Listing agents, as the professionals who help prep a home for sale, are often tasked with telling home sellers why their house might not sell in its current condition. It's a tough job, but it sure beats saying nothing and then watching a home sit indefinitely.
While most corrective tweaks are small—say, a fresh coat of paint or a solid decluttering—sometimes the things that stop a home from selling take everyone by surprise. Here are a few that listing agents have dealt with, and the solutions that saved the day.
1. The 'green monster'
Seth Lejeune, real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway in Collegeville, PA, coined this phrase to describe a "horrendously colored hunter-green carpet” in his home seller's living room. This home had already been listed once with another agent with no offers; Lejeune was quite sure this carpet was the culprit.
“So I told the seller to replace the carpet with something neutral,” Lejeune says. The seller "was surprised, but receptive. I explained the importance of first impressions, and he got it after a few minutes.”
Replacing the carpet cost only $1,500. “We got four showings within two weeks, and it was the fastest townhome sale of the year,” Lejeune says. In fact, the home buyers mentioned at settlement that they especially loved the living room.
Take-home lesson: Even simple cosmetic flaws, like an ugly shade of carpet, can make some home buyers run. Luckily swapping out carpet is an easy fix.
2. Too many pets
Seattle real estate agent Matt Parker recalls meeting with a landlord who was looking to sell his rental property. The problem? The home had been rented to, as Parker puts it, a couple of “pet enthusiasts.”
“They had about 30 injured birds, squirrels, dogs, cats, lizards, snakes, and dozens of fish in a 910-square-foot house,” he says.
The snakes were in cages and the fish were in bowls, of course, but the rest of the animals roamed free.
“You can imagine what the home smelled like, how stained the floors were, and how many ‘hidden treasure’ land mines there were throughout the house,” Parker says.
The carpet, flooring, subflooring, walls, and exposed wood throughout the house had been permeated with a foul odor, Parker says.
Parker told the home seller that his odds of selling were slim, unless it were a teardown. Thankfully, the seller accepted the news without much drama.
Take-home lesson: We love our furry friends, but that doesn't mean potential buyers want to see our pets (or any of their traces) when looking at a home they're thinking of buying. (Here are tips on how to sell a home with pets.)
3. Noisy neighbors
Homeowners value privacy, but, alas, they don’t always get it.
Courtney Poulos, a broker at ACME Real Estate in Los Angeles, experienced this firsthand with a client who was looking to sell a stylishly remodeled three-bedroom home. Unfortunately, the house “was right next to a large apartment complex,” Poulos says.
“When you were in the backyard, you felt that the occupants of the apartment complex were looking right down on you," she adds.
Poulos agreed to list the house, but remembers a couple of troublesome open houses. During one, a couple living in the apartment building out back “were fighting and you could see them and hear them from the backyard,” she says. At another open house, “one of the neighbors had his TV on so loud that we had to blast music of our own in the open house to try to cover it up."
The fix? “Since we were not getting the offers we wanted after the first couple of weeks, we built a 12-foot fence, incorporated canvas sun shades, installed twinkle lights, and made the outdoor space much more private,” Poulos adds.
The costs tallied up to $3,000, but it was a modest expense considering “this backyard solution ultimately helped sell the property.”
Take-home lesson: No one likes noisy neighbors, especially those who can see right in your house without effort. So, if your home is located adjacent to an apartment building or another home, you’ll want to take steps to provide yourself some privacy.
4. An underground oil tank
“I sold a home earlier this year that an investor had purchased through a foreclosure auction,” says Christopher Pagli, associate broker at William Raveis Legends Realty Group in Tarrytown, NY. But a presale inspection turned up some unwelcome news.
“There was a buried oil tank on the property,” Pagli says. “This came as a surprise, because the home was fueled by natural gas.”
Altogether the testing, removal, and backfill for the oil tank cost the seller about $8,000. The good news? Once the oil tank was removed, the home sold in three weeks.
Take-home lesson: Underground oil tanks are rare, but if you suspect your property has one, you’ll want to have the land tested by an inspector who specializes in oil tank location and decommissioning before putting your house on the market.
No word strikes fear into the hearts of home buyers and sellers more than mold.
“It is a four-letter word, and most definitely has been the issue of greatest magnitude for my home sellers," says Michael Edlen, a real estate agent in Pacific Palisades, CA.
One particularly bad experience sticks out: Before listing a house, Edlen spotted mold in a relatively small area of the garage, but that was just the start.
“[Mold] remediators found that the mold had gotten into the wall framing, so they had to open walls up behind and next to primary areas,” Edlen says. “By the time the work was done, it took two full months and nearly $60,000."
Fortunately, the sellers didn't freak out over the bill—or Edlen.
“One way or another, they would have had to deal with it—and better to fix it upfront than leaving it to later,” he explains.
Take-home lesson: Mold can put a homeowner’s health at risk, which explains why it’s one of the most common fears among home buyers. Make sure you check your house for mold and address any issues before listing it.