By Brendon DeSimone
As real estate markets continue to recover around the country, buyers are out in full force. Many of today's buyers make judgments about homes within moments of seeing a listing online. They are also more cautious than before the housing crisis. They want to make sure they're buying the best house and for the best amount of money. For sellers, that means giving buyers what they want. Though it's a home first and foremost, it's also an investment. If you're planning to put your house on the market, here are 10 ways you might be turning off potential buyers.
1. A garage turned into something else.
If you've sacrificed the garage for something other than the garage, the trade-off might actually be a turn-off, especially to people where parking is at a premium. Even in the suburbs, most people want a covered, secure place to park their cars. Don't forget that a garage often doubles as a storage location. The garage houses everything from lawn mower to the excess paper towels and cleansers. If you convert your garage into something else, you're likely to force a buyer to look elsewhere.
2. A bedroom turned into something else.
Aside from location, one of the first things a buyer searches for is number of bedrooms. Why? Because it's an important requirement. You might think having a wine cellar, with built-in refrigerators, in your home will make it attractive to potential buyers because it was attractive to you. And while it's true many people work from home today at least part of the time, that doesn't mean they want a dedicated home office-especially one with built-in desks or bookcases that would need to be removed. If you must convert a bedroom into something else, make sure you can easily convert it back into a bedroom when you go to sell.
3. Carpet over hardwood floors.
Many people today like hardwood floors. They are cleaner looking, add a design element, don't show dirt as much, and they're definitely preferred over carpets for people with allergies. If you have nice hardwood floors, show them off. Let the buyer decide if he or she wants to cover them. It's easier for a buyer to purchase new carpeting of their choosing than it is for them to get past yours.
4. Over-the-top lighting fixtures.
A beautiful chandelier can enliven a dining room. But it can also turn off buyers who prefer simpler, less ornate lighting fixtures. Did you fall in love with a dark light fixture on a trip to Casablanca? That's great. And you should use it for your own enjoyment. But when it comes time to sell, replace it with something more neutral.
5. The kid's room that is a miniature theme park.
Little kids have big imaginations. They tend to love Disney characters, spaceships, super heroes, and such, and their parents are often all-too-willing to turn their rooms into fantasy caves. But the more you transform a kid's bedroom into something resembling a Disneyland ride, the more you'll turn off most potential buyers. Your buyer might have teenage children who will see the removal of wallpaper, paint or little-kid-inspired light fixtures as work. If you can, neutralize the kid's rooms before you go on the market.
6. An above-ground pool.
Does it get hot in the summers where you live? Wish you had a backyard pool but can't afford to have a 'real' pool installed? Then you might be tempted to buy and set up an above-ground pool. For most potential buyers, though, these pools are an eyesore. Also, an above-ground pool can leave a big dead spot of grass in your backyard - another eyesore. If you must have it, consider dismantling it before going on the market. Of course, be sure you're really ready to sell or you may be stuck without a place to cool off next summer.
7. An in-ground pool.
You might assume that a gorgeous backyard pool will make a splash with potential buyers. Except in warm climates, where pools are truly an important amenity, many people see a backyard pool as a huge maintenance issue - not to mention a liability. If you live in an area where pools aren't that common, seriously consider your decision. If you're planning to be in the home for the long haul and you'll get lots of use out of it, go for it.
8. Avocado-green kitchen fixtures.
If your home is decades old and the kitchen looks like something from "The Brady Bunch," consider investing in a quick once-over. Some new stainless steel appliances and granite countertops can be installed in no time and the cost and hassle is a lot less than you think. More buyers prefer to move right in. Do the work for them and you increase your bottom line.
9. Cigarette smell throughout the house.
Over time, the smell of smoke permeates your home. It gets into the carpet, drapes, wood paneling, just about everywhere - a big turnoff to most buyers today. Getting rid of the smoke smell can be a big job. If you're a smoker, seriously consider how you want to present your home to the market. For a long- term smoke-filled home, it means new paint, removing carpets and doing lots of deep cleaning.
10. Keep Fido's bed and toys front and center.
Let's face it; family pets bring a lot of joy to the home. But, they don't always bring the same joy to a prospective buyer. Dog's toys, filled with saliva, dirt and dust can be a sore both for the eyes and the nose. If you have a pet, put a plan in place to move the food and water bowls as well as the toys and dog's bed to a better location, like the garage. Homes that smell and show like animals can scare buyers off.
It's your home -- for now.
Part of the joy of owning a home is that you can do whatever you want with it, to it, and in it. You should enjoy it. But if you want to sell it easily and for top dollar down the road, try to picture how others might react to any renovations, additions or modifications you make. The more specific you get - such as turning your kid's room into a miniature castle from Cinderella - the harder it will be to sell your home later, and the less return on investment you'll get. When considering changes to your home, always consider resale.
For more of Brendon DeSimone's practical real estate advice, check out his new book, Next Generation Real Estate: New Rules for Smarter Home Buying & Faster Selling, the go-to insider's guide for navigating and better understanding the complex and ever-evolving world of buying and selling a home. Brendon is the founder and principal of DeSimone & Co, an independent NYC real estate brokerage. An investor himself, Brendon owns real estate in the U.S. and abroad. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.