Copyright: David Lawson - 1997Home page
Ingenious people those Americans. Home owners have begun hiding an electronic chip in For Sale boards which detect passing cars. They then tune the radio to a message giving details about the property. Not quite the thing for London's Docklands, perhaps. Imagine the sparks flying as half a dozen flats in one block fight for control of the airwaves. Why should anyone worry about gimmicks anyway when homes are in such short supply?
Mainly because sellers are usually buying something else and need every trick in the book to ensure a quick deal, so they are ready to grab the property they want. You don't need high technology, however. Just a good dose of common sense. Chips with everything would do little for what agents privately term 'third-gear failures'. This is where home-hunters slow down the car to view a property but one look at the outside is enough to prevent them stopping.
'Most potential buyers make up their minds within minutes of seeing a property,' says Peter Sloane, of Knight Frank, who handles hundreds of sales a year from his Isle of Dogs base. First impressions are crucial, and a scruffy exterior will outweigh any delights inside. But it is important not to go too far. A property should look neat and tidy, but not soak up lots of money at a time when it is probably in short supply. For houses, the front garden and paintwork make up the all-important first look, so cut the grass, plant a few flowers and patch up peeling windows. But don't spend hundreds of pounds on reroofing unless it is essential.
The front door is all that most flat owners have to worry about, although a few hanging baskets and a window box or two can help pick your property out of a wall of identical homes. Once inside, the real battle for attention begins. Again, gimmicks grab the headlines, including the old favourite of a half-cooked roll in the oven to give the homely smell of baking. But one seller recounts how the buyers were late and he forgot the bread. The place was thick with fumes when they arrived. Concentrate instead on cleanliness, says Knight Frank. Steam clean grubby carpets, wash windows and touch up scuffed paintwork. 'It is the equivalent of polishing your shoes and wearing a pressed suit for an interview,' says Sloane.
Don't redecorate, as buyers have their own colour ideas. 'I spent 1,200 on carpets and discovered they were thrown away within weeks,' says one owner. Move surplus furniture to a garage or friend's home. Hide kids and pets as well, as not all buyers appreciate them. But keep the odd toy or basket around to give a homely feel. Show buyers around, stressing good points rather than the British tendency to pick the bad and apologise. Then leave them to wander. A home that looks well cared for allows buyers to fall in love with it, says Knight Frank. And love overcomes all sorts of shortcomings they might otherwise notice. Remember also that even after hooking a buyer, it can all be wasted if the deal falls through. This is often because things drag on so long that buyers find an even more attractive prospect.
Owners can help things along by doing some of the work themselves. Appoint a solicitor as soon as the decision to sell. The paperwork can then be ready before a buyer has even made up their mind. Some sellers go as far as to do their own planning and title searches and pay for an independent valuation. These may not be acceptable to buyers who want to check things out themselves, but it can give extra confidence to justify someone else falling in love with your home.