Damage Control: Advice to Prospective Sellers
As Watergate made plain, the cover-up is often worse than the crime (although in Richard Nixon’s case, ordering a burglary was plenty bad in its own right).
The same principle applies to selling homes.
Here are three examples where covering up a problem is worse than simply leaving it be (or preferably, fixing it before prospective Buyers ever show up).
I don’t know about other Realtors, but whenever I smell the distinctive aroma of a plug-in (or more accurately, my clients do, because my sense of smell is atrocious), my hackles immediately go up.
What is the Seller trying to hide? Is there a water intrusion problem somewhere? Other damage? Is the smell mold, or could it just be mustiness from not having the house opened up recently?
If in fact a home smells moldy, the homeowner should identify the source of the water — which is always the culprit — and eliminate it.
Even if the offending odors are from an especially pungent dinner the night before, it’s still better not to try to mask it.
(Advice to Sellers: you may want forego preparing especially spicy or exotic dishes while your home is on the market — or at least those days you’re expecting lots of traffic. Seriously.)
Similarly, if the home smells of fresh paint, that can be a cue to look for wall or ceiling damage resulting from a defective roof, recent plumbing problems, etc.
Whenever I hear too-loud background music (I guess that would make it “foreground” music), I look outside: is the home on a busy street? Is it close to (or under) the flight path? Is there a commercial business near by?
I think a good rule of thumb in such cases is, if you notice the music . . . it’s too loud.
It’s also surprising to me how often music that the Sellers assume is tasteful and mood-setting . . . isn’t.
Three. Concealed damage.
Probably the most egregious example of covering up damage that I’ve personally encountered was the shoe I tripped over — 10 seconds into the showing — in the middle of the Seller’s Living Room floor.
Directly below: a hole in the floor that went all the way through to the basement.
Aside from being dangerous (physically, liability-wise, etc.) it’s also dumb: my Buyers had seen all they needed to to know that this wasn’t the home for them.
As a practical matter, the cues that there may be underlying damage are (usually) much more subtle: the too-big or oddly out-of-place rug (covering damage to the flooring); a wall hanging that seems misplaced; a piece of furniture that you keep bumping into (again, covering floor damage); a shade that’s pulled down because one or more window panes are broken.
If the prospective Buyer catches the problem early, their trust is shot; if they catch it later, during a second showing or even at the walk-thru, they’re likely to demand a big price concession or may even threaten to walk if the problem is big enough.
Even if they stay in the deal, I can guarantee that the now-distrustful Buyers will ratchet up their scrutiny of everything else in the home!
None of the foregoing scenarios makes the Seller better off than if they had simply dealt with the problem in a straightforward manner from the get-go.