Dated decor, extreme customization behind bad MLS listings
Paul Gallant – Yourhome.ca
It took one homeowner about 45 years to collect 30,000 bobblehead dolls—and a big chunk of his home to store them. The real estate agent selling the place had to think quickly to come up with a strategy so the colourful collection wouldn’t scare away potential buyers.
“I decided to mention that he was the original owner, so people would be prepared,” says Brian Mayer, an agent for Royal LePage in Toronto. “I also made sure the remarks said that all that custom shelving would be removed.”
When it comes to creating real estate listings that will attract potential buyers to their home, sellers aren’t always the best judges of what works for the multiple listing service (MLS) at Realtor.ca. Not everybody can afford to stage their home to make it appealing to buyers, but some owners can be their own worst enemy.
Dated or eccentric decor, massive clutter and extreme customization populate the most cringe-worthy listings. The U.S.-based website Hookedonhouses.net features photos of homes overrun with stuffed animals, china and questionable murals. Mayer’s even come across a bright-orange swastika poster, which he, of course, suggested be removed. Though most homeowners will follow their agent’s lead to sell their property, some are surprised when they’re told that photographs or descriptions of their passions do not make for an effective listing.
“It’s hard to tell them to take things down or get rid of things without them taking it personal,” says Mayer. “You don’t judge them but you really have to encourage them to clean things up.” Too many family photos, too many plants, too much art—it all gets in the way of helping buyers imagine themselves living there.
Homeowners who spent a lot of money on cabinets and other custom features often see only how much money they spent on the upgrade—not the fact that the customization might be decades out of date.
“I remember one client who wanted me to mention the custom wall treatment,” says Steven Green, also an agent at Royal LePage in Toronto. “I suppose it would have been great if you had walked in there without your glasses on. It was hellacious—multicoloured and gold. They wanted me to take pictures of it for the digital virtual tour. I did, but I can’t say it looked good.”
Sometimes homeowners work hard to help sell the property—it’s just that their judgment about what potential buyers are looking for can be shaky. Stuart Sankey, a representative with Re/Max Hallmark Realty Ltd. in Toronto, remembers one client who decided to repaint the place for the listing photos. Sankey brought over an interior designer to check it out and they soon discovered that rather than opting for neutrals—the safest bet—the owner had picked out colours he had found on sale.
“The designer opened the door and, well, she’s still in therapy,” says Sankey, who suggests talking to the designer first, painting later.
Mayer remembers one seller who wanted to include photos of their family at dinner—the table fully set, the wine served—to show how many people the dining room could fit and how much fun they could have there. Then there was the home that promised parking for eight vehicles—and the photo showing eight vehicles crammed onto the pad to demonstrate it was true.
Some selling features are, to the average buyer, not features at all. To say that contaminated land was cleaned up years ago is only reminding people that the land was contaminated in the first place. A “lush” backyard garden often turns out to be overgrown. Green discourages phrases like “steps from a bus stop,” which not only emphasizes convenience but the possibility of noisy mass transit going by at all hours. “You can rephrase it so people know it’s there without thinking of the nuisance.” Green has also had to talk people out of mentioning steam rooms and saunas at properties where the facilities have not been working for years—potential buyers would end up feeling disappointed.
Of course, then there are the sellers who don’t try at all. Sankey remembers one client who filled his condo with boxes and never unpacked before putting the place back on the market, a strategy that made it all but impossible to get into the unit’s second bedroom. “He would hang his laundry to dry all over the place and pick them up as he wore them. There were crunchy white Jockeys everywhere. It was the first time I never took a picture for the listings.” Green remembers a multi-million-dollar property where the owner refused to cut the grass.
Finally, there are the overlooked details. Photos of the backyard in full bloom are a great idea, especially for a wintertime listing. Less so if they include cats, dogs and other occupants that aren’t included in the sale. Green remembers one seller who had a lovely backyard deck and submitted what would have been great photos.
“Except the barbecue was open. Your eyes went straight to it,” he says, “And it was filthy.”
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