drywall, especially those along the ceilings
- Paint touchups – either touch up or repaint areas of wear or areas that you just repaired
- Replace missing handles/pulls on kitchen and bath cabinets and drawers and any doors
- Wash windows and, if you can, replace any cracked glass and repair windows with broken seals
- Clean or re-grout bathroom tubs and showers and replace worn out fixtures as needed
- Trim exterior hedges and bushes, especially around the front door
- Fill and smooth any basement floor or wall cracks in unfinished basements
There are many more things that you might start to notice that you need to do, once you start working your way down that list. The whole point of the exercise it to deal with the things that might distract a buyer later or cause them to back off from making an offer.
Either buyers will make lists, in writing or mentally, when they go through your house of all of the things that they see that need to be done to make the house “perfect” for them. If they make an offer, they will use that list in two ways – as a negotiating tool to get those repairs made prior to closing or as justification for reducing their offer price (sometimes both). You have the time right now, while you are on lockdown to shorten that list. Anything that you can do to take items off their list will help your home sell faster and for more money.
If you are a would-be buyer, this is a frustrating time. Due to the stay at home order, homes may not be visited; so, what are you to do?
Some Realtors are experimenting with so-call “virtual showings”. These are usually video based and offer the “visitor “a virtual walkthrough of the home, sometimes accompanied by audio remarks by the seller to explain what you are seeing. At a minimum there are usually lots of pictures available that have been posted by the listing agent. It is important that you use the right real estate web site to get access to the most pictures. Some sites restrict the number of pictures that can be posted. I recommend using the Realtor.com site, which taps into the local Multi-list Services (MLS) and usually provides access to all of the pictures that are on the MLS.
The reason for doing virtual visits or going through the web-site pictures is to give yourself practice on what to look for and to help you refine what it is that you are really looking for in a new home. Make note s as you view the virtual tour or pictures of features that you liked and did not like. If you are a buying couple discuss each home you look at that way, so that you begin to understand each other’s point of view. Discuss the features on which one or both of you are willing to compromise and which are “show stoppers” for one or both of you. This will help you narrow your search when you actually can start to make visits.
Learn and practice what to look for when you walk through a real house. You have to train yourself to ignore some things, like the current paint colors or furnishings that are there now, and start looking instead for things that might indicate problems that will need to be resolved:
- Scan the wall-ceiling lines to look for any signs of water intrusion
- Also look for ghosting on the exterior walls and ceiling that indicate possible insulation issues – just google ceiling ghosting to see what this is
- Look closely at the windows for cracks or cloudy glass that indicates an issue with the seals
- Look for evidence of leaking fixtures under the sinks and around tubs and toilets
- Look for obvious signs that maintenance has been delayed or ignored (those missing switch plates or cabinet pulls are a telltale sign)
- Look past clutter, but take lack of cleanliness into consideration, which is another sign of of a homeowner who hasn’t maintained things well.
- Check the age and condition of the furnace and water heater and look for signs that they have been maintained – both have limited lifespans and the owner may be trying to pass off the need to replace them to you.
- Check with the FEMA database to see if the property is in a FEMA flood zone You may be required to buy expensive flood insurance if it is.
Revisit your financial criteria and plans. Do some research on the cost to make common repairs or to renovate areas of a house. There are many reports available on line of repair cost estimates and renovation costs. Ask your mortgage person about programs that they may offer to help with renovation costs, if you end up making a bid on a house that needs renovations. Also as your mortgage person about programs that might be available in certain areas to allow for low, or no, down payment mortgages, which can save that money for the renovations that you see are needed. Arm yourself with all of this knowledge and practice by applying it to the homes that you visit virtually or through MLS pictures.
By using this down time in your home search to better educate yourself on these and other topics, you will be a more well informed buyer and will find the new home that you desire much faster. It is especially useful to hash out with your partner what it is that you are both really looking for in a new home. You can also develop a practice of looking at listings with a more discerning eye, which will save you time by eliminating those listing s that you would probably eliminate anyway of you visited them.
So, you see that there is plenty to do for both buyers and sellers during this stay at home time. Your Realtor will be happier, too, because you will not be wasting your time or his/hers visiting hoems that just won’t fit for you.