The psychology of selling your house successfully


With the coming of the spring market, it’s time to burst your own bubble. Here are five things shrewd homeowners should do if they want to sell their homes this year. Photo Credit: Newsday Illustration / Ned Levine

Denial is like a shiny, seductive bubble — it offers psychological shelter from unpleasant realities until you’re ready to come to grips with them. But, if you are selling your home, it can be your worst enemy,

and you could be in for a long stay on the market. But someone else’s wishful thinking can work to your advantage — if you can wake up and face the facts before your competition does, and do what it takes to sell your home in the real world.

Sellers want to believe their homes will be the exception; experts say good luck with that. “There’s a certain kind of schizophrenia,” says Diane Saatchi, senior vice president with Saunders & Associates Real Estate. “Why is it the house you no longer want is worth more than market value, while the house you’re dying to have should be had at a discount? It’s not that I want to be rude, it’s just that it’s not going to happen.”

With the coming of the spring market, it’s time to burst your own bubble. Here are five things shrewd homeowners should do if they want to sell their homes this year:


Delusion: Everyone will love my home as much as I do.

Reality: “The buyer sees all the other houses in the same neighborhood with the same amenity list — the seller only sees one,” says Saatchi. Tame your emotions and your ego. Feeling attached, ambivalent, proud or defensive about your home will cloud your judgment. “You want the buyer to be emotional, not you,” she says.

So before you list, break up — including the part where you take your stuff back.

Removing personal items will clear the way for buyers to picture themselves there, and it will also help you make the mental transition from owner to seller. The home should remain decorated enough to look inviting, but devoid of personal items such as family photos. That detachment is key — it will give you the distance and perspective to make good decisions. While other sellers are still struggling to accept the realities of the market — and making time-consuming mistakes — you’ll be able to make an accurate comparison and make yours the most attractive deal on the first try.


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Delusion: I can leave everything up to my broker.

Reality: It’s tempting to seek out a professional who will tell you what you want to hear — or one who promises to take over the process and wake you when it’s over. You’ll have to be more proactive than that if you want good results, says Saatchi. “You have to realize you’re making a business transaction,” says Saatchi. “You don’t want the broker who says your house is wonderful and gives you a high price. You want the one who has sold houses and can be businesslike.”

Listening to professional advice is key, but “the seller has to be participating in the discussion,” says Bonarelli Lugo. Speak up, do your homework and work with your agent to make informed decisions.


Delusion: I don’t have to do the work — buyers will see the potential.

Reality: House hunters will mentally chip away at your asking price for each flaw they spot — so declare war on the warts. Not everything has to be brand-new, but any big-ticket items that still have life left in them should be restored to their best possible condition so they don’t falsely announce themselves as needing immediate replacement or repair. Why let buyers argue that they’ll need a $3,000 discount to install new carpets if a professional cleaning could make yours look great for $300?

“Fix it if it’s fixable,” says Saatchi. But no faking it — if there’s a problem you won’t be repairing, disclose it, she says. Use attention and elbow grease to create an overall impression of cleanliness and care. But don’t go crazy; a major kitchen remodel isn’t necessarily worth it because you can’t predict buyers’ tastes, says Saatchi.


Delusion: My home is worth my asking price, and my price is worth waiting for.

Reality: A house is worth what a buyer is willing to pay for it. Sellers are notorious for overestimating their homes’ values — then finding out the hard way that they’ve misjudged. Skip the long learning curve. Look at the prices of homes similar to yours that are languishing on the market and then at the prices of those that have sold. Ask yourself which group you want to be in — then price it that way.

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“Sold properties in the area represent the reality of what’s going on,” says Don Scanlon, Long Island Board of Realtors president. “Not what people are asking, but sold properties. Those are the facts.”

There’s more at stake here than just taking a while to sell. While you’re waiting, a low sale or foreclosure in the neighborhood could strike a major blow to your home’s value.


Delusion: It will either feel like home to a buyer or it won’t, and it’s out of my hands.

Reality: Certain homes meet all the criteria but only make the “maybe” list. Others have that special something that give buyers the butterflies — that warm, fuzzy and slightly panicky sensation that walking out the door without making an offer could be the biggest mistake of their lives. It feels magical, but it’s not — it’s physical, and you can copy it.

The best way to understand the effect is to visit competing open houses, or pay attention during your own house hunt. When you find a home that makes your heart sing, dissect your feelings and impressions step by step — then try to identify the physical things that evoked them. “All our senses kick in,” says Bonarelli Lugo. “Buying a house is an emotional purchase, and you have to appeal to the purchasers’ emotions.”

The source of that “homey” feeling might be carefully constructed curb appeal that can be broken down into parts — a freshly painted front door, neatly trimmed shrubs, a clean-swept walk. The “cheery” kitchen may boil down to squeaky-clean windows that let the sun shine in and a bouquet of yellow flowers. If you can put your finger on the details that really pushed your buttons and try to replicate them, you just might be able to elicit the type of emotional response in a buyer that can translate into an offer.

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8 mistakes when selling your home

Some common sense tips to make sure your home sells


Number 1: Bad photos

If the online photos of your house are dim, blurry, taken at odd angles or of odd rooms, don’t be surprised if you get fewer than expected appointments to view your home for sale. According to recent stats, 91% of all buyers start their home search on the Internet—and the vast majority of those buyers will pass over a listing with bad photos (even if it meets all their criteria on paper!). In fact, there have been times when I’ve had to convince a buyer to give a listing a chance, knowing that the photos really didn’t do the house justice.

Number 2: Half-measures staging

If you’re going to stage your home don’t do a half-baked job. It doesn’t mean that every room needs to be a magazine spread, but there should be continuity, at least from floor to floor. That’s because nothing is more jarring than walking through two or three elegantly furnished rooms only to step into an empty space. If you don’t have a budget for every room consider professionally staging the entire main floor, then declutter and depersonalize all other rooms in the house.

Number 3: Don’t force a mood

A lot has been written on how to set the right mood—from powerful scents, to lighting, to music. The danger, however, is that you can go overboard and overwhelm a potential buyer. While an aromatherapy candle may help provide a calming atmosphere, you don’t need to force buyers into listening to your version of soothing music (some people love whale sounds…some people don’t), or drive them out of a room because the fragrance is too overwhelming. Rule of thumb is to turn off the music and tone down the scents. Now, if you really want to set the mood make sure everything is clean (like your baseboards and windowsills!), draw the curtains open and turn on all the lights. Studies show a well-lit home is more attractive than a darkened home with drapes closed and lights off.

Number 4: Hovering

Want to sell your home? Then l-e-a-v-e. As a seller, your job is to get out of the way. Let your agent interact with the buyers. While you may think that potential buyers want to know the history of your home or know the intricacies of every remodel, redecoration or renovation…they don’t. Truth is, nothing scares off a buyer faster than getting cornered by a seller. Plus, it’s very distracting having a seller traipse around a house after you, when you’re trying to examine the place.

Number 5: Failure to provide marketing materials

People like to touch things. That’s why stores lay out their clothes to be touched and why buyers will stroke cabinets and countertops when they walk through a home. To keep your home top-of-mind, then, you want to offer marketing material that gives buyers something to hold on to. A well-displayed info packet, listing or feature sheet is usually all that’s needed.

Number 6: Pets

Pets can lower the sale price of your home (see my last post about this) and can actually turn potential buyers away. Yet, nobody wants to get rid of a furry family friend just because they are moving. When possible, consider taking your pets with you during potential buyer viewings and always plan to have your pets out of the house during public open houses. When neither option is possible, consider keeping the pet in a more enclosed space (say, the backyard, if the weather is good). Remember to remove pet evidence during the time your home is up for sale: litter boxes and pet beds covered in hair are all turn-offs to potential buyers.

Number 7: The wrong temperature

I remember showing a newly built home in a well-to-do Toronto neighbourhood that was easily 10 degrees cooler than the spring temperature outside. It was so cold that my client, a potential buyer with a $1-million price range, had to stomp their feet to stay warm. Needless to say we were in and out of the home relatively quickly. The simple rule when selling your home is to keep a good temperature—not too hot in the winter, not too cool in the summer. So what if you pay a bit extra on your gas or electricity bill the month you list your home for sale? The few hundred you spend will translate into a few hundred thousand earned when you convince a buyer that your house is the one for them.

Number 8: Pre-sale home inspection report

Truth be told: I’m a big fan of pre-sale home inspection reports. It’s an opportunity to signal to every buyer that you have nothing to hide and that your home is in sound condition. The problem is when the inspection report highlight problems that you can’t or won’t address. We’re not talking about an inspector who highlights that a furnace is old (and needs replacing) or that a roof is half-way through its serviceable life…but reports that identify “unknown” pipes or provide evidence of potential problems (with no known cause or cure). If you do end up using an inspection report as a sales strategy—they are used on homes in well-sought after areas where listing agents expect a bidding war—don’t ignore what the report says. If there are issues to be dealt with, consider addressing them and then making a note on the report.

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