The Housing Scene by Lew Sichelman

How to Sabotage Your Sale

There’s nothing more offensive than a seller hovering over a would-be buyer when he or she is looking at the house.

Well, maybe there is. Here are four overlooked ways sellers sabotage the sales of their homes:

-- Access. If a prospect can’t tour the place, they probably won’t buy it. Sellers must be as flexible as possible when it comes to showings. Yes, life often gets in the way: kids, ballgames, family is here from out of town, blah, blah, blah. But if you want to sell it, people need to see it -- on their terms, not yours.

“Access is huge,” says agent Kathleen Daniels of K.D. Realty in San Jose, California. “It won’t sell if people cannot see it.”

Access also refers to a buyer’s ability to actually get into the house. So fix the front door if it sticks, and make sure the screen door or storm door works properly. While you’re at it, make sure the keys work easily. People don’t want to hear something about having to jiggle it, or turn it just this way or that to make it work. If it doesn’t work smoothly, change the lock.

“I don’t have time to figure out the idiosyncrasies of your lock,” says Travis Parker of Team Linda Simmons in Enterprise, Alabama.

-- Smells. You love your two dogs and three cats, and you also love to cook. That’s great, but remember that animals and dinners give off odors -- sometimes pungent ones that can send would-be buyers running for the exits. You live with these smells every day, so you probably don’t notice them. But prospects will.

Smoking also offends the olfactory nerves of many people, so if you can’t quit altogether, light up outside until the house is sold. And be sure you clean up your butts. Would-be buyers don’t want to see your leftovers any more than they want to smell them.

“Smoking drives me crazy,” comments Elyse Berman of Realty Associates Florida Properties in Boca Raton. “Maybe I am oversensitive to it, but most buyers ... will agree.”

Speaking of stink, don’t burn scented candles every time the house is being shown, or fill every room with a plate full of potpourri. Your intentions are good, but many people find the smells unpleasant. And they can easily prompt buyers to wonder what you are trying to cover up.

Want to kill your sale? “Put lots of plug-in air fresheners in your house,” says Holly Weatherwax of Momentum Realty in Reston, Virginia. “A lot of them.”

-- Pets. Not everyone loves your dog or cat -- or pet snake, for that matter. Some folks fear them; other folks are allergic. So get them out of the house when showing the place. This even goes for your friendly little pooch who never, ever bites. You don’t want a would-be buyer to be the first to prove that untrue. And most people don’t like the idea of cat dander on their pant legs from your friendly feline rubbing against them.

It’s not enough to stick your pets in the garage or the backyard. After all, buyers will want to see the garage and backyard. Plus, a yapping mutt outside is a big distraction.

Instead, take them to a friend’s house if you can, and try to remove any reminders that you have a pet at all. Get rid of the litter box, the dog beds, the food and water dishes and the piles of dog, er, residue in the yard.

“One of my worst showings ever had everything, including a barking dog, a live chicken on the kitchen countertop, cat poop on the floor, boxes everywhere and who knows how many people upstairs,” says Barbara Bartell-Kamp of Keller Williams in White Plains, who didn’t bother going upstairs to find out.

-- Stuff. Most longtime homeowners have too much stuff. Their places literally overflow with it: furniture, knickknacks, family photos, collections, books, etc. So pare it down. You live with your stuff every day, so you may not notice it. But visitors do.

“Having to blaze your own trail through a showing is not helpful,” says Carol Lynn Johnson of RE/MAX Elite Realty in Franklin, North Carolina, whose pet peeve is too much furniture.

Remember, when your house is for sale, it is on stage. You want buyers to notice the big picture window, for example, but they may not if it’s covered by a massive set of drapes or blocked by a pile of best-sellers. And they may not realize just how large your secondary bedrooms are if they’re filled with boxes of stuff.

Pay particular attention to the kitchen counter. People can’t see how much counter space you have if it’s covered by coffeemakers, breadboxes and the like. Also, pay attention to other spots where stuff tends to accumulate, including the pantry, fireplace mantel and bookshelves.

The bottom line: “It takes a lot of work to sell your house,” says Weatherwax. “It is very difficult to pay attention to the house when there are so many nonessential things vying for a buyer’s attention.”