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Even as snow blankets much of the Utah landscape and frigid temperatures keep many folks inside, potential sellers who have had cold feet about putting their homes on the market may be warming to the idea.
But for those ready to make the big move, Realtors and others in the industry have some key advice although winter is not the best time to sell, anyone who's looking for a home right now is probably serious about it, and second, if you plan to cash in on the popular spring buying season, now's the time to start the prep work that will get your home ready to show to take advantage of improving market conditions.
Not everyone has the luxury of waiting until the traditional spring or summer homebuying season to plant that "for sale" sign, according to the consumer financial services company BankRate.com. So although it's true that you'll probably have fewer potential buyers during the winter, you'll also have less competition from other sellers meaning it can pay to make your home look like a refuge from the weather.
As you prep, those who sell homes for a living and those who've recently bought suggest you keep these thoughts top of mind declutter, sweat the details, depersonalize and clean like you have never cleaned before.
Start by thinking that you're already in the process of moving, said Angie Domichel Nelden, with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Midvale.
"Pack up your valuables," she said. "And I can't stress enough that if there's something you don't need or you aren't using, box it up. People don't mind boxes stacked in storage rooms or the garage, but spaces in the home must be free of clutter."
Declutter and declutter some more, she said. Closets and pantries shouldn't be crammed with stuff. Homebuyers open closets and pantry doors to check on space.
Also, concentrate on the kitchen and bathrooms, which are among homes' biggest attractions, she said. Store appliances you're not using, and put out fresh towels and mats.
"Make sure your home is light and bright," she added. "Open blinds and clean the windows. If there's a dark room, turn on the lights so that people don't have to look around for the switch. Light and bright is welcoming."
Details matter • Megan Holland, who spent eight weeks looking for a home this winter, was disappointed to see messy kitchens, unfinished bathrooms and a leaky roof.
Holland was surprised to see how many homes were in disarray during showings. One homeowner even left dirty dishes on the table.
"The worst house had old cat litter," she said. "There was a terrible odor."
The Sandy home she and husband Wes chose has everything they were looking for an open floor plan, spacious yard, and there was no need for repairs.
"Getting your first home is like magic," she said.
After sellers have decluttered, to make a house feel more like a home, they should focus on the details. But remember, no amount of money that's put into a home to fix it up will be fully returned, so seek professional advice before throwing tons of cash into what may be unnecessary home improvements.
Realtor Joshua Stern of Keller Williams Salt Lake City notes that remodeling projects typically generate returns of no more than 50 cents on the dollar, "so what kind of an investment is that?"
Rather than spending $10,00 to $15,000 to remodel a small kitchen, he advises staging the area instead. Clear off all flat surfaces, horizontally and vertically, such as walls and counters, getting rid of pictures, refrigerator magnets and any other visual clutter.
"[They] should be cleared of everything, other than decorative items, and those should be kept to a minimum," he said.
Also, step out of yourself and try to see your home as a buyer would, Stern added. To do that, sellers must suppress emotional attachments to their dwelling, and look at other homes that are for sale, again in an attempt to visualize their home through the eyes of a buyer. The goal is to get your house looking like a model home.
Less is more • Dave Frederickson, also with Keller Williams Salt Lake City and president of the Salt Lake Board of Realtors, said that in addition to resisting the temptation of engaging in a massive makeover, "what's needed is to start with a good hard cleaning."
Cobwebs hanging on the light next to the front door or a dirty entrance will turn off buyers. As soon as they walk into a room, they'll look for other things to prove what they've already established that the home is dirty.
Inside, replace cracked floor or counter tiles, fix leaky faucets, polish chrome faucets and mirrors, adjust doors that don't close and drawers that jam, and replace burned-out light bulbs.
For homes that are older, sellers may consider getting a modified home inspection. This shortened version is as not as costly as a full inspection, but prices vary by home.
If one is not in place, sellers also should consider getting a home warranty as a way of offering peace of mind to potential buyers.
Outside, shovel the walkways. When the weather clears, pull out weeds poking out through cracks in the driveway. And clean that grimy front door.
Also, depersonalize. Take family photos and pictures of sports teams off the walls so that the buyers can mentally place their own mementos on or in open spaces.
"A buyer will purchase only one home, but they'll will look at multiple properties and they find their dream home by process of elimination," said Frederickson. "Don't give them a reason to take your home off their list."
Almost every home shows better with less furniture, so remove big pieces that block or hamper paths and walkways, and put them in storage. Messy homes and yards appear much smaller than they are, and buyers have difficulties envisioning themselves in such untidy, cluttered settings.
Being prepared • If you plan to sell your home in the spring, be sure to clean off all the winter gunk from your home and yard. Clean outside walls, trim bushes and green up the lawn as soon as possible. Clear gutters and downspouts, mow the lawn and sweep the walkways.
Spring is a popular time to list a home for reasons old and new. In the past, corporate executives got their bonus checks in January and began to house hunt, while others received tax refunds. A spring purchase also gives buyers time for the kids to settle down over the summer before heading to a new school in September.
Melisa Bennett put her Draper home on the market in December, and she's been working ever since to keep it ready for potential buyers even those who drop by at a moment's notice. The task of making the house look like a model home isn't easy, she added, particularly when small children are living there.
"Putting your home on the market forces you to complete all the projects you were meaning to do through the years," she said. "It's also good to get the advice of a Relator, who'll give a fresh eye to all the things that you've grown accustomed to having around. To someone else, it may look cluttered, or not as good as you thought it did."
McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this story
Selling your home in winter
Crank up the heat • If potential buyers shiver at your open house, they aren't likely to stick around, let alone make an offer. Keep the thermometer at least at a steady 70 degrees.
Get shoveling • Keep the walkways clear. And make sure at an open house that people have a place to park. Don't clear just the driveway shovel out some spaces on the street, as well.
Build a snowman • With a Frosty in the front yard, you could even dress him up with a real-estate T-shirt or put a for-sale sign in his hands.
Become a weather freak • Be prepared for outside temperature changes when planning for an open house. If a big storm is headed your way, reschedule or push a morning open house into the afternoon.
Decorate, but don't go overboard • If your house is cold, empty and sterile, you could be sending the wrong message. Focus on a few light, classy seasonal touches.
Checklist to sell your home
Make minor repairs:
Replace cracked floor or counter tiles
Patch holes in walls
Fix leaky faucets
Adjust doors that don't close and drawers that jam
Replace burned-out light bulbs
Consider painting walls neutral colors
Make it sparkle:
Wash windows inside and out
Pressure-wash sidewalks and exteriors
Clean out cobwebs
Re-caulk tubs, showers and sinks
Polish chrome faucets and mirrors
Clean out the refrigerator
Dust furniture, ceiling fan blades and light fixtures
Bleach dingy grout
Replace worn rugs
Hang up fresh towels
Clean and air out any musty-smelling areas
Keep the sidewalks cleared
Mow the lawn
Paint faded window trim
Plant flowers or group flower pots together
Make sure your house number is visible