Changing leaves, football games, cider mills, sweater weather...you’d be hard-pressed to find a Michigander who doesn’t enjoy the fall. For prospective sellers, this beloved season is even becoming an increasingly popular time to list. But, as the seasons change, so does your landscaping, and any savvy seller knows that curb appeal can seal a deal.
If you’re adding a “for sale” sign to your yard this fall, here are a few tips to help your home stand out from the competition.
Focus on the entry
Since every potential buyer will first pass through your front door, REALTOR® Amy Jackson with Coldwell Banker Hubbell BriarWood says the entryway is critical in making a good first impression.
“While their agents are looking up codes or fiddling with keys to access the house, buyers will have a few moments to look around,” she said. “They’ll notice all the little details and imperfections and that can really set the tone for the rest of the tour.”
Give your front door a good cleaning and replace any rusted or corroded hardware. If you're really ambitious, you may want to pick a new shade of paint for your door to make it stand out. Make sure your porch and walkways are clear, sweeping away dirt, fallen leaves, and cobwebs. Once everything is clean, add a new doormat and a simple seasonal wreath to set an inviting tone.
Clean up the exterior
While the colorful, falling leaves make for beautiful scenery, they also mean extra work for homeowners. Be sure to keep up on clearing your gutters and downspouts of leaves and other debris, which will protect your home from water damage. If your exterior is looking a little dingy, power wash your siding and thoroughly clean your windows.
While your yard may not require frequent mowing this time of year, continue to edge walkways and driveways, keep up on raking, and be sure to cut back dead growth from your summer plants that have now wilted away.
Amanda LaVoie, REALTOR® and professional home stager with Inspired Home Real Estate, says staying on top of outside maintenance tells buyers that a home has been well cared for.
“Even though these seem like easy tasks, if left undone they appear to buyers like added work, and in some cases, added expense,” she said. “In real estate, it’s all about that first impression and you’ve only got one shot, so it’s critical that you ‘wow’ them right from the start.”
Add a splash of color
Jackson says regardless of temperature, fall is the season that invokes the “warmest” feelings, and its rich tones can truly bring your landscaping back to life.
“The colors are vibrant and inviting, and that’s just how you want your home to appear to buyers,” she said. “You want them to envision hosting family dinners and holiday gatherings inside, and you can set that welcoming tone through your outside presentation.”
Mums and marigolds are inexpensive plants that can add a lot of color and texture to your home. You can pick them up almost anywhere — home improvement stores, grocery stores, greeneries — and just a few placed in pots around your front porch is enough to brighten your curb appeal and draw buyers in.
Let there be light
Remember, the days get shorter this time of year, and that means sellers need to pay extra attention to their exterior lighting.
“A lot of showings are done after work, and sometimes it’s pretty dark by 5 or 6 in the evening,” said LaVoie. “Lighting is important not only to provide a safe path to your front door, but also to highlight your house numbers so buyers can easily find your address.”
LaVoie says sellers need to make sure all outside bulbs are working properly, and that fixtures and lanterns are clean and in good condition.
“For added impact, consider placing inexpensive solar lights along the border of your garden or walkway to add more warmth and light to your yard,” she said.
Keep it simple
The fall is a great time of year to have some fun with outside decor, but as a seller, you have to keep your buyers in mind. As previously mentioned, a simple wreath and a few pots of mums are just enough to make your home look inviting and fresh, but sellers should probably stay away from spooky décor.
“Fun, seasonal decor can be a conversation starter, but it can also be a distraction for buyers,” said Jackson. “While you’re a seller, it’s important to keep things clean and simple. Remember, you can decorate however you want once you’re in your next home.”
When competing against other buyers in a multiple offer situation, you need to come in with your strongest offer right up front. While price is definitely one of the biggest considerations, sellers will scrutinize every part of that offer, including the amount of your down payment.
Before we get into why that number matters, let’s set the stage by discussing down payment options. For years, 20 percent was the down payment benchmark, but those days are long gone. Today, qualified borrowers can purchase a home for as little as 3 percent down — or even no money down, in some cases.
Not only are there government-backed mortgage programs that accept low to no down payments, but conventional mortgage requirements have also eased up over the years. There are now several programs that require as little as 3 percent down, and some banks and mortgage companies offer niche products with an even lower down payment.
So, with all of the options available today, what difference does it make to a seller if you put down 3 percent or 10 percent? The difference is that buyers with low down payments are sometimes seen as riskier than those who put down more. Buyers with a 10-20 percent down payment will potentially have an easier time qualifying for a loan, and most likely, they will financially be better able to handle unforeseen inspection or appraisal issues.
“Financial strength is one of the contributing factors,” said REALTOR®Amy Jackson with Coldwell Banker Hubbell BriarWood. “When a buyer is utilizing a larger down payment, they appear more prepared to a seller. It shows they’ve been saving and that they are financially capable of handling any issues that may arise.”
Jackson says this thinking is especially common among sellers who aren’t familiar with the low down payment loan options available today. “Not a lot of buyers can afford a 10 or 20 percent down payment, so these programs are being used more frequently,” she said. “But, a lot of them are also relatively new, and not all sellers see new as a good thing.”
Some borrowers use low down payment programs because they need to; 3.5 percent may be all they can afford. Others may choose these programs. Maybe they have enough in the bank to put down 10 percent, but doing so would wipe out their savings and they want to leave themselves a cushion.
Regardless of the reason, there are other ways to strengthen your offer and make a seller more comfortable with your down payment amount. For instance, you will automatically have an advantage if you use a local lender. Why? Because there tends to be more variability in the qualifying process and greater perceived risk with online or unknown lenders. When considering multiple offers, the buyer using a reputable area lender will typically have a better chance.
Using a local lender is also important because a strong relationship between your REALTOR® and mortgage company will be the key to a successful transaction. That relationship is much easier to maintain when the lender is local and accessible.
“If I’m working with a client who has a low down payment, I will often ask the lender to include additional information in the pre-approval letter that lays out my buyer’s other financial strengths,” said Jackson. “For instance, they may only be putting down 3.5 percent, but the lender can add that they have a high credit score and a good amount of savings in the bank.”
A higher earnest money deposit may also get a seller to look past a lower down payment. Often called a “good faith” deposit, an earnest money deposit — typically between 1-3 percent — is common in real estate transactions and shows a buyer is committed to purchasing a particular home. “Again, this shows you have real skin in the game, that your intention is to see this through and you are backing it financially,” said Jackson.
Also, keep in mind there may be other important factors to a seller. For instance, when a buyer takes possession of a property is sometimes just as important as pricing or financing. One of the biggest concerns for sellers in this low-inventory market is finding their next property. If a buyer can offer them time, or a leaseback at no charge, it can set the offer apart.
The bottom line: seller hesitations around smaller down payments can be overcome. But, to give yourself the best advantage, you need to work with a competent and creative agent who will shape your offer to the desires and concerns of the seller.
“In this competitive market it’s our job to sell our buyers to the sellers,” said Jackson. “That’s why it’s important to work with an organized, professional REALTOR® who is doing all they can for you and presenting you as an A buyer, regardless of the size of your down payment.”