Road to success: How to get top dollar for your property

By Gill South

The annual spring flush of the real estate market is underway as home- owners take advantage of warmer weather to present their homes in their best light. There is plenty that you can do to improve your property’s appeal and, come sale time, value. Gill South talks to those in the know.

Jane Tuson put a lot of effort into decluttering. This alone can add thousands to the final sale price. Photo / Doug Sherring
Jane Tuson put a lot of effort into decluttering. This alone can add thousands to the final sale price. Photo / Doug Sherring

The Homeowners

Jane Tuson is a woman triumphant. She and husband John Bone have just sold their lovely 1910 Mt Eden villa at auction for an impressive $1.33 million. Tuson made sure the pretty house, with four bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms, gave a wonderful first impression at open homes. The front step was painted, the house freshly washed inside and out, the garden was glossy and textured.

A great deal of elbow grease went into this effect. Tuson, a mature student with three children, jokes that when you decide to put your house on the market, the first thing you should do is to get a therapist. Then buy a case of wine.

She says it took her three weeks to get everything ready - though she already had the garden in good shape. Tuson's agents, Charlotte and James Marshall of Harcourts, told her to declutter, so she gave six large pieces of furniture to a niece who had moved into a new flat.

Homestaging did not appeal to Tuson.

"Housestaging is total anathema to me. I wanted my house to look like a home," she says. "But I did do things that I thought important that I don't normally do," she says.

She stacked all her books by size on the bookshelf. In the kitchen, she took everything off the top of the shelves - the juicer, crockpot, bread maker. She threw countless little things into boxes to get them out of sight.

"We are fortunate, we have quite a big space under the house," says Tuson.

Tuson asked Anika Bennett, head of marketing at nkb Gallery, to help provide a sense of space in the house. She was very clever at creating that "optical illusion", says Tuson. "We have a bay window and the bed is in there. She said get rid of the bedside tables." It transformed the space.

Trying to keep everybody in the house on board was taxing at times, says Tuson. "I've been called a harridan, I've been called a lot of things."

She did get to have some fun along the way, buying new furnishings for the bedrooms. "My focus was to spend money on things that I could take with me, like bed linen and towels," she says.

Tuson and her husband aren't sure where they're heading next - they just felt like a change - but they're delighted with the price they achieved. It will set them up for the next stage of their lives.

In the neighbouring suburb of Mt Albert, Susannah Porter had four offers for her $635,000 home in the first week of it going on the market, after doing a significant amount of work on it.

Porter had the whole family pitch in. She paid her father, a seasoned house renovator, to paint the house. Her mother attacked the garden, she and Porter planting some colourful shrubs to make it look pretty. Her husband put down paving stones from the gate to the front door, which they'd always meant to do. They also waterblasted the path outside the house. Little things such as replacing cracked windows throughout the house made a big difference.

Another thing they did was to have the bedroom walls re-gibbed. The walls were made of soft particle board, and a new lick of paint would not have done it, says Porter. "The re-gibbed walls looked amazing," she says. "I also put carpet in two bedrooms."

As they had already moved out, it made sense to use home stagers.

"It looked amazing. I thought it was really well done. And we certainly sold it very quickly."

The home stagers

Interior designer Kerry McComish, director of Online Interiors, regularly stages renovated and new homes.

"As a home stager for Fletcher's, I got to see people choosing their homes and what they were thinking." Her conclusion was: "People buy space, New Zealanders are obsessed with the most space that they can get for the dollar. Quality is second. People are looking for square metres. They are saying, "How am I going to live my life in that space?"

If you adhere to the adage, "less is more" then people can say, "We'll have the couch here, the big flat screen there."

De-personalising your home is important, says McComish. Take the family photos off the sideboard table and replace them with a vase of flowers.

"It speaks of a certain lifestyle, then people can imagine their own family pics there."

Some homestagers put in too many props, says McComish.

She suggests putting a king single bed into a double room and buying a duvet one size up, which looks luxurious.

Storage is a huge issue - clear out those cupboards. "If you are filling cupboards up, you've defeated the point of having cupboards," says McComish.

Put stuff in boxes then store it far under the house or even in the garage of a neighbour or family member. The more clutter you get off your property and the more space you create, the better.

The designer recommends new towels in the bathroom, and a rose in small vase as a final touch. "There is that connection with luxury; you give the impression that the people who live here have a nice life."

McComish adds that a decorative pot at the front door speaks volumes. And the beauty is that you can take those ornaments with you.

Three similar items of differing heights create a nice effect on a table, adds Lisa Smyth, sales person at Bayleys Mt Albert, who often helps vendors ready their houses for open homes.

"Create a theme with colour or decoration and continue it through the house, even in the children's bedrooms," she says. And keep toys to a minimum.

Smyth suggests asking a neighbour with a spare room if they will rent it to you to store unwanted furniture and odds and ends.

The gardener

There are some fundamentals to get right when preparing your garden for open-home visitors. Mowing the lawns is a given, and it's also a good idea to have your trees trimmed to allow extra light into the house.

"I often get asked for advice on a property before sale," says landscape designer Gail Farrell Nouveau Terra. "The owners sometimes see the worst and not the best. They focus on the too-hard-to-change things and don't see the small things that can make a difference.

"The garden is part of the first impression. It must look immaculate from the gate to the back yard."

The front door needs to be welcoming and obvious to the visitor. Mulch nearby gardens, trim hedges and sweep up leaves, she says.

Think about your site's good points, such as its glimpse of the sea. "There are ways to enhance those attributes using colour or form, such as trees to frame a view or to direct one's eye," says Farrell.

Prospective buyers are often looking for low-maintenance gardens as they have busy lives, so block planting and mulching are one way of achieving this.

"A well-cared-for entry and front garden indicate to all visitors that the whole property is cared for. If owners are maintaining the outside then they're likely to also be looking after the house and its interior," she says.

If your house does not have a good connection with the backyard, entice people into the garden by creating a separate patio or deck tucked into a pretty spot, suggests Farrell.

Spend up on large grade trees for instant effect, keeping in mind their eventual size. Choose fruiting or flowering trees such as olive or magnolia.

The agents

James Marshall of Harcourts says the most important factor in preparing for an open home is the impression of the front of the house. Then people look at the street. "If the picture doesn't grab their attention, then you're toast," he says.

Marshall explains the reasoning behind the push to de-clutter.

"If people are seeing clutter, they are seeing smaller rooms," he says.

Furnishings need to be sympathetic to the style of the house. You don't want eclectically aged pieces, he adds.

"Kitchens or bathrooms are what make or break a sale, particularly for women," adds Marshall.

He suggests if you have four bedrooms and one living room, to set up one of the other bedrooms as a second living room if you are trying to appeal to a family buyer.

Anne Duncan, from Mt Albert's Anne Duncan Real Estate, is watching with delight as the area achieves Ponsonby prices. She is advising her vendors to make every effort to make the first impression work.

"You don't have to be fancy, it just has to be nice," she says. "You can't do a first impression twice."

If it's a rental, Duncan recommends letting the tenants go and homestaging. "If it's an empty house, no one can see what the rooms are supposed to be used for, or how nice they could look."

Also, if the tenants are messy, their clutter can hide the good bones of the house.

One empty home she sold recently was homestaged and sold for $900,000 - at least $50,000 more than expected, she says.

Duncan is not an advocate of clearing out all the family photos. "I like to know a story with my houses," she says. For example, she sold a property in Owens Rd in Epsom where the vendor was an Italian woman who had met her New Zealand sailor husband during the war. They built a Romeo and Juliet balcony. "People really bought the story."

Last-minute check list

As you head out the door before every open home, do this run-around:

* Put dog and cat bowls out of sight or in the car boot. Take your washing with you, leave the laundry clear.

* Put lights on but not too many, people will get suspicious.

* If it's a cool day leave a couple of heaters on.

* If it's an evening open home, leave a few candles lit.

Spring clean for Starship

Throughout September, you can list items from your spring clean or open home clear-out for sale on Trade Me and pledge all or part of the sale to Starship.

If you sell an item through the Starship Spring Clean on Trade Me and donate 10 per cent or more of the proceeds, Trade Me will refund your fee. You'll also raise money for a rebuild of the hospital's Level 6 Neuroservices and Medical Specialty Wards.

Open Home countdown

Four weeks out: The garden and house exterior - have the house chem-washed, waterblast decks and paths, replace any rotten deck or step boards, paint the front step or porch, plant flowers, shrubs and trees for street appeal, trim established trees and hedges, mow the lawns.

Three weeks out: House interior - touch up scuffed paint on walls, clean the kitchen and bathrooms from top to bottom. Get cracked windows replaced, and any plumbing or electrical problems repaired.

Two weeks out: The big declutter - move large furniture pieces that you don't need out of the house, then work through every room and the garage and box up anything that you are not likely to use in the next few weeks and store it off-site if possible, or well back under the house. You want your cupboards, garage and under-house storage area to look as clear and tidy as possible.

One week out: Home staging, by your hand or others. Invest in new bedlinen and towels, a few decorative vases, bowls and pots for tables and by the front door, replace aged lightshades in key rooms, get rid of old cushions and throws and buy new in a co-ordinated colour scheme that you can thread through the house. Get the house professionally cleaned. Mow the lawns again. The day before your first open home, buy lots of flowers of the same two or three types, and place in vases large or small in almost every room.

- Herald on Sunday

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