How to Sell a Vacant Home in the Off-Season
By Megan Wild
There's a reason that spring and summer are the major seasons for selling houses. Most people want to move at a time that allows them to be settled by the fall, when kids go back to school and daylight shortens.
However, you might find yourself having to sell a vacant home in the off-season. The home might be empty because the seller had to move on for reasons of work or had to move into a house he or she was paying for.
There are really two issues here. The first is selling a vacant house. The second is selling a house in the off-season. Here are some tips on how to do both:
Selling a Vacant House
Keep Up Maintenance and Repair - Even with no one around, surfaces need to be dusted and kept clean. Once people move out, minor items needing repair, like a leaky faucet or a burned-out light bulb, might not be noticed. It’s your job to notice, though, because signs of even minor disrepair or lack of maintenance can quickly turn off prospective buyers.
Clean the house or hire someone to clean it at least once a month. Surfaces need to be dusted, for example, and floors mopped or vacuumed. Do a walkthrough looking for repairs once a month, or hire a property manager to do it.
Make Sure the House Doesn't Look Vacant - A vacant property shouldn't look vacant for two reasons: First, it's uninviting to see an empty property. It's less likely that a buyer will see themselves in the space; second, it's an open invitation to thieves, vandals and even squatters. You don't want to open the door one day and see that vandals spray-painted all over the walls.
Develop a plan. Pick up mail if the seller isn't having it forwarded. Place lights on timers so that they go on automatically in the evening, just as they would if someone still lived there. Many have remote apps that make this easy.
Turn Heat or Air Conditioning on Regularly - Don't leave the heat or air conditioning off for long periods of time. Lack of heat can cause pipes to freeze or burst. Lack of air conditioning may make it difficult to cool the house properly when it comes time to show it. In addition, lack of proper ventilation can make the house smell musty and unused. It's best to run the heat and air conditioning at regular intervals while the house is vacant.
Focus on Curb Appeal - Don't skimp on curb appeal just because the house is vacant. If anything, making the house look inviting becomes even more critical if no one lives there. Keep the grounds and garden in the same pristine condition as the house. Paint the door a vibrant color. Place small trees on either side to frame it.
Stage the Interior - When prospective buyers come, they need to see an interior that looks welcoming, and that allows them to visualize themselves in the house. They may not be able to do that fully if the house is completely empty.
On the other hand, completely furnishing an empty house may not be practical. What you need to do is stage the interior. Put focal pieces in each room, for example. You don't need to create a functional room; you just have to give clients a sense of how the room would look if they lived there. In other words: a fireplace with wood, a lamp and a sofa in the living room might be enough. No need for matching armchairs and two more lamps!
Selling in the Off-Season
Price to Sell - While you likely won't attract the maximum number of buyers in the off-season, some people do look in the fall and winter. To move the house, the most prudent move is to price it to sell. If you're in a hot market, that may be at a market price. If demand is a tad sluggish, price it slightly under. For most sellers, it's better to sell at a price slightly under the asking price in October than to wait five more months, especially if they're carrying the mortgage.
Sweeten the Offer - Sweetening the offer may also help sell the house in the off-season. Nicely enough, sweeteners abound, depending on the property. Does a patio look as if it may need replacement in the next five years? See if the seller will replace it as a sweetener. Do the same with any major appliance that may go in five years, such as water heaters.
The other sweetener strategy is to wait for buyers to suggest things. Some may want a reseeded lawn or pruned trees. Entertain these offers if they look likely to result in a sale.
It can be more challenging to sell a vacant home in the off-season, but by utilizing these tips, you’ll place yourself at a strategic advantage in moving a house in the off-season.