I Just Want To Sell My Home!!!

4 Wing Cold Lake

So you are posted...

It's in.  The dreaded or eagerly anticipated (depending on how much you enjoyed your time in Cold Lake) POSTING Message.  It has been a tough few years in Cold Lake with our economic downturn and it is a hard Buyers Market.  Lots of inventory, new construction, and squeamish buyers are making the selling market a challenging one.  So here is some straight talk on selling your home.  I will have a new post each week so check back and see if my words of wisdom can help you get your home sold.

It Just Doesn't Make Scents...part one

One of the tools the Royal Lepage Northern Lights Realty office uses to generate interest in their listings is to conduct twice monthly REALTOR (R) tours, whereby we all load into our cars and convoy from new listing to new listing so that we can gather feedback on staging, pricing, et cetera.  The number one turn off that crops up is smell!  In today's society we see signs in hospitals and office buildings asking people to keep the perfumes to a minimum - the same goes for your house! Whether it's scented wax being melted or plug in scent warmers: GET RID OF THEM!!!!

"But Sherry?" you ask "I thought my house was supposed to smell like apple pie or fresh baked cookies?"  Absolutely!  So bake a pie.  Make some cookies, your family will be thrilled as will the agent who nibbles on them while showing your home.  However strong smelling deodorizers can aggravate allergies, people with asthma and frankly, after a long day of showing homes with different smells, give the agent and potential buyers a headache.

The long and the short of it is that your home should smell clean and fresh, so give it a thorough cleaning (easy on the Pine Sol (tm)), open a window (even a little bit in the winter) but lose the heavy scented air fresheners!

Little known real estate fact #1: we name houses by association.  Your home could be remembered as the " Holy crap perfume!" house or as the "Yummy cookie house!" , but it's your choice.

Cold Lake Kitchens
Cold Lake Kitchens

It Just Doesn't Make Scents...part two

Cats, dogs, work boots, hockey gear, last night's baked fish, the list goes on and on and on.  Oh the nasty smells that can accumulate in our homes over the years that we no longer notice out of a highly developed sense of self preservation.  Now your posting message is in and it's time to get the house SOLD!

Take a moment, go for a walk in the fresh air then walk back into your home.  What do you smell?  Take a look around the front entrance - what do you see?  Work boots?  Put them somewhere else and for heaven's sake - sprinkle them with foot powder! Is the entrance crowded with jackets, boots, shoes and backpacks?  Shoes smell and so does the lunch you packed for Johnnie that he didn't eat last week.  Get it organized and maybe use the closet by the garage for a bit.  Wander into the living room or family room, where is the dog bed or the cat tree?  Does your family space have a whiff of Eau D'autre Chein or the Perfume of Litter Box?   As your Agent I will be insistent that the Litter Box be cleaned every day.  Launder the old blanket that your dog uses for a bed while he is "guarding" the house, maybe give him a bath.  Are Janey and Johnnie on the hockey team?  Great!  But the potential buyers don't need to know that just by the smell in your garage.

Speaking of garages... it's wonderful that you aren't smoking in your house anymore, but the garage can be quite an eye opener for a non-smoker who opens that door.  You may want to give the garage a good cleaning too while you are at it.  And if you happen to smoke other recreational products please don't do that in either the house or the garage, trust me...you aren't fooling anyone with those air fresheners (see part one).

Which leaves us with my favourite room in the whole house! Its where memories are made: big family celebrations, friends over for a BBQ, holiday dinners, can't you just smell the roast turkey?  No? That's because you had cabbage rolls last night and it's lingering in the curtains and the table linens.  Curtains, carpets and quilts are the leading scent sponges in the house.  Take the curtains down and give them a wash and yes, I know it's pricey, but seriously consider having your carpets professionally cleaned prior to listing.  You would be amazed at how much better they will look and it could cause your home to sell for more money if the buyers don't think they have to immediately change the flooring.

I know that I have just told you not to use heavy scented air fresheners so you are probably wondering how you are going to mask all of these smells and still sell your house?  Well that is my whole point, don't mask these smells with other smells.  Put the kids to work, take a weekend and really clean your house from top to bottom.  Open some windows or if you are in a newer home take a look at the wall near your thermostat.  See that weirdly out of place light switch?  it's your home's air exchanger, turn it on.  A little fresh air never hurt anyone.

It's Not Easy Being Green

So the kids rushed in from school a few months ago and lectured you on the evils of your wasteful ways. Your little environmental rangers insisted on a vigorous recycling campaign that had you faithfully rinsing out bottles and cans, sorting and bundling newspapers and flyers, collapsing cardboard boxes from your latest Amazon (R) purchase, and (bless the little angels) collecting compostables in a bin under your sink. (Ahem! see my last post)

That was 6 months ago. The rinsing and sorting have gone by the wayside and it's been too cold out to run the blue bags out to the curb on collection day and the compostables have leaked through the brown bags because - well bears, right?!? Now you look out into your once spacious garage and find pizza boxes from each of 11 pizza joints in Cold Lake, blue bags everywhere and the mounting evidence that your Book Club may have a drinking problem (no judgement here! The Girl Guides in my neighbourhood are making out like bandits during bottle drives). It's time to set things right again and give your garage back to your car (and hockey bags).

When your home is being shown you want people to experience a calm and restful atmosphere, you truly are selling a lifestyle more than selling a house and if your garage is up to its armpits in hastily piled recycling and garbage it speaks volumes to potential buyers. It says: "I don't have enough time to do this task!" and then makes the buyers wonder what other maintenance on your home hasn't been done.

So pick a Saturday and put those darling little future environmentalists to work, after all this was their idea. Start the sorting and give them each a task, load up the back of the SUV and start hauling! With the money you get back on the Book Club Bottles you can treat them to pizza and begin the (re)cycle all over again.

Here is a link to the City of Cold Lake Recycle policy and the location of the blue bin drop off points in case you missed the curb side recycling pick up.

Cold Lake Recycling
Cold Lake Marina

Less is More...

Stuff.  We all have it.  The shot glass collection from bars around the world, the original VHS tape collection of every Disney movie ever made (and you don't even have a working VHS player), Stuffed animal mascots from every Olympics, ball caps with sports logos on them, you name it - we collect it.  We save it.  We LOVE it and we are sure that everyone loves to see our personal passion proudly on display.

The problem with this is that potential buyers are overwhelmed by the magnificence of your collection.  Rather than exploring the spacious rooms your home has to offer, they are busy checking to see if you have a "Wayne Gretzky 1979 O-Pee_Chee" hockey card in your collection.  That or wondering how they are going to spackle and paint over the 365 pushpin holes in the family room wall from your collection of NASCAR keychains (true story).  It is amazing how quickly a showing can be derailed when a potential buyer becomes transfixed by your collection of original Coca Cola memorabilia.  It becomes all they see and the house is lost in the clutter.  You know the old chestnut: Can't see the forest for the trees?  They won't remember that your home has granite counters, pristine hardwood and backs onto a nature reserve.

The same thing goes with family photos.  Today we celebrate the graduation of our children (complete with cap and gown) from preschool, kindergarten, elementary, junior high, senior high and finally University, all with full colour photo spreads charting their progress.  We love our kids and we are proud of them but please, limit the photos.  And if you have a home office with your Commissioning Scrolls and other Squadron memorabilia, consider taking them down.  I have had buyer clients recognize the seller from their office and decide against the home because they didn't want to mix business with friendship.

You need to declutter.  Yes, I know you know you have to declutter but I am serious here, you have to take stuff down and put it away.  Buy some storage bins and start packing.  Choose one nicely framed family photo and pack the rest away.

Showcase your home, not your stuff.  Trust me, your potential buyer has his or her own collection and hey - Pepsi drinkers may have an issue with a Coke branded house! 


Staging Basics

Welcome to "Our Lady of Perpetual Renovations"!

Ah! Lazy Sunday mornings. Coffee on the couch watching HGTV (the bain of REALTORs existence). You watch Brian Bohmer tear up flooring and snap down new laminate with ease, new colour on the walls and gorgeous chunky baseboard and trim with perfectly matched miter cuts. He makes it looks so easy and before you know it you are looking at your 12 year old, contractor grade carpet that has seen one too many Kool-Aid spills and thinking: "Damn! I can do that! We can have the house looking great by the end of next weekend."

You and your partner race to Rona and start choosing laminate and paint colours. Next it's on to Youtube for all of the "how to videos" and up comes the carpet. Whoa! That was gross! Good job you watched HGTV, look how much cleaner the house is going to be, how easy it's all going to go. Wait - should we paint first? Yes, lets paint first. Darn, the living room walls need to be spackled and sanded first. We should wash them down with TSP? What's that? Back to Rona.

And it begins. It has taken you a solid month and 10 trips to Rona for a compound, sliding mitre saw and more trim because unlike Brian Bohmer, you aren't a Journeyman Finish Carpenter with a film crew editing out your miss cuts.  You had to paint the living room twice because the first light grey paint you chose turned out lavender, but hey, the living room looks great. The only trouble is that now the trim in the living room doesn't match the trim in the rest of the house. Well if we are going to change out the trim in the bedrooms then we should paint first...and it begins again...Ugh! Our interior doors are really dated, we should change those too. Can we just buy the doors or do we need to need to do new pre-hungs?

Before you know it your one weekend project has turned into a year long epic battle. It has pitted you against the house and the house is winning. Every day as you get out of bed you are stepping over the mitre say in the hallway, there are paint rollers wrapped in plastic in your fridge, and flecks of drywall compound are everywhere.

I guess the moral of my drawn out story is this: professionals like Brian Bohmer and Mike Holmes make it look easy because they have been doing this kind of work for years. They have a crew of professionals working for them and they have the tools. That reno project that they just slammed out in 30 minutes actually took weeks if not months to complete. If you know that your flooring is finished and you want it replaced seriously consider leaving it to the professionals. Yes, it will cost more but sometimes the extra cost is worth not living in a reno zone for a year for substandard results. Know your limitations. Be careful what home renovation projects you decide to tackle on your own because Mike Holmes is not going to ride to your rescue.


Little known real estate fact #2: finished basements fall into 3 categories: Professionally finished, Talented amateur, and Shouldn't be allowed to have power tools!

Cold Lake Renos
Cold Lake Forest Drive

All the World's a Stage...

You've done it! You have cleaned, buffed and decluttered. You have painted, stained and cleared away recycle. Now it's time to stage.
STAGE?!? What do you mean STAGE?!? Well...sometimes, over the course of the years, the rooms in our homes gradually morph out of their original intended use into rooms that better suit our needs. An extra bedroom becomes an office, a small living room becomes a dining room, the family room becomes a teen's bedroom and there is nothing wrong with that. Until it is time to sell your home. Because, and here it comes: Little known real estate fact #3: People don't buy houses. They buy the lifestyle they portray! 
Let's face it, we all watch HGTV and yearn for bright, airy spaces, spa-like bathrooms in cool tones with white washed sea shells to hold the guest soaps. We long for bedrooms that go on for miles with matching linens and dozens of coordinating throw pillows on the acre of king sized bed. The walk in closet with clothes hanging neatly in colour gradient patterns. We dream of a family room with neatly stacked board games and a trolley style popcorn popper. You know: a home that screams "YES! I HAVE A FULL TIME CAREER AND THE PERFECT FAMILY HOME WITH NOTHING OUT OF PLACE! I AM AMAZING!" But if your teen aged son is camped out in the middle of the family room or there is laundry draped over the treadmill to dry in the exercise room your home is screaming "WE DON'T HAVE ANY ROOM LEFT IN THIS HOUSE AND IT WILL BE TOO SMALL FOR YOU MR BUYER!"

So before we list your home, take a week, take a look, and start moving your rooms back into their original configurations. If you haven't used it to make a meal in the last month, get it off of your counter. Take everything that is stuck to the fridge with a magnet down. Set the dining room table with your best dishes, take it back from homework time. Take everything off of the coffee table and leave only one decorative thing.  Get rid of the dog beds, they take up floor space and can make a room feel cramped. Too many house plants? If the movers won't take them, now is a good time to find new homes for them.  Go into the kids' rooms and take a critical look at them. Are their toys all over the place? If the kids haven't played with it in the past 3 months, pack them away. Get your children involved in the process, make a game out of it. Don't have time to do dishes in the morning? Have Janey load them in the dishwasher while Johnny helps you make beds each morning, and open all of the blinds and drapes, let the sunlight in so that your home is welcoming and bright.

You don't know when I am going to call with a showing request and your home should always look its best when you leave for the day. And here is my next: Little known real estate fact #4: Pretty homes sell faster and for more money! So take a look at some your competition online and see if you can "out-Martha" them.

Come On Down...

I have probably saved the most touchy selling subject to (almost) the last. Pricing.


Your home is your castle. It has sheltered you from the weather. You have celebrated milestones in it. You have mourned in it. It is an integral part of your memories and in a way it is a physical manifestation of your family in bricks and mortar (or in Cold Lake's case, vinyl and asphalt shingles). In your mind you have put it on a pedestal and it out shines all of the other homes in the neighbourhood.

In steps reality in the form of your Agent. Don't hate us, trust me, we have enough anxiety as it is. We have to look at your home in an unbiased, objective manner and compare it to what has recently sold, what is currently on the market and then judge where it best fits in that market.  We do cost analysis on how much it would cost to duplicate your home if it is a recent (within 10 years) build. We do a comparative market analysis if its older and judge it against the recent SOLDS, adding and subtracting for renovations and upgrades. We look at the market history and add and subtract the percentage changes to your values. Again, trust me, we aren't guessing your price and we aren't trying to hurt your feelings.

Don't over stretch! The buyers are not emotionally invested in your house and they are not willing to over pay. They don't care that you have measured the growth of your children on the kitchen door frame and in a buyer's market they have choices. When there are 35 homes within $25,000 of each other a buyer can afford to be choosy and if you are listed even $10,000 higher than a similar home then you are already out of the running and likely will not even be shown.

Your best chance to sell is in the first 30 days and if you over price it at the beginning you may end up selling for much less than had you listened to your Agent from the get go. So please, listen to your REALTOR (tm), that's why you are paying them. List your home at the price they recommend because there is nothing more frustrating than hearing the question "Why hasn't my house sold?" and having to say "Because the price isn't right."

Royal Lepage Northern Lights Realty
Cold Lake in Winter

Freeze Frame! (Yes, I know I am dating myself...)

This is going to be a long rant so grab a cup of coffee.

Photos, videos, virtual tours. We all do them, (usually, and if your REALTOR doesn't you need a new one). But there is a fine line between good photos, bad ones and OMG this home is featured in Life and Style!!!!

Photos are the number one marketing tool and serve 2 distinct purposes:

#1: REALTORs use them to showcase the listing, attract buyers, and show the sellers that they are working hard on their behalf, and

#2: buyers go online to www.realtor.ca to see what is available and view the photos to see if they like the yard, if the kitchen is big enough and in the simplest of terms: "Can I picture my family here?".

The harm that the lack of photos does is obvious. Having no photos screams "Run for your lives! This is a handyman special!!!".  But bad photos, be they out of focus or with a fisheye lens or taken with the wrong aspect ratio are a bit more insidious: blurry photos don't allow the potential buyer to actual see the property and it becomes lost in the many listings, fisheye photos just make you dizzy and the wrong aspect ratio doesn't allow the buyer to properly judge room size.  Now you are asking: "Sherry, what do you mean the wrong aspect ratio?". Glad you asked because its a huge pet peeve of mine.

CELL PHONES! We all have them and I will not dispute that the cameras on them are pretty amazing but for some unknown reason no one thinks to turn them sideways when they are framing pictures. Little known real estate fact #5: We don't upload directly to realtor.ca. First we upload to our Real Estate Board Database which then uploads to realtor.ca and each database will resize and screw with our photos. So if your aspect ratio is wrong then your photos gradually get smaller and more wonky.

Okay so now onto OMG photos. Much like your collections (see my post: Less is more), OMG photos can be a distraction during a showing and can actually alienate a buyer. If I had a nickel for every time I have heard: "Wow! The photos are so much better than the house!", well let's just say I would be retiring.

But that's just it, the potential buyer then wanders around the house mildly miffed that he or she has been duped. Now don't get me wrong, it's a know your audience kind of thing. If you are selling a million dollar property? Absolutely, it should look like a magazine spread and I strongly encourage the idea of hiring a professional photographer complete with assistant and lighting to do the shoot.  It will cost about $1000.

So where does that leave us. Oh right! Accurate photos taken with the correct aspect ratio (see I have said it enough, now you have a new term bouncing in your head) and mildly tweaked for colour and light. Believe it or not it is better to take photos on a dull, overcast day with all of the lights on and a forced flash than on a bright sunny day and then tweak them with a program before uploading. There should be plenty of different angles of each room to give the potential buyer an idea of space and flow. I have lots of sellers who like to take their own photos and some of them are pretty good, but please do not be upset if I come and take my own. You may have missed an angle or two or I may want to tweak your staging to make the room show to its best potential.

There should also be exterior photos showing your yard at its best. So if you think there maybe a chance that you are moving next year, planning is everything! Call me or grab your camera (and if you use your phone please turn it sideways!) and snap some shots just after you have mown the grass and weeded the flower beds. Remember what it felt like when you came on your house hunting trip in April five years ago and you saw nothing but dirty, nasty, melting snow banks? We want to remind buyers that it's just a phase and that Cold Lake is capable of being pretty and we have the photos to prove it!

Marketing and showing your home

Realtor.ca, personal websites, social media marketing, Youtube.  Any agent worth their salt uses every tool available to them to market your home to the widest audience possible.  It's our job, it's what we do.  We take amazing photos and then "tweak" them, we take video and we edit it, we sit at our word processors and find new and exciting ways to describe a 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom home with a double attached garage and then we upload to all of our databases and websites and then we...wait.  

The line is cast, the bait is fresh, now we wait for a nibble.  Sometimes the wait is short (sellers market) and sometimes the wait is long (either buyers market or you didn't listen to your agent and listed it too high) regardless; we are now at the mercy of the potential buyers.  We do try to move things along such as agent tours and open houses but basically we are waiting for the potential buyer who is bored on his/her night shift and cruising realtor.ca to kill time.

So how does it work?  Sometimes a potential buyer has already chosen an agent to work with and they have set up a listings search and the moment your home is released - they get an email with all the details, they like what they see and ask their agent to set up a showing.  Sometimes they really are just bored at work and they click on the "Get more information" button and the email will come directly to me, at which point I will answer the question and hopefully establish a connect that leads to a showing. Last but not least, they are here on a house hunting trip and their agent decides that your home fits their criteria and books and showing.

Usually looking at homes is a planned activity, people have been to the bank, have been pre-approved for a mortgage and they are serious about the process.  These people and their agents plan well in advance and we usually have the request for a showing if not the night before then early in the day for that evening.  Appointments are usually booked 15 minutes apart because most people will know within 5 minutes if a home has made it to the second look list or not.  

Occasionally when a person is coming in for house hunting, one of their favourites will no longer be available and we will be asked if we can accomodate a short notice showing because we also fit their criteria and I always encourage my clients to say yes - because house hunters don't waste time.  They only have a few days to look, choose, negotiate and inspect so they are serious.

No - its the "Hi! Sherry? I am parked out front of your listing at 123 Anywhere St. Can we take a look now?" that we want to avoid.  Now when I say avoid - let me clarify: buyers should be qualified (have been to the bank and are serious about buying) not "Hey that's a pretty house and I have always wanted to see inside!"  So I will ask the hard questions and find out if we have a potential buyer or a serial house stalker.  Serial house stalkers take a hobbiest approach to homes and waft in and out of houses without ever having the intention of buying.  They are out there and it's my job to separate the wheat from the chaff.

So we have a showing at 1230 (that means anywhere from 1215 to 1245).  If its a dull day: open all of your blinds and drapes, turn on all of the lights, maybe leave some soft music playing (elevator music - not A/C D/C).  If you can - set the table as if for a dinner party, bake those cookies. Remember: people buy the lifestyle a home portrays.  If it has been snowing or it is icy - please clean your walkway, we don't need a lawsuit.  And if it's an after dark showing please leave your front light on.

The agent should leave their business card on the counter and turn off all the lights (they may leave one light on if it's after dark) and they will lock all doors.  If they don't - I want to know about it!  After a reasonable period of time I will text the showing agent for feedback.  Sometimes its productive: home feels a little cluttered, or: there was an odd smell in the boy's bedroom.  Other times we get: the rooms are too small, or: they prefer an open concept home, and sometimes we get completely ignored.  Just know that I am asking and will give you what ever feedback I receive and hopefully - we get a second showing or better yet: an offer!

Next time: we have an offer - now what?