Mary McCall has sold homes since 1987, and with each year that passes she encounters more would-be sellers who resist the need to make vitally important pre-sale improvements to their front yard.
"A house that looks uninviting from the street won't capture enough buyer interest to get showings. But a house that looks fabulous from the street -- with manicured flower beds, blooming perennials and fresh mulch -- can command tremendous buyer interest," says McCall, president of the Council of Residential Specialists (www.crs.com).
"If you have weeds growing everywhere and vines climbing out of your gutters, your house will take longer to sell and for less money. That's because buyers who see an out-of-control yard assume the mechanical systems inside the house have also been neglected," McCall says.
As she notes, bushes and trees that grow near a property shouldn't rise above the bottom of window frames. And lawns should be kept weeded and fertilized, with all plants near the property kept trim and healthy.
Failing to tame an out-of-control yard is one common error many home sellers make. Here are a few others:
-- Mistake No. 2: Trying to show your home with a grimy interior.
Sid Davis, a real estate broker and author of "A Survival Guide to Selling a Home," says that trying to sell a home that's unclean is a huge mistake.
The problem is that buyers view other people's dirt and mess as far more objectionable than their own poor housekeeping.
"Those dirty dishes in the sink and the piles of dirty laundry in your teenagers' bedrooms are really a huge turnoff for buyers," Davis says.
As with yard work, McCall says fewer homeowners now have the time or willpower to tackle in-depth housecleaning chores. But when attempting to sell a property, cleanliness is paramount.
"Everybody wants a fresh start when they move. That's why buyers love a super-clean place. If a house they step into is dirty, they'll immediately turn around and walk right out," she says.
Unless their homes are immaculate, McCall recommends that sellers pay for in-depth cleaning. And she suggests that those planning to hire a professional cleaning service, as opposed to an individual, check customer reviews on a website that tracks service providers, such as Angie's List (www.angieslist.com).
-- Mistake No. 3: Rebuffing your listing agent's advice on fix-ups.
As real estate experts point out, sellers benefit when they receive a critique of their property well before it goes up for sale. That way they have time to make sure that all important repairs and upgrades are done before buyers troop through.
But Davis contends that too many agents "fear giving sellers the straight truth." He says some worry their candid remarks about a property could cost them the chance to obtain or retain the sellers' business.
But home sellers who are savvy welcome constructive criticism, he says.
"Why not hand the agent a room-by-room checklist on which they can itemize the improvements you need to make to maximize the sale? And leave space on the checklist for changes to your yard," Davis says.
Obviously, it's not enough to merely solicit feedback. You'll also need to go down the checklist and make the suggested changes, whether these involve replacing stained carpeting or fixing leaky faucets.
-- Mistake No. 4: Listening to pricing suggestions from know-it-all neighbors.
As soon as word spreads that you're planning to sell, the odds are neighbors will begin offering advice on pricing.
"Neighbors believe they'll benefit if you price high because they think that will push up local home values," Davis says.
But neighbors' views on pricing are often based solely on wishful thinking or the rumored sale prices for other homes that have sold. That's why Davis recommends you ignore their suggestions and set your asking price only after sitting down with your agent to do a systematic review of recent sales in your area.
"If you want another opinion, call in an appraiser. That's much better than relying on gossip," Davis says.
With rare exceptions, he urges sellers to avoid the common error of trying to "test the market" with a list price higher than what similar properties in the area have fetched. That's because an over-market asking price usually hurts the reputation of a home and yields less in the long run.
"It's one of the great ironies of real estate that greedy sellers are usually shortchanged in the end," he says.
-- Mistake No. 5: Hanging around during showings.
Real estate agents almost always advise their clients to disappear when their property is shown. But some sellers believe they know better and insist on staying around.
"These sellers don't like strangers walking through their home, which they find unsettling. They worry something bad will happen to the property if they're not there to protect it," says Fred Meyer, a longtime broker who sells real estate around Harvard University.
But, as Meyer explains, it's tough for buyers to bond with a property if they must muffle their comments to avoid offending the owners.
"Buyers need to be able to say out loud the negatives about a house so they can figure out how they'd address them. It takes a lot of energy not to say what you really think," Meyer says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at email@example.com.)