Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Homebound Owners: Preparing for a Delayed Sale

There’s no sugarcoating the reality: Real estate specialists acknowledge that due to the coronavirus outbreak, the usually robust springtime home-selling market has slowed to a near standstill in many areas, with both buyers and sellers backing off.

“No one knows for sure but it’s likely many sales that would have occurred this spring will have to wait until the summer, fall or maybe even longer,” says Stacy Berman, a veteran real estate agent who specializes in the luxury segment of the market.

National Association of Realtors chief economist Lawrence Yun says a new survey of real estate pros reveals that nearly half report a decline in buyer interest due to the outbreak. Numerous sellers are also retreating from the market, canceling open houses and other showings.

“The decline in confidence related to the direction of the economy, coupled with the unprecedented measures taken to combat the spread of COVID-19, ... are naturally bringing an abundance of caution among buyers and sellers,” Yun says.

But economists emphasize that the current downturn is fundamentally different than the housing crisis of 2008, which led to a serious, albeit temporary, decline in property values. One major factor that’s different this year is that property in popular neighborhoods remains in short supply.

“With fewer listings in what’s already a housing shortage environment, home prices are likely to hold steady,” Yun says.

What’s more, demographic trends should continue to support a strong housing market after the outbreak ebbs. That’s because numerous older homeowners need to eventually liquidate large family properties to support themselves in retirement. Meanwhile, many young adults are anxious to move forward with a first or second-time purchase.

Berman urges potential home sellers to roll up their sleeves and take full advantage of their homebound days to prepare in advance for a successful sale when ultimately that occurs.

“I suggest you seek guidance from your listing agent about do-it-yourself projects that could make a big difference later when your property goes on the market,” she says.

Here are a few pointers for homeowners planning a future sale:

-- Muscle through clutter accumulations during your homebound hours.

Vicki Norris, a professional organizing guru, says one of the most crucial steps in preparing a property for sale -- ridding it of excess furniture and accumulations -- is also one of the least expensive and accessible to those now homebound.

“Chaos and other people’s stuff are instant turn-offs to buyers. So your collection of memorabilia can cost you the eventual sale of your home,” says Norris, author of “Restoring Order to Your Home.”

Given that many potential sellers have time on their hands now, they can focus on decluttering projects that wouldn’t have fit into tighter schedules in the past. However, to execute an effective decluttering plan, one that will make your place look clean and clear, many owners do well with a team effort to keep them on track.

School closures due to COVID-19 have many students home for extended periods. If that’s the case with your family, and you need reinforcements to assist with cleaning and culling in advance of your home sale, Berman suggests you consider hiring your offspring to help.

-- Tackle simple kitchen renovations if you’re handy.

Sid Davis, an independent real estate broker and author, says your kitchen should be the focal point of your pre-sale home improvement program, but that upgrades in this part of your property needn’t be as elaborate as many imagine.

“Some of the most important projects cost around $1,000 to $2,000 each,” says Davis, author of “Home Makeovers That Sell.”

Davis doesn’t recommend that homeowners embark on do-it-yourself projects unless they have basic skills or training to tackle the work. And he definitely dissuades nearly all owners from taking on major electrical, plumbing or roofing work.

Still, there are many small kitchen projects that could be appropriate for homebound sellers. One typically involves improvements to kitchen cabinets.

“If you have wood cabinets, you can make them look a lot better through a thorough cleaning with Murphy Oil Soap, followed by a rubdown with lemon oil. If that doesn’t do the trick, sand and restain your cabinets or paint them in a high-gloss white. Also, be sure to add new hardware, which shouldn’t cost you more than $50,” Davis says.

Another low-cost kitchen improvement involves replacing worn flooring. Davis says the skills needed for this task are easily acquired through an online class from a home center store.

“Vinyl flooring is the cheapest, but the price for a nice tile floor has come down dramatically,” Davis says.

-- Embark on interior painting jobs.

One proven strategy for adding appeal to your interior is to paint the walls and trim throughout. For advice on painting technique, consult the websites of major paint companies.

“The only major element to a good painting job involves solid preparation, mainly sanding and surfacing -- and attention to detail,” Davis says.

Though painting is a cost-effective way to put your property in peak selling condition for a small amount of cash, he says it’s essential to select your paint carefully.

“Relative to its impact, paint isn’t expensive. However, grades vary widely. To get a good grade, you spend extra per can. But the quality differential for excellent paint makes a huge difference,” Davis says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at