Home not selling? Here's 10 ways you're turning off prospective buyers

Economists have called 2017 a seller’s market. Still, that hasn’t stopped thousands of houses from sitting unsold for months, without so much as a whisper of an offer.

While the biggest mistake sellers make is overpricing, there are dozens of other off-putting things they can be guilty of. A seller has to be particularly sensitive to consumers’ tastes since purchasing a home is the biggest emotional purchase most people make in their entire lifetimes.

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Here are 10 things to stop doing if you want to start seeing bids:

#1. Not staging 

no staging cathy hobbs

Cathy Hobbs Design Recipes  (Under-staging makes it hard for buyers to imagine living there, say experts.)

According to the National Association of Realtors’ 2017 Profile on Home Staging, 77 percent of buyers’ agents reported staging a house made it easier for the buyer to visualize the property as a future home. “The goal for home staging is to be so orderly, neat and clutter-free that you seduce buyers into thinking: ‘Wow, if I lived here, my life would fall into place, too,'” says Marni Jameson, a former professional live-in stager. Tampa-based real estate investor Eugene Gamble agrees, but cautions against getting rid of everything and being left with an empty, uninspiring space. “Hire a professional to find the sweet spot between the two extremes.”

#2. Over-staging

Montana-based REALTOR Alexis Brill cringes when she sees bowls filled with wax fruit, believing that fake anything seems inauthentic and can leave a bad taste in a potential buyer’s mouth.

Allen Shayanfekr agrees overstaging can be harmful. “It’s important the entire house is not staged,” says the CEO of Sharestates. “This leaves room for some thought on customization.” Specifically, Shayanfekr prioritizes staging the kitchen, bathrooms and landscaping — in that order.

“Bathrooms and kitchens still sell homes,” agrees Cathy Hobbs, a home staging expert and "HGTV Design Star" finalist.  

#3. Overdoing or neglecting the landscaping

landscaping, steve griggs designs

Steve Griggs Designs  (A well-landscaped property should be free of excessive yard decorations.)

“Too many plants and kitschy yard décor is not only an eyesore — it can also scream maintenance, or worse, overpower the house,” says Brill. Landscape designer Steve Griggs particularly recommends trimming any bushes or trees blocking light from coming into the home. And from the exterior perspective, repair dead grass and remove weeds. The last thing you want your home associated with is death and destruction. 

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#4. Posting poor quality pictures

“You only get one chance to make a good first impression and that first impression is usually online,” says Gamble. According to the National Association of Realtors, 90 percent of home buyers search online. Julie Locke, a Newport Beach-based Keller Williams agent, says it’s essential to not skimp on high quality photos and video since they’re often the first step toward getting a buyer’s foot in the door. “You want people to ‘swipe right’ on the photos of your home,” says Aaron Burnett, a professional photographer who charges between $150 – $500 for a shoot. “Professionals understand composition, lighting, shadows, color balance, etc. We also have really good equipment to work with.”

#5. Leaving evidence of pets

pet home istock

Leaving evidence of pets can be a major turn-off for potential buyers.  (iStock)

Samantha DeBianchi, a real estate agent who appeared on "Million Dollar Listing Miami," remembers a time the seller left a foul-mouthed caged parrot at home during the walk-through. (“The bird knew more than just ‘hello,’” recalls DeBianchi.) But even just leaving dog dishes out or cat toys laying around can be a huge turn-off for potential buyers.

#6. Ignoring lingering odors

Obviously, pets are a big source of these invisible dealbreaking odors, which also include mold and cigarette smoke. Food is frequently a culprit, too. RJ Winberg, an Orange County-based real estate agent, recommends finding a third party to provide objective feedback.

For decades, retailers have been well aware that scent affects purchasing habits, and the same correlation is found in real estate.

#7. Converting rooms for special uses

istock home gym

Whatever you convert your extra rooms into, make sure to convert them back when selling.  (iStock)

Allison Bethell cautions against turning a garage into a family room or combining two bedrooms into one large bedroom if you’re trying to sell your home. “A potential buyer wants a garage to park in and an extra bedroom for guests,” says the Miami-based real estate analyst.

If you do decide to convert, leave money in your budget to convert it back. “Transforming a bedroom into a walk-in closet or that dark room you’ve always wanted, may be something you will enjoy while living in the home, but will be a big negative to potential buyers,” says Hobbs.

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#8. Lacking in lighting 

Few things are as frustrating as walking into a dark room and having to fumble around to find a light switch. Install light switches in places that make sense, and during a showing, make sure lights are already on when the potential buyer arrives. “Not only will this let buyers know everything is working correctly, it will also brighten the space,” notes Jessica Levings, a Realtor in Orlando. To add even more light, open the curtains and use mirrors to reflect existing light.  

#9. Sharing TMI

“I once showed a Democrat client a house where there was a photo of George Bush. He walked out,” says Barbara Ackerman, a Realtor in Southwest Florida, who advises that clients hide polarizing personal items during showings. According to Ackerman, even the greatest house on Earth won't be purchased by a buyer who is offended.

Removing personal items also applies to what’s behind closed doors. “Buyers will often snoop,” says Nancy Brook, a RE/MAX agent in Billings. “I’ve had some buyers comment about a seller’s use of Xanax. Why is this a mistake? It takes the buyers’ attention off the property and onto the seller’s personal life.”

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#10. Underpromising on storage

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Be sure to get your closets under control before showings.  (iStock)

The notion that you should "underpromise and overdeliver" doesn’t work when you’re trying to sell a house. “Thin out your closets and storage spaces,” advises Kathryn Bishop of Keller Williams Reality in Los Angeles. “When closets are jammed with clothes, boxes, etc., buyers think the home doesn’t have enough storage.” Bishop also cautions against stashing stuff in the garage, saying the best solution is to rent a POD-type storage unit. It’s an additional expense, but it’s also a head start on the inevitable process of moving out.

Katie Jackson is a travel writer. When she's not working, she's chasing after a Leonberger named Zeus.