Homeowners may not always see the imperfections in their own properties – but when it comes to selling, the ability to cast a critical eye over your home can be crucial.
This year, house prices have surged by an average of £20,000 amid unprecedented demand – leading some vendors to become a little over-confident about their ability to attract a buyer.
Last month, UK properties available for sale were taking an average of 45 days to sell, according to Rightmove.
Bad smell: As many as 95 per cent of home buyers could be deterred from purchasing a perfect home due to an unsavoury odour according to one survey
Almost one quarter of the properties available for sale went under offer within a week – the highest number ever recorded by the property portal.
Yet no matter how hot the market may be, when scrolling through Rightmove or Zoopla you can still find certain properties that have not sold for months – even years.
They sit there festering like a bad smell – the longer they remain, the less interest they attract.
Buyers deem the months of marketing as a clear sign there must be something wrong. Who wants to buy something that clearly nobody else does?
The seller will expect an explanation from their estate agent, but few will dare to criticise the property itself.
They will likely blame it on a lack of buyers, or the price being too high, or the fact that there are just too many similar properties selling in the area.
But after months of the property vegetating on Rightmove, and after having reduced the price multiple times, it might be time for the seller to ask some searching questions about the home they are trying to sell.
We spoke to a host of estate agents to find out the top ten property flaws that can prevent homeowners from being able to sell.
1) A lack of kerb appeal
First impressions are important, particularly when you consider that the average UK home buyer probably spends less time viewing a property than they do test-driving a car.
If your front garden is littered with rubbish or your bay windows covered in dirt with frames that look to be peeling or rotting, a buyer may instantly be put off.
‘Don’t underestimate the importance of kerb appeal,’ says David Westgate, group chief executive of Andrews Property Group.
‘A buyer may decide they don’t like your property before they’ve walked through the front door.
Imagining how your home looks to someone else can be difficult when you have lived there for a long time, but try and stand back and imagine you are looking at it for the first time
‘Some buyers may have even decided against booking a viewing after making a drive-by visit to your property.
‘Make sure the front garden is neat and tidy – the lawn is mowed; hedges are trimmed; and any pathways and flower beds are free from weeds.
‘Wash windows and doors, and consider giving the front door, the window frames and sills a fresh lick of paint, if they’re looking a little tired and the original paintwork is peeling.’
2) An unloved home
A potential buyer’s opinion might be swayed by seemingly small imperfections such as marks on the wall, blown light bulbs or signs of mould in the bathroom.
‘In a property I was valuing last week, half the light bulbs had blown, and it was really dark and depressing,’ says Phil Coombes, assistant sales manager at Horton and Garton.
‘Also, always deep-clean a bathroom – if you have limescale on the shower head or mould between the grout and you’re trying to sell your home, you’re going to struggle.’
Agents advise that sellers should focus on fixing the simple things first.
‘A major overhaul, or even a fresh lick of paint may not be an option, so at least try to make sure your home is spotlessly clean,’ says Jeremy Leaf, a north London estate agent and a former RICS residential chairman.
‘Don’t forget to wash the windows: this is cheap, easy and incredibly effective.
‘And make sure dead light bulbs are replaced, as estate agents love to switch the lights on.’
Finish the job: Completing DIY projects could make all the difference when you come to sell
Next, any unfinished DIY projects should be tackled, according to Chris Husson-Martin, associate director at Hamptons in Salisbury.
‘If a house appears incomplete it can have a marked impact on the value of your home, as prospective buyers will have to factor in the cost of getting the works completed,’ he says.
‘Even if it is a small DIY task, such as repainting an area after a leak you had in the airing cupboard three years ago, get it done.
‘Prospective buyers will see this and imagine something 100 times worse.’
3) A bad smell
As many as 95 per cent of home buyers could be deterred from purchasing a perfect home due to an unsavoury smell, according to a survey conducted by Yes Homebuyers earlier this year.
Some 23 per cent of said the smell of cigarette smoke could deter them from offering.
The smell of cigarette smoke could lose you an offer, according to 23 per cent of buyers
General rubbish, the smell of a pet, a recently-used toilet and strong food smells were also cited as odours that could put a buyer off.
‘Potential buyers will immediately be put off if they walk through the front door and are hit by an unpleasant odour,’ says Westgate.
‘If you are smokers, try and avoid smoking inside just before viewings, and open the windows to get rid of any undesirable smells and let fresh air in.
‘The kitchen is the heart of the home, but that doesn’t mean buyers want to smell last night’s curry.
‘There are smells that can enhance a kitchen, such as freshly brewed coffee and baked bread, but the stench of stale or rotting food won’t be so pleasant.’
4) Too much clutter
Buyers need to be able to imagine themselves living in your home. If your belongings are scattered throughout every room, this may prevent them from doing so.
Toys scattered around living rooms and clothes in bedrooms are classic examples that may distract a buyer and make it difficult for them to focus on the property itself.
‘Try to think of yourself as marketing a show home,’ says Leaf.
De-cluttering doesn’t cost you any money, but will instantly make your home more appealing
‘You should have minimal furniture, arranged as effectively as possible to show off rooms to their best effect.
‘Clutter is hugely off-putting and will make your home seem smaller.
‘Don’t expect purchasers to see past all the mess, especially if you are expecting the best possible offer in what could be a highly competitive market.
Estate agents advise hiring a skip and renting a storage unit before marketing your property to help clear out excess stuff.
5) Signs of damp
Damp is something that most home buyers will spot a mile off.
Even if it is not clearly visible though stains or flaking walls, it will make itself known through its musty, earthy odour.
And in the rare event that a buyer does fail to notice any signs of damp, it is more than likely that their surveyor will.
Dampened expectations: You’ll probably be able to see or smell whether you have damp in the winter, but you can look for warning signs at any time of year
‘Buyers are better informed now about damp, particularly in old places,’ says Westgate.
‘They will be on the lookout for tell-tale signs that the property might have a damp problem, such as watermarks on the walls or a musty smell.
‘If you’ve had, or do have, a damp issue, then you should try and get that fixed before marketing the property.’
6) A jungle in the back garden
A garden is a top priority for many prospective buyers at the moment.
Many now see outdoor space as vital, following their experiences of being stuck at home during the pandemic.
‘Outside space is very important, so make sure you make the most of any you have, even if it’s just a balcony or small roof terrace,’ says Leaf.
The green, green grass of home: Invest time in ensuring your garden, terrace, balcony or courtyard is looking its best, to avoid missing out on buyers
‘Pots of colourful flowers don’t cost much and are easy to put in, but look great.’
If your garden is an unkempt swamp of weeds and undergrowth that looks like it may not have been touched in years, then some urgent attention will make a considerable difference when selling.
‘There’s not much point tidying up the front garden if the back garden is overgrown and unappealing,’ says Westgate.
‘Cut the grass and hedges, clear away garden tools, prune the bushes and the garden will feel like somewhere buyers could relax in.’
7) Homes that are too bold
It’s natural to want your home to have personality, but you need to recognise that your own interior design tastes might not match the average buyer’s.
Estate agents warn that buyers can be put off a property that is too out-there.
For example, bold colour schemes throughout the house won’t appeal to everyone, so it might be worth repainting loud walls in lighter, more neutral tones.
A lick of paint: Hiring a painter to redecorate a room might cost you a few hundred pounds, but it could make all the difference when it comes to selling
And the colour of your walls might not be the only issue.
‘I can think of a few properties which have been a complete nightmare to sell because the owner had a very unique taste,’ says Coombes.
‘On one occasion, the seller had an obsession with mirrors – they had hung mirrors on every single wall and even on the ceilings in some rooms. You could see yourself from four or five directions at any given time.
One seller had an obsession with mirrors – they even hung them on the ceilings. Buyers absolutely hated it
‘It was like walking into some weird game show or horror film – and prospective buyers absolutely hated it.’
Even if you have a more conservative and neutral home interior, estate agents advise it is essential to always de-personalise your home where possible.
‘If you have family portraits and keepsakes adorning the sideboards or hanging on the wall over the fireplace, then it might be worth putting some of them away during viewings,’ says Westgate.
‘If you’re serious about selling, it’s not about you anymore – it’s about giving buyers a blank canvas so they can visualise living in the property.’
8) The owner being present at viewings
Estate agents typically prefer homeowners to not be present during viewings.
‘In the past, I’ve had owners who have tried to take over viewings,’ says Coombes. ‘It rarely ends well.
‘It’s always very evident how uncomfortable the buyers feel, and often the buyer will spend half as much time in the property as they would have done if the owner had not been present.’
By being present, you also increase the chance of saying something that might wreck a potential sale.
‘One recent seller very nearly scuppered the sale when her buyers returned for a third viewing,’ explains Coombes.
‘She started telling them about the neighbours and how much they love their music – how one plays the piano and the other a trombone. Don’t give the buyer a reason to walk away.’
It can make potential buyers feel uncomfortable feeding back to the agent within hearing distance of the owners.
But if you are someone who works predominantly from home, it may not always be possible to leave the property during a viewing.
The advice here is to remain friendly and not be intrusive.
‘If you need to be at home during viewings, then try to not be intrusive – let buyers have the freedom to walk around your home with the agent,’ says Westgate.
‘And if a buyer does have a few questions they’d like to ask you, be communicative and friendly.
‘Buyers will appreciate your feedback and openness and may notice if you’re being evasive.’
9) A home that is too dark
Buyers are often won over by light, airy spaces and are put off by dark stuffy rooms.
Opening curtains or blinds to let in natural light is therefore important.
Best possible light: It’s important to make sure your property is sufficiently illuminated
‘Make sure your home is as light as possible,’ says Husson-Martin.
‘This can mean cutting back any over-hanging foliage outside, and removing dark furnishings or furniture that is in front of windows.
‘Make sure the house is bathed in as much light as possible, or get creative with mirrors, or add additional lighting.’
10) The presence of pets – especially dogs
If you have a pet such as a dog which will always present during viewings, this may be another reason you’ll find it hard to sell.
‘You may love your pets, but not all buyers will be pet lovers and some may be allergic to animal hair. Either make sure your pet is confined to one room, or better still, don’t have them in the property during viewings,’ says Westgate.
The presence of pets during viewings is likely to do more damage than good, according to estate agents.
‘You want buyers to be focusing on your property, not your dog; however friendly and affectionate he or she is.
‘Also, make sure animal hair is removed from carpets and sofas – furniture is unlikely to be included with the house, but buyers may make judgements based on how clean the house is.
‘An unclean house could put doubts in buyers’ minds. They might think, “If they can’t be bothered to clean dog hair off the sofa before a viewing, what other things can’t they be bothered to clean?”‘
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