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How to make buyers fall in love with your house

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Fri 23 Aug 2019

How to make buyers fall in love with your house

If you’re hoping to sell your house this autumn, there’s no time to waste. “Aim to launch in mid-September once the schools are back,” says Giles Cook, the head of Best Gapp, a residential agency. “This gives you approximately ten weeks to find a buyer. The clock is ticking if you want to exchange contracts pre-Christmas.”

Obviously everyone has an eye on the Brexit deadline of October 31. With uncertainty all round, Cook adds that sellers must be more flexible with access for viewings, sensible with pricing and organised with all legal paperwork to avoid unnecessary delays — good advice for Boris Johnson too, perhaps. So what else?

Holly Lodge in Putney, southwest London, is on the market for £2.795 million through Savills. The five-bedroom home has a blue plaque honouring George Eliot, who lived there when she wrote The Mill on the Floss (1859-60)
Holly Lodge in Putney, southwest London, is on the market for £2.795 million through Savills. The five-bedroom home has a blue plaque honouring George Eliot, who lived there when she wrote The Mill on the Floss (1859-60)

Price it right
Allowing yourself to be flattered by the agent who quotes the highest price to secure your home on their books can cost you weeks or months, stalling your plans and allowing your sale to go “stale”.

“The most obvious answer is to set the price at a level that will attract immediate interest,” says Marc Schneiderman, the director of Arlington Residential, an independent estate agency. “One very effective ap proach is to quote a guide price of obviously less than the property is worth. This will result in attracting fairly immediate attention from multiple buyers and in turn, hopefully, multiple offers.” This approach does, however, require an agent who is confident in handling a competitive bidding situation correctly to ensure you end up with a price that is reflective of your home’s value.

Go off-market first
In prime spots there are advantages to trying an off-market sale. Selling under the radar gives a property an air of exclusivity and prestige, which can add a premium. “Kick off the marketing process discreetly, offering the property to a targeted selection of hot buyers,” Cook says. “Such buyers appreciate being given first dibs at a new instruction, plus it avoids the property being overexposed. In some cases it can encourage competitive bidding. Should a discreet tactic not work, then phase two is to go all out on the open market.”

What if the market is cold?
If you’re up for sale in a cold market, where buyers — when they show themselves — seem to have the power, don’t be downhearted, says Gavin Brazg of PropCast, which provides a house-selling “weather forecast” for England and Wales. “It’s still possible to sell quickly. Buyers are out there, they’re just really picky and only interested in the houses that represent best value for money.” His advice for such sellers is to position their property so it’s the best home at the cheapest price. “That’s the most effective way to get serious buyers through your door and making offers.”

Find the USP
Think of your home like a prize jewel that must be polished and shown off. “If you don’t know what its best feature is, think back to when you bought it,” says Phil Spencer, a co-founder of the property advice site Move iQ. “What was it that first caught your eye? If it worked for you, it’s likely to work for the next buyer too.” If it was the garden, don’t assume it will sell itself. “As we are moving into autumn, gardens, window boxes and planters need plenty of maintenance,” says Patrick Alvarado, the director of Nicolas Van Patrick, an estate agency in Knightsbridge, central London. “Clear away every single dead leaf, and not only for the photos. Maintenance needs to be ongoing.”

Ah yes, the photos. Buyers will decide in less than three seconds online if your property piques their interest, Spencer says. “The first images prospective buyers see should be a photographic greatest hits of your home. The key is to grab their attention. Whichever room or feature of your property you place in pole position, it should demonstrate the appeal of living there.”

Prop it up
Sprinklings of “living props” — a pair of wellies in the porch perhaps, or a dog lead on a coat hook — can help to foster that all-important “experiential” connection with would-be buyers. “Items like these scream ‘lifestyle’, but remember, when marketing a home you are living in there’s a fine line between a room that is well-dressed and one that others perceive as a complete mess,” Spencer says.

In other words, avoid “visual noise”, says Ashley Baker, an interior designer with Vesta Interior Design: “When you’ve been living somewhere for a while, it’s easy to accumulate trinkets, heirlooms and artistic oddities that all take up space. We naturally cling to such things, but what is equally important is to be mindful of the everyday consumables, such as magazines and paperwork; our brains tend to categorise these as temporary, which can then slowly become invisible as they are filtered out by our consciousness.”

So as well as keeping paperwork and general household detritus out of sight, be ruthless with clutter; store away rogue pieces until moving day.

This two-bedroom flat in Bath, Somerset, is on sale for £650,000, down from £700,000, with Knight Frank
This two-bedroom flat in Bath, Somerset, is on sale for £650,000, down from £700,000, with Knight Frank

Check your proportions
Staging a home well can be invaluable in capturing the interest of a less-than-imaginative buyer, who may just see vacant space with no atmosphere. “This is particularly important with homes that have rooms of an unusual shape or design, or a space that might be difficult to know how to use and furnish,” says Schneiderman.

The trick is to keep everything in context, Baker says. “It is easy to become overzealous and try to squeeze in all your ideas, but this will usually backfire. If you’re completely stuck as to where to start with staging a room, consider ‘radial balance’ — grouping items from a centred point. This could mean having a coffee table as your centred point and placing furniture around it in a circular shape to draw the eye.”

Light tricks
As the nights draw in, clever internal lighting is more important than ever, especially in basements and sub-basements, says Alvarado. He advises keeping the lights on during dark afternoons and evenings, and using uplighters to add height and atmosphere.

Don’t be too hasty to reach for the vat of flat matte paint. “Lots of white walls in the vein of Ikea chic are good at presenting a blank canvas, but have had their day,” Spencer says. “Bright white walls in smaller rooms are still a really good way of making those spaces look more spacious than they are, but in the rest of the house, focus on what’s homely. Clinical is definitely ‘out’.”

Know your buyer 
Developers of new-build homes spend huge amounts of money establishing just how to appeal to buyers, so take a tip from them and copy the way they market their wares, says Michael Holmes, a property expert for Homebuilding & Renovating magazine.

How are they dressing bedrooms? What are the must-have kitchen gadgets on display? There’s no national “one-size-fits-all”, so look locally to see how your home might measure up. Jamie Hope, the managing director of Maskells, an estate agency in London, says that it’s essential to cater to the right audience: “There is no point in creating a ‘Knightsbridge bling’ look — all gold, grey, black, glitzy finishes and coloured lighting — in old Chelsea, where the target audience is much more established and traditional, liking softer pastel colours and heritage finishes.”

Know when to clear off
Your presence is required, but only to approve marketing materials, liaise between agent and conveyancing solicitor and sign documents. Let your estate agent conduct the viewings — that’s what you’re paying for, after all. “You might feel the need to explain the house to the potential buyers, but they might end up over-associating you with the property,” says Jason Orme, a presenter of The Real Homes Show, an online home improvement programme.

It’s important to allow viewers to see how they might use the space available, rather than you telling them how to use it; being too directional can set up a barrier between seller and buyer.

If all else fails . . .
“Homebuyers are basically engaged in what amounts to a massive comparison-shopping exercise,” says Brazg. “Because of this, it’s crucial to choose the estate agent that knows how to correctly position your house in the market.”

If you’re stuck on the market after a month or so, with no tangible progress, be bold and reconsider your choice of agent. “If you have to go back and start again, it’s no shame,” he says. “As soon as possible, identify the local estate agency with the most appropriate database of, and relationship with, potential serious buyers. They must be able to generate the most viewings and offers from that database, and from direct interest via portal and offline advertising. Plus, they should come with integrity, experience and deep knowledge of how your local market works and the buyers active within it.”

• Dark green, teal, chocolate brown and purple are on trend for autumn, so invest a little on accent cushions and throws to update sofas and beds.

• Hang mirrors in small spaces such as hallways and on landings to give the illusion of a larger space. If your wall art is pretty mainstream, accent with lighting, but store anything that might raise an eyebrow.

• Add height and interest to rooms with visual tricks; lift low ceilings by using tall elements such as vases — always group in threes for maximum impact — or add metallic materials to lower levels to reflect the light.

• Scour Instagram for room set ideas. Plants refuse to die this year — choose large-leafed ferns, Monstera deliciosa (Swiss cheese plant) and rubber plants for affordable impact.

• If you have a fire or log burner, light it when viewings are scheduled. Nothing suggests cosy autumn home more than a warm hearth and the whiff of woodsmoke.