Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Selling Your Home to Millennials

Are you a homeowner in your 50s or 60s who hankers to simplify life by selling your high-upkeep house and moving to a condo? If so, it's critical you consider the preferences of an increasingly important segment of the home-buying market: people in their 20s and 30s.

"The younger buyers absolutely know what they want and can be very inflexible about getting it," says Paige Elliott, a real estate agent who's sold homes since 1998.

"They've done a tremendous amount of research prior to stepping inside a single house. They know the exact neighborhoods they like and the price range they can afford," Elliott says.

With so much pre-screening done by purchasers, she says it's important that sellers make sure their property appears online with plenty of professional-quality photos.

Many agents hire highly qualified photographers to take pictures of their listings and cover the cost themselves. But even if you have to reach into your own pocket for this service, Elliott says it's worth it.

Of course, getting young buyers to agree to visit your place is only half the battle. They must also like its interior. Ashley Richardson, a veteran real estate agent, suggests you consider hiring a "stager," an interior design specialist trained to give properties a more polished look.

Stagers first remove excess furnishings and then rearrange the remaining pieces to give rooms a sleeker, more spacious appearance. To complete the look, they may also lend home sellers a few extra designer items -- like area rugs, decorator pillows or pieces of art.

Nowadays, many real estate agents are taking classes on staging to help their clients. But if your listing agent isn't one of them, and can't recommend a stager, you can hunt for one in your local area through such organizations as the Real Estate Staging Association (realestateassociation.com).

Here are a few other pointers for home sellers:

-- Address your windows.

If you're an older homeowner who's lived in your place for a long while, you may still be using window coverings acquired years ago.

But Sid Davis, a real estate broker and author of "A Survival Guide to Selling a Home," recommends you remove any old draperies. (Windows in your bedrooms and bathrooms can be covered with simple white shades purchased from a home center store.)

Another key to bright, sparkling rooms is to thoroughly clean your windows.

Davis contends that many people who are reasonably fit and don't have unusually high windows can do this cleaning project themselves without hiring a contractor.

"The cost of buying window cleaning supplies is minimal, especially if you already have a ladder. In that case, all you'll need is a painting extension pole, a squeegee and a bucket of water mixed with a little dishwashing detergent," Davis says.

-- Hide your family photos.

There's nothing that will date your place faster in the eyes of young homebuyers than personal photos taken decades ago.

Davis says any personal photos can make it psychologically difficult for young buyers to picture themselves living in your property.

"People of all ages want a fresh start when they buy a house. They lose this vision when they see all your memorabilia," Davis says.

-- Update your bathroom lighting.

In their bathrooms, many older homes still feature Hollywood-style lighting with globes set on a chrome bar. But Davis says such fixtures seem dated to many young homebuyers, who typically want something more stylish and less cliched.

"Look for bathroom lighting with a fresher, more current look. It shouldn't cost too much to replace bathroom lights. Likely you can replace any bathroom fixture for around $100 or so," he says.

-- Count on paint to freshen your place.

One sure bet for adding appeal to your interior is to repaint walls and trim throughout, Richardson says. And she says you're much more likely to appeal to young buyers if you avoid repainting your rooms in the sort of bold paint tones that some agents call "commitment colors."

Instead, she urges you to pick paint colors that are muted, near-neutrals.

-- Renovate your front entrance.

Tom Early, who's worked with hundreds of young buyers during his long career as a real estate broker, knows which updates excite a positive response in purchasers. He says sellers who have a limited amount of cash to spend on upgrades should consider using it to beautify their front entrance, which will enhance the home's appeal to buyers of all ages.

"You can get a good feel for how your entrance looks by walking across the street from your property. If the entrance isn't fabulous, make a change," says Early, who was twice president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents.

As he says, owners who are serious about selling should realize they can better their prospects with a small investment in improvements to their front walkway, to the landscaping around their front door and to the door itself.

"If painting your door doesn't make it look wonderful, spring for a new door. A wonderful door shouldn't cost you more than $1,000, and it's worth every dime," Early says. (To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at ellenjamesmartin@gmail.com.)