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April 20, 2023

It’s springtime, and Maine Realtors have these tips to get your house ready to sell

house for sale Noah Van Allen A 3-bedroom, 2-bath house in Yarmouth is listed for $489,000.

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.)

The 'wow' moment

Maine has a lot of older housing stock, but there are a few tips Maine Realtors offer to get your house ready to show. 

person in red dress smiling
Courtesy / Maine Association of Realtors
Carmen McPhail

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. 

Courtesy / Maine Association of Realtors
Paul McKee, president of the Maine Association of Realtors

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.” 

'Launch' your house

Tom Landry
Courtesy / Benchmark Real Estate
Tom Landry

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:

  • Contact an agent who not only sells lots of homes in your area but also one who is versed in the concept of [how to] ‘launch’ a property onto the market versus simply listing it and hoping for the best. 
  • Share with them your desire to go to market in the best possible way
  • Have that agent bring in their team and lead an on-site interior and exterior walk-through
  • During the meeting, each member of the team is charged with identifying items that might distract buyers and offering pragmatic solutions
  • Post-meeting notes are shared, a timeline for completion/pictures is set and a budget is established
  • Work is completed 
  • Pictures and video are taken
  • Marketing is complete 
  • Listing is launched 

“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.”

First impressions count

As for actual house prep, Landry had these tips:

  • Exterior prep: Yard clean up, prune, mow, edge, mulch. 
  • Interior declutter: When in doubt, less is best. Most people should plan to remove one-third of their current stuff. 
  • Deep cleaning: Focus on the main living areas versus garage or basement 
  • Bring in the light: From new light fixtures outside and removing curtains and blinds to cleaning those windows for more light. 
  • Remove odors: Whether it’s from pets or smoke or appliances. “Buyers make decisions with all their senses, including the sniffer,” Landry said. 
  • Make minor repairs: Old water stains on the ceiling should be removed, re-caulk the tub, touch up paint, fix “small and cheap” items.
  • Service heating systems: A recent service and repair of a heating or AC system send a message to a buyer that you have cared for the home. 

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