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Advice for Sellers

Stop thinking about your property as your home!
Posted: February 12, 2020 by Darryl Murphy

It may seem cold, even cruel to say, but one of the best things a seller can do when it comes to selling their home is to stop thinking about it as their home!  Think about it as your property instead because when you do, not only will the process be easier in general, you may just make more money along the way.

In some ways it’s a cliché distinction; home is where the heart is, one’s home is one’s castle, wherever you hang your hat is your home, and so on.  On the other hand, property is something one possesses, it is something (or things) one has certain rights to protect and to exchange.  But even in the clichés we can see the practicality of maintaining such a distinction, especially in the context of selling your home/property.  Whereas one’s home is laden with nostalgia and emotions, one’s property is just a thing, an asset the value of which can be exploited like a tool or exchanged for other things of value.  Sure, this particular tool may be handy for keeping you and your family warm and dry, but there are at least a million other things out there that can be used for the same purpose. When you think about it this way your house, your condominium, your apartment, your igloo, these things are not your home.  They are your property. Your home, on the other hand, is whatever (or wherever) you choose to gather your family, to seek shelter and comfort, and to build memories. All of these things can, and will, be done in whichever property you choose to situate your home. 

Yes, the distinction is largely an emotional distinction.  So too is the advantage. Keeping the distinction clear in their head throughout the selling process will give the seller the emotional advantage.  The prospective buyer of the property will, invariably, bring plenty of emotion to the transaction as they decide whether or not the property will be the next place they call home.  Setting aside their emotional attachments right from the very beginning of the selling process allows the seller to carry out the transaction with objectivity.

Objectivity of this sort can save time and money when it comes to preparing your property for sale.  Realtors are often asked, “what should I do to prepare my home for sale?” The answer to this question will depend, of course, on the specific needs of the property.  In general, though, sellers are best to answer this question with the distinction between home and property front of mind. Just like any other replaceable article of property (and I’ll say this again: the house, condominium, apartment, or igloo you live in is replaceable) its value is affected by how appealing it looks to the prospective buyer.  My wife’s favourite colour is turquoise and when it comes to decorating she’d love to cover the walls a brilliant blue green. And there’s nothing wrong with your favourite colours on the walls of your home. When it comes to their property, however, the last thing a seller wants to do is dress up their property in a way that appeals to their personal taste so much so that it would be hard for any other person to imagine it dressed up to suit their own taste. 

In many ways this is the key, the value of a property could increase depending on how easily a potential buyer can imagine it dressed up to suit their tastes.  In other words, how easily can the prospective buyer imagine the property becoming their home. For this reason, $30 spent on a bucket of neutral coloured paint is far more valuable than the $30 a seller might spend on a bucket of paint tinted to their favourite colour.  The principle extends beyond paint too: no matter how much the seller loves bocce ball, they’re likely better off spending the money they might spend repairing their bocce court on fresh sod to cover it up. The sod is likely cheaper and, more importantly, fresh grass is more likely to appeal to potential buyers.  When it comes to preparing one’s property for sale, let the distinction between home and property guide your decisions by asking yourself, “am I making this improvement because I would like this done to my home, or am I doing it to improve the value of my asset?”

Having a healthy appreciation of the difference between your home and your property can also make one of the most difficult steps in the selling process much easier, that is, setting the listing price of your property.

Let’s face it, we all tend to inflate the value of things to which we have sentimental attachments.  It’s only natural. The unfortunate truth, however, is that the market does pay sellers extra for all the wonderful memories they made when they called the property home.  Similarly, the seller is not likely to recover the expense of the improvements they made to their property that cater to the seller’s personal hobbies, or those made that appeal to the seller’s personal tastes.  Seller’s really shouldn’t expect to be paid a premium for the brewery they installed in their basement even if it cost them $30,000 to build it. Nor should they expect to be paid a premium for the imported tiles they paid an arm and a leg for when they decorated their Mexican hacienda themed kitchen.

They may be beautiful, but prospective buyers are more likely to start asking themselves how much it will cost to remove and replace them if they buy the property.

Along the same lines, it’s also important that sellers not let the property they want to invest in--that is, their future home--lead them unrealistic expectations of the value of their present property.  In other words, needing $450,000 from their property in order to qualify for the $600,000 mortgage needed to purchase their dream property, is not going to magically make the seller’s current property worth $450,000.

It’s best that the seller, as early as possible, come to grips with the fact that their home might be priceless, but when it comes to their property only market factors—for example, its location, the availability of similar properties, the property’s general state of repair, and things of this impersonal nature—will impact its value.

In the end, assuming the whole process is successful, the seller will have to pack up all their belongings and, to the best of their ability, sweep away every trace of themselves from the property they’ve just sold.  Sellers have to turn away from the place they once called home, close and lock the door, and hand over the keys to someone who is likely a complete stranger. Tears are common (even from guys leaving their old rundown bachelor pads).  If you’ve never done it before, you’ll have to take my word for it: it’s easier to leave the property behind if you simply stop thinking about it as your home. For one thing, the property is not yours anymore. For another, and this is the important part, your home awaits you somewhere else.  It travels with you. Wherever your family gathers, wherever you seek shelter and comfort, that’s the thing you can’t put a price tag on, that’s your home! The building, the land, that’s interchangeable.

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