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How to sell your home - 'You never get a chance to make a first impression2 (part 2)

When putting your property on the market, it is important to try to impress the buyer as much as possible. There are many easy things you can do to do this, making the most of your space and showing potential buyers what they could do with it if they were to buy the property.

Storage. Make sure there is appropriate storage in bedrooms and your clothes are neatly stored within it. Buyers like to look in cupboards! Storage is very important.

De-clutter as much as possible. There’s a balance between making a home look homely with furniture and soft furnishings and leaving too much of your ‘homeliness’ out on view. Get rid or store (elsewhere) anything which distracts the eye or takes up too much space. It’s a real pain I know, but makes a real difference.

Clean! Following on from the above, absolutely ensure your place is cleaner than you’ve ever seen it before for viewing days. There’s no excuse for not bothering to ensure your place is clean as a whistle before a viewing that could realise the best investment in your life. It really could pay to make the extra bit of effort.

Show it empty! De-cluttering doesn’t just apply to inanimate objects…I mean people too. Don’t have tenants or most of all, YOU, in the property while viewings are going on. Purchasers want to dream about themselves in your property and not with you still in it. I have lots of vendors who love their homes and are very concerned I mention the 101 USPs about the flat on each viewing and also just crave a little chat with their prospective successors. They also often would ideally love to sell to someone they like…in an ideal world we all would…but the people who we like might well not be the people who offer you the most money and the quickest sale.

As a Landlord it is the old Catch 22. You have a mortgage you need to pay. The rental income pays this. If the tenant moves out: you have to pay it. Therefore, they easiest way to deal with this tricky situation is clearly to sell whilst the tenant is still living there and money is coming into your bank.

Unfortunately, bar the exceptional few tenants I have had the fortune of meeting in these circumstances, most tenants will:

A. Not keep the flat in the way you would like it to be presented…Why would they? What’s in it for them?

B. Dictate the most convenient viewing time for themselves, which may not be most convenient for the potential buyer.

C. Legally making an offer with a tenanted flat can open a can of worms. Unless (and sometimes not even when) the buyer is purchasing the flat as a rental investment, a flat is meant to be vacant upon completion. All solicitors will insist on this as a fundamental safeguard for their client, as if the tenant decided not to move out and stop paying their rent, you as the buyer would inherit an expensive eviction battle.

Damp, cracks, stains. Any noticeably smelling damp or large cracks in plaster (which are often nothing to worry about structurally) will put off a buyer immensely on a first viewing. The significance of these will be completely blown out of proportion and often lead to surveyors being appointed, more defects in the property being identified and price re-negotiations demanded. Don't underestimate the significant part these things play in the decision-making process of a buyer. Deal with them before marketing and you’ll seal your deal sooner.

Lighting. Unsurprisingly, ‘light’ is always one of the primary ‘musts’ on a purchaser’s wish list. Especially if you are trying to sell a naturally dark property like a basement or a north facing space, really think about how to light your living rooms (reception and bedroom especially). Focus on darker corners of rooms and buy some up lighters (free standing) or lamps to illuminate them artificially. Spotlights are not the most attractive of lighting choices but they are the most effective. You can have these in the ceiling or the floor shining upwards. I have seen this done very effectively in basement flats with the spotlights positioned underneath the window sill which gives the impression there is a lot more natural light coming into the room than there really is.  

Mirrors. Inside and out. Position mirrors inside your home adjacent or opposite the window that best reflects the light. This really gives the illusion of expanding the width of your rooms. Also, buy Cupboards with mirrored doors. Cupboards often take up much of at least one wall in a bedroom, which inevitably reduces the internal space. Mirrored doors again create the illusion of width and reflect light too.

If you have a patio/garden outside (as in lots of Basement and Ground Floor apartments) mirrored trellising is a great way to reflect light back into the internal space and make your outside space seem deeper.

Painting. Give main rooms a fresh lick of a base colour before marketing if it hasn’t been done for over 3 years. Nothing too garish. Neutral colours. A bright glossy white in basements makes a world of difference. Also paint over marks/scratches/old stains. It’s incredible how many flats I visit where you walk into the living room and your eyes are drawn to a large yellow stain. The owner will then reassure me ‘Oh, don’t worry it’s from an old leak which happened 2 years ago’…If that is the case then it needs to be dealt with and not on display to all prospective buyers! Paint over it and another concern/doubt has been eradicated.

Right time of day to show the property. Mostly this is when the property is at its brightest. This will depend on the orientation of the main windows of the living room/bedrooms and also if the buyer can meet your agent at that time. There’s no better first impression than seeing a living room with rays of sun streaming through from outside. You also have to rely on having a little bit of luck here, but if it’s convenient to your personal plans, selling in the spring or summer will help you.

Right day: There may be some days when you know viewings will be hindered by an external factor. Rubbish Days for instance are not great. If your buyer arrives outside your building and there are 20 brimming black bin liners outside you’re not doing yourself any favours so make sure we know this and try to work around the issue.



How to sell your home - 'You never get a second chance to make a first impression' (part 1)

Before the ‘law part’ begins you have to make sure you get a YES first. All properties that come on the market have a short initial window of opportunity to seduce and impress a buyer. After the first 2 weeks of marketing, a property will have been exposed to 90% of the current batch of buyers scouring the portals to find their dream homes/investments.

Therefore it’s crucial to get it right… right away.


Making the most of the space you have with furniture choice, placement and general cosmetic colour choice and dressing makes an indisputable difference to that critical first impression a buyer takes of a property. Wow them at ‘Hello’ and you’re over half way there to sealing a deal.
 

See below two pictures of two different refurbished flats. Both are very similar in size and in very similar locations. Guess which one sold within 2 days of marketing; guess which hasn’t sold after 6 months of marketing?

Flat A

Flat B

Yes, that’s right, Flat A of course! Properties, like Flat A, which look like you can move straight into them absolutely make the best impression; whilst the other developer forgot (and refused to be persuaded on this) to put the icing on the cake and has suffered the consequences. By just spending a little more on surface level detail you will ensure you sell your property for a lot more. Dare I say it, this is actually far more important than what lies underneath that dazzling red rug in the middle of the living room. How many times have I found this out in the morning after being dazzled by red lipstick, shiny silky hair and perfectly fitted polka dot dress…but by that time I had already said YES.

Flat B just doesn’t look homey and most importantly insists a buyer must have imagination to buy this flat. Everyone who has seen this flat has really struggled to visualise the reality of actually living there. They asked questions like: ‘where would I put my dining table or sofa?’ and my favourite: ‘Can I really fit a double bed in here?’

If your second bedroom ‘can’ fit a double bed in it but doesn’t have one in it then PUT ONE IN IT! It’s very hard for buyers to imagine spaces. Make it easy for them and fill the space with appropriate furniture.


 



How to sell your home - be prepared legally (part 3)


The problem is that 80% of the buyers I deal with are from overseas and the leasehold system is most foreign to them. It is in fact very peculiar to me that you pay all that money to BUY a property but only for a certain amount of time. As a result, although on a financial valuation it makes no difference; on a psychological valuation it rather does…to some at least, especially if they’re originally from overseas and even to English born and bred on our old feudal system.

Many buyers, are therefore often put off by a 'low' lease (anything under 100 years is 'low' to lots of buyers) or properties that may not be party to a share of freehold. It is important that you ascertain an estimate of the cost of an extension so a buyer understands the need to add this cost on top of their purchase price in order to make a reliable offer. The further explanations of freehold and leasehold leave to me!

If your lease has under 75 years remaining it is likely that a buyer and his solicitor will insist of you serving what is known as a section 42 notice to your freeholder in order that a) they will know exactly how much the lease extension will cost and b) be legally able to extend their lease immediately. If you, as the outgoing owner, do not do this a purchaser will have to wait 2 years before he can extend their lease at a proportionately higher cost to them.
The easiest way round this frequent conundrum is to offer to a) serve the section 42 notice and b) pay/share the cost of the extension from the sales proceeds simultaneously with the completion of sale.

  • PIQs. As soon as you decide to sell: ask your solicitor immediatley for a Property Information Questionnaire. In many sales I deal with it takes the owner 2/3 weeks to get this basic 'box ticking' document back to their solicitor. Make sure the ball is never in your side of the court and fill this in as comprehensively as you can and get it back the day after you instruct your solicitor.
  • Solicitors and Estate Agent chasing. Finally keep badgering your solicitor every other day to make sure your file is on top of the pile. Solicitors are busy people often juggling a dozen or so sales at once. Make sure you're the priority. Make sure your Estate Agent sets a realistic time frame of 21 working days right at the start of the sale that a buyer MUST exchange within... and make sure your Estate Agent and Solicitor is firm this is their time frame otherwise the property is re-marketed.



How to sell your home - be prepared legally (part 2)

If there are works due and have been either costed already or else an approximate estimate is known: bite the bullet and provide allowances / retentions to cover these costs close at hand. Small burdens like these make big differences to buyers.

It’s amazing to us, that a sale of a property worth between £500,000 to £2,000,000 can be put in serious jeopardy over amounts of between £500-2000. It is often revealed that, after a property has been under offer for a few weeks, there will be some costly building works to repair a roof, refurbish communal parts etc. due in the near future...which the incoming owner will inherit!

The same old argument often ensues. A buyer will demand the vendor pays for these upcoming costs; a seller will protest that he/she will no longer be responsible for these costs in the future and has paid towards them during his tenure of his apartment, so why should he/her. Therefore, a sale suddenly risks falling through, as a seller will not agree to pay £500 towards these future costs and risk not guaranteeing £500,000 in their bank.

Our advice on these matters, is NOT to get too emotional about them and try not to simply argue points such as these because of principle. Principle I would say, is second on the podium, to my old friend Time in the list of reasons for fall-throughs.

A simple way to avoid these disputes is to just say ‘I’ll pay half, if the works are done within a certain time frame’ (usually a year is a long enough distance). Thus, if the works are going to cost this flat £1000, you leave £500 in your solicitor’s account for a year, from which the buyer can take from, when the cost of the works become due. If the works have not been costed at the point of sale, this retention can only be based on an estimate and therefore, you might have to leave rather more than you would like to, in order to provide a buffer a buyer (and his solicitor!) feels comfortable with. However, if the actual cost is less than the amount you have left, you still only have to pay 50% and therefore will receive some money back.

We experienced a particularly farcical example of this, whilst selling a small one bedroom basement flat in Chelsea a couple of years ago. Right at the point of exchange, the vendor told the buyer they would not be leaving the fitted carpets in the flat as they were new, but if the buyer wanted them, the cost would be £800. The buyer responded abruptly, ‘well, I won’t buy the flat then!’ This flat was selling for £850,000 and our commission was sizable. Therefore, we decided to buy the carpet for the buyer and told them the vendor gave in! However, this is a sublime example of how Principle can really get in the way.

Refurbishment to communal parts or exterior building works is a more common example of where this type of argument unravels. Avoid them at all costs! In the long run it will save you a great deal of money and stress and most importantly, your sale will go through!

Other common legal sumbling blocks include:

  • Lease plans. Check your floor plans matches your lease plan. If it doesn't, a solicitor will often raise this as a major concern, as what the buyer thought he/she was buying at the point of sale, has now changed. The only way to resolve this is to gain a Deed of Variations drawn up and a new lease plan registered at the Land Registry. This is indeed if your estate agent's plan is right. If not, a suitable ptice reduction will often have to be negotiated in order to save a sale.
  • Lease length. Does your lease have longer than 85 years remaining? If not, before you decide to sell, it is prudent to at least have a lease extension specialist round to your property to value what a standard 90 year extension will cost you or your incoming purchaser.

The fact is, a flat with an 80 year lease, a 90 year lease, a 100 year lease etc. is worth no more or less than one which has a share of freehold. It is only if the lease slips below 80 years that there is a 'marriage value' associated to what it would be worth with a longer lease.




How to sell your home - be prepared legally (part 1)


The English Conveyancing System is not one of our country’s proudest things to boast to the world about. In most other places round the globe it does not take as long as 2-3 months to buy a property. In most other countries a buyer will immediately financially commit to buying a property after a viewing i.e.: Escrow in the USA.


This is unfortunate as Time is the number one reason sales fall through. The longer it takes from the moment a buyer says ‘Yes Please’ to the moment he/she has to financially commit to exchanging with you, the more likely he/she will change their minds. Each day that goes by often raises doubt. Trivial concerns and enquiries from solicitors and surveyors are often blown out of proportion and the longer it takes to settle these makes the whole purchase idea seem less and less appealing.


However, there are some easy things you as a vendor can do to proactively reduce the time it takes for your sale to reach the right destination: your bank account!


For apartments within blocks the number one priority is to contact your Managing Agent as soon as you decide to sell and pay them their £200-500 to answer all management enquiries as a priority. Managing Agents are used to answering a standard set of queries from all solicitors and there is no reason they can’t get this pack ready to send even before the buyers’ solicitor officially asks for them.


These initial questions are often followed by secondary queries. When these arrive: get on your agent’s back to answer them instantly. You’ve already paid for this service (and have been paying high service charges often prior to this too!). Often weeks/months can be wasted in a sale due to slow managing agents simply not bothering to reply to simple questions.


Make sure they can especially provide:

  • Up to date service charges. Get 3 years' worth of accounts.
  • An up to date building insurance policy.
  • Specifications and quotes for works planned to the building in the coming 2 years so you can know what's coming and make everything clear from the beginning to the buyer.

 

How to sell your home - introduction

Like my old school Rugby coach used to tell us before a match, there are some things you can do to influence the outcome of a game and there are things which are unfortunately out of your hands. The weather will do what it likes on match day; the pitch will remain the same size and slope slightly into the bottom right hand corner…There’s nothing the 15 of us out on that turf can do to change these facts.

On the other hand, we can make sure we are the fittest we can be before those 80 minutes begin, our game plan is well rehearsed and most of all, we play with all our heart, nerve and sinew during the match. In these ways, our team, like any other, can certainly make the odds of winning far more favourable. Indeed, we had an unbeaten season that year (14 years ago)!

The same applies to selling your property. There are some things you can’t change about your home/investment and there are certainly many things you can - things which will make selling your asset much easier and will make it more valuable in many cases too.

With this in mind, we have put together a blog series, highlighting what you can do to help sell your home. Each month we will focus on a different factor in selling your home, including legalities, first impressions and the small print.

Your flat or house will be a certain size/shape, in a certain location and without massive expense and/or planning permission will stay that size/shape and will always be in that location. If you live in a flat it will be on a certain floor level…you can’t make a basement flat a first floor flat or vice versa. You can’t guarantee your neighbour will provide you with emergency sugar or milk supplies, let alone keep him from using his drums at 11.45pm each evening. There is also little you can do often to personally influence the refurbishment of your building if you live in a flat within it, without the permissions/compliance of 3rd parties.

These things, like the wind and the rain; death and taxes, will remain and may or may not assist you selling your home but cannot be influenced.

However, apart from choosing an outstanding estate agent like tlc, there are many free or relatively inexpensive things you can do to make sure the process of selling your property is as smooth and productive as possible. Time and time again, these small steps are not taken by many Vendors, and therefore we see properties that either do not sell as quickly as they should or do not reach their potentials in terms of sale price.

For this reason, we have written a basic guide to selling your property. Although not all the advice in the blogs that follow will be completely relevant to your individual homes, much of it is general guidance for any sale and indeed will help you to let your rental investment too. We hope you will find this helpful and we'd love to hear your feedback.


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