What If You Have To Sell Your House?

So what happens if you have to sell you house in a down market? Say you’ve been transferred. Or you got married, and two houses is one more than you need. Or your family is growing, and more square footage is now a necessity instead of a luxury. Or you need to downsize your home to meet your newly-downsized income.

As I said last time, (did I promise to write again “tomorrow”?) that isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this market. Many Denver neighborhoods are plugging right along, appreciating at a lovely rate. Others have just stagnated for the past few years. And yes, some have taken a market-value tumble.

Regardless, homes are still selling in this market. There’s more competition, to be sure. Gone are the days of sticking a sign in the yard and watching the buyers line up. If you want yours to be the one that sells, you need to put some thought into it.

The first step is to check out your competition. You obviously can’t see all of the competition, because most buyers are looking at more than one neighborhood. But you can see the immediate competition – the other homes on the market in your price range that are near your house. Have your realtor show you pictures of the listings. If possible, schedule an appointment with him or her to actually go see those houses.

These are the other houses your buyers are looking at on the same day they look at yours. They are your competition.

First of all, your house needs to be nicer than theirs. Obviously, if they have a remodeled kitchen and you don’t, you won’t remodel yours just to get the upper hand. But whatever is in your control that makes your house better, do it.


A lot of updates don’t make sense when you’re selling a house. Others do. Flooring is one. If your carpet is old or worn or just unattractive, install new carpet. Sellers constantly say to me, “But won’t the buyers want to choose their own carpet?” Maybe, if they really thought about it logically. The problem is, buyers are not at their most logical when choosing a home. They’re emotional. And when they see ratty carpet, they think “ratty house.” New carpet looks good, it smells good, and it screams “new!!”

Paint is another good, easy, inexpensive fix. New paint, like new carpet, gives the house a “new” smell. It’s like new-car smell. It affects buyers on a level they can’t really describe. Plus, in warm neutral colors, it looks good. Incidentally, if you have any, umm . . . “bold” colors in your house, it’s especially important to neutralize them. With my buyers, houses get names. You don’t want yours to be “Purple Wall House.”

Minor kitchen improvements are also helpful. If your countertops or appliances are particularly dated, investing in new will pay off in the end. If your cabinets are old and worn, look into painting them. Put new hardware on them. There’s a lot you can do to make them look better without having to replace them.


Your house needs to be the cleanest. Trust me, buyers notice this. Not just the obvious things like trash in the middle of the room. Everything. You want shiny chrome. Dust-free corners. Clutter-free surfaces. Streak-free windows. Have the house professionally cleaned before it’s listed, and then keep it clean until it’s not yours any more.

Smells are really, really important. I’m a freak for smells. If a house smells funny or “off”, buyers notice. I have buyers who walk out if they don’t like the smell in a listing. Pets, food, trash – they can all affect the smell of a house.

The thing is, people often don’t notice the smells in their own houses. So ask a friend. Ask your realtor. Ask someone who will be straight with you. And then deal with it. If you have pet smells, thoroughly clean the carpet and any other surface the pet is exposed to. And then, ideally, send the pet on a vacation to Aunt Sally’s until the house sells.

Never ever try to cover up smells. It doesn’t work. I once showed a condo where the owner had obviously sprinkled cologne around to cover up some kind of obnoxious odor. It smelled like obnoxious odor mingled with cologne. It was disgusting.


To stage a home means to strategically arrange furniture and accessories to make the house more appealing to buyers. This is really important. I bring a professional stager in on all of my occupied listings.

If you have a vacant listing and you want to sell it fast, you might want to look into staging that as well. A vacant property can seem stark and cold. Stagers rent furniture to go into vacant properties, to make them look more warm and “homey.” It makes a big difference. Staged properties tend to sell sooner, and for more money, than those that aren’t staged.


So after your house is updated and cleaned and staged, you need to price it. And not only does it need to be the nicest property in the neighborhood, it needs to be the best-priced.

Seriously. In the old days, we’d tell people that they needed to spruce up and stage their homes so they could sell them for more money. Today, we say that you need to spruce up and stage your home so you can sell it. Period. It’s hard to sell a house when there’s so much competition on the market. Buyers look at a lot of houses. Yours has to stand out.

Of course, your house may not be the nicest house in the neighborhood. Your neighbor’s house may be full of cherry and granite and marble. They may have diamond-studded stairs. All the more reason to price uber reasonably. The less your house stands out for being the nicest, the more it needs to stand out by being clean and well-priced for the market.

There are two kinds of houses that sell in this market. The first type is the junky, ripped up foreclosures that sell for far less than market value. The second type is homes that are nicer and better priced than their competition.

Trust me, you want to be in one of those two categories.