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We’ve read about the shortage of houses for sale in Maine. Even as rising interest rates have put a damper on the market, move-in ready houses are still selling.
Maine's median home price was $329,250 in February (down from a peak of $360,000 in June 2022) and was $459,000 in Cumberland County, which speaks to the demand for houses in southern Maine.
Time and again, we hear from Realtors that, even though inventory is tight and fewer houses are selling, there’s still demand for move-in ready houses — “cream puffs,” as Portside Real Estate CEO Dava Davin referred to them at the MEREDA conference in January.
Move-in ready houses are still attracting bidding wars, while houses that need work are languishing, often with the listing expiring.
“You never have the opportunity to make that good first impression once you’re listed. Beyond this you get stale quick once you’re listed for two to three weeks. This means the dreams of bidding wars can soon turn to price drops,” said Tom Landry, a principal at Benchmark Real Estate in Portland. “Choosing the right team and choosing to remove items that distract the buyer — before you list — is so important.”
The National Association of Realtors suggests hiring a professional cleaning crew. Some houses may need a professional to “de-clutter” the house. (See more in the sidebar.)
Maine has a lot of older housing stock, but there are a few tips Maine Realtors offer to get your house ready to show.
Carmen McPhail, president of the Maine Association of Realtors, has had a Maine real estate license since 1997 and is affiliated with United Country Lifestyle Properties of Maine, owned by the McPhail family, based in Lincoln with offices also in Bangor and Lubec.
She had this to say about getting a house ready for a successful sale.
“Make your home shine inside and out — deep clean/declutter the inside and pressure wash the outside. Make sure your lawn and gardens look their best, too," she said.
McPhail suggests hiring a lawn service to do spring cleanup. “Flowers can add that pop of color without breaking your back or the bank. Find colorful hearty plants for framing the entry doors,” she added.
McPhail also recommends sprucing up the front entry. Homeowners, she said, typically use the back or kitchen door.
“Don’t forget your ‘formal’ entry. Buyers should be brought in through the front door for a WOW moment so dress up your front entry inside and out,” McPhail said.
Paul McKee, president-elect of the Maine Association of Realtors and lead-buyer specialist at Keller Williams Realty-Hatcher Group, suggests taking a look at the house through the eyes of a home inspector.
“I always recommend the listing agent starts outside by walking them around the house and point out issues inspectors will mention to the buyer,” McKee said.
McKee cites rotted sills or missing siding, drainage issues such as pipes that don’t drain away from the foundation, branches from trees overhanging a house, stairs without railings, loose wires, missing window screens.
“The first impression is the most important,” said McKee. “If that doesn't look appealing, buyers look at everything when they get inside.”
In the interior, he suggests having rugs cleaned if stains are apparent. Make sure all safety elements are working properly, including smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, door locks, sliders, window locks and so on.
“Turn on all the lights before a showing so people aren't fumbling for switches,” he says.
Details matter, he says: If you have a favorite chandelier that’s not part of the sale, replace it with something suitable for the sale, then “paint and patch accordingly.”
Landry, of Benchmark Real Estate, has been on both sides of the deal as a Realtor and as a seller, recently as a developer of a condo project on Munjoy Hill.
“I could talk for a day on this subject,” he tells Mainebiz. “I think it is so important for sellers to pause and make sure they go to market in the right way. This is so vital to the sales process that we call the process ‘launch vs. list.’”
Here are the steps Landry suggests:
“This systematic approach is critical to sales success,” Landry said. “It might seem complicated and laborious, but the process can happen in days versus weeks. Since it can lead to making $20,000 to $50,000 to $100,000 more it’s always worth the effort.”
As for actual house prep, Landry had these tips: