It takes a Village to sell a home
When it comes to selling a house, there are some key players, chief among them being the realtor.
“Selling a home involves many variables and many people,” says Geoff Hamill, realtor/broker associate with Wheeler Steffen Sotheby’s International Realty. “It’s our job to be the facilitator, the organizer, the listener and sometimes the therapist,” Mr. Hamill said.
After being contacted by a seller, Mr. Hamill undertakes a survey to assess the realistic value of the property and determine what preparation is needed to attract a buyer with a healthy bid.
“I’m very hands-on. I’m involved from the beginning, throughout the process and also throughout the end,” he said.
Mr. Hamill comes by his real estate acumen honestly. When he was 12, his mother Ruth got into the real estate business. She often took him along with her during inspections. When he was 20, he got his own real estate license. Twenty-six years later, he has developed a tutored eye.
“We’ll start at the curb and do a 360,” he said. “I don’t just look at my client’s home, I look at the neighboring property. If someone’s got an overgrown or dead lawn, we’ll reach out to see what the situation is—try to work with the neighbor to make their property look better so it doesn’t reflect badly.”
The landscaping of the property being sold is also important. Some times there isn’t enough landscaping, while other times there is too much, according to Mr. Hamill.
Dilapidated fencing, rusty rain gutters, broken switch-plates: these are signs of deferred maintenance that turn off buyers, he said.
“I come with an action list,” he said. “We don’t necessarily do everything, but we try to address anything that is an obvious visual distraction.”
There are also some renovations that pay off big and won’t break the bank.
“The painting of an interior is usually the best return,” he said. “We usually suggest a neutral, like a Swiss coffee. We don’t need to get into colors.”
When Mr. Hamill discusses work that needs to be done with clients, he gets an array of reactions.
“Some sellers don’t want to do anything—it scares them, the idea of spending money and changing things. Others say, ‘Bring it on!’ My objective is to listen to them,” he said.
One of the most emotional parts of the selling process is winnowing down the stuff that we all collect over the years. Some belongings matter, but many are just clutter.
It helps for a seller to get prepared for a move from the very beginning, making the process easier, Mr. Hamill said.
“Half of my clients get rid of a good portion of their things,” he said. “They put donations bags on the curb, hire a dumpster.”
An impending move can also be a good opportunity to simultaneously reconnect and recycle.
“Have a family reunion where you invite people from across the state and the country and encourage them to get what they want,” Mr. Hamill said. “You can have people pick up things like yearbooks and heirloom items. It brings a family together and helps with the process.”
And when you get into your new digs, Mr. Hamill suggests keeping up the de-cluttering trend.
“If you have a housewarming party, call it a house welcoming party and say that no one is to bring anything unless it’s edible or can be planted in the ground,” he said.
Once the client has approved fixes and upgrades, Mr. Hamill turns to his pages-long database of local businesses whose quality service and affordability he can vouch for. He usually tries to provide at least three options, but he has some of his favorite providers.
For instance, he can recommend the Natural Earth LA landscaping company and family-owned Baseline Termite without reservation. Later in the process, with a transaction looming, he recommends the financial services of Tim Harrison and Dee Ann Estupinian of Broadview Mortgage and the deal-closing acumen of College Escrow.
“I like them because they are a neutral third party,” he said of the latter.
After the assessment process is over, the supporting parts in the big show, that is the home-selling process comes into play. When it comes to the role of handyman, Miles Bennett is Mr. Hamill’s go-to guy.
Mr. Bennett was a corporate general manager in construction until retiring nearly four years ago. He spends much of his time crafting artisan concrete countertops, but he also keeps busy with a side business called Actually Handyman.
“We’re not all handy, but I’m actually handy,” he quipped.
Mr. Bennett tries to confine his work to Claremont and does quite a bit of work for Mr. Hamill as well as for local realtors like Carol Curtis. The most common fix he makes is a surprisingly simple one, the installation of the proper number of smoke alarms—equipped with carbon monoxide detectors—to bring older houses up to code.
His second most common chore is fixing leaky faucets, which underlines the unfortunate truth that many of us let small but annoying home maintenance issues go until preparing for a move.
“I did a house last week where the people had a sweep at the bottom of the door. It made this awful screech. They’d been living with it for years,” he said. “All it took for me to fix it was one quarter-inch screw.”
Mr. Bennett also provides another much-needed pair of eyes.
“I walk the house and look for issues that people might focus on,” he said. “It may not be that big of a deal but it might be something where [a prospective buyer] says, ‘I don’t like that.’ My approach is that I look for things that add value.”
Once a home is in good order, it’s time to think about presentation. A vacant home might call for the addition of furnishings, just enough so homebuyers can picture themselves living there. Many homes benefit from thoughtful staging.
Lisa Schlick is an art instructor at Mountain View Elementary School and the owner of The Ivy House, a shop providing an eclectic mix of art, antiques and vintage furnishings. She began working with Mr. Hamill several months ago.
How do you make a place look its best? Get someone with a fresh point of view to assess the visual details of a home, those kind of things an owner might not notice because they are too close to the situation.
Ms. Schlick pays special attention to the entryway of a home because, “If the entryway is not welcoming, it sets a negative mood for the whole house.”
The right painting or mirror, bookended by a lovely object, goes a long way.
“Most people have everything they need to make something look fabulous,” Ms. Schlick said. “A lot of times the items just aren’t in the right place. Every time I’ve gone into a house, I’ll find that little hidden, forgotten vase.”
It’s human nature to accumulate belongings, but unedited clutter can be a form of deferred maintenance, according to Ms. Schlick.
“If something stays stagnant for too long, it’s neglected,” she said. “Your house is like a being. It can give you energy or it can drain you.”
This is not to say that a person can’t live well with a lot of belongings, emphasized Ms. Schlick, who recently downsized herself from a home that was full of paintings.
“Everything should be useful, beautiful or significant,” she said.
De-cluttering starts with noticing. For example, there may be too many things on a mantle.
“I might hold something up and ask, ‘What’s the significance of this?’” Ms. Schlick explained. “If they say, ‘It really doesn’t have any,’ we can take it away. If they say, ‘That was my grandfather’s pencil box,’ then we keep it. Once you’ve gotten rid of the things that don’t mean anything, everything flows,” she said.
Making a space look effortless can take a lot of emotional effort, Ms. Schlick said, especially when someone is downsizing a lifetime of memories.
“Moving is hard. It doesn’t matter why,” she said. “You are attached to your house. It’s place you come home to, it’s your comfort zone,” she said. “I sat with one woman who was taking family photos out of frames and she was sobbing. And that was okay. It was that kind of move. It can be cathartic.”
Ms. Schlick’s parents recently moved out of her childhood home, and she said that was almost tougher than her own move. There were so many objects that represented childhood memories, like a statue of a reclining man reading that she prized.
“It’s not always the nicest thing or the most expensive thing or the most pedigreed thing that means the most,” Ms. Schlick said. “Look around a room. It tells your whole story. We all have our shiny side and our banged-up side. We all have our sparkly side and our darker side. It’s what makes you a person. It’s the same thing with a home. It’s your story.”
When you are selling your home, you want to tell a different story, one of possibility.
“I think people buy the house that they can see themselves in,” Ms. Schlick said.
She tries to give every room at least one beautiful vignette.
“I staged one home that had this beautiful window looking out onto a beautiful yard. And the couch was on the other side of the room,” she said. “I put a little writing desk there and it just made this lovely spot to sit.”
From assessment to repair and renovation, from staging to financing, selling a home takes a Village, according to Mr. Hamill. Despite today’s relatively brisk Claremont housing market, a seller must use all due diligence to nab a serious buyer with a great offer.
“It’s never been an easy time to sell,” he said. “It’s always been challenging.”