Leftridge: Advice to Home Sellers, From a Guy Who’s Looking to Buy

skd273191sdcSo I’ve been house-hunting. For the first time ever. And I’ve learned some things. Not things that new buyers need to know, necessarily—I think I’m still figuring that part out—but things that sellers should know. Things that I’ve learned after evenings spent traipsing from hovel to abode and from palace to shanty, my vision blurred from sweat, my disposition already soured by the constant, needling thought of how much money I’ll be spending.

So much new debt, so long ridiculous dream of retiring at 40.

Well, if I find a house, that is. Because frankly, it’s ridiculously hard. And yeah, I’ve heard everyone state that they looked at 50-1,000 houses before buying, and maybe I’ve only looked at 15 or so. And maybe Prairie Village is an unforgiving mistress due to her insatiable appetite for dollars-per-square-footage, penchant for scary basements and undying desirability.

But honestly, I don’t think I’m asking TOO much. I don’t expect a mansion, or anything even remotely close. All I want is a few bedrooms, a couple of bathrooms, and a deep well in the backyard that I can chuck shit down. (The well is negotiable.)

What I DON’T want, however, is a crap-shack. And believe me, I’ve seen plenty. On more than one occasion in this journey, I’ve walked into a house and had an almost immediate desire to turn right around and pretend like the whole thing was an accident. I literally couldn’t even fathom how some of these people were expecting to sell their house.

(Maybe they weren’t? Maybe they were hiding in the closet masturbating, the owner of a bizarre sexual fetish that can only be satiated by watching strangers finger their drapery.)

In any case, if you REALLY want to sell your house—like, for serious—here are some tips.

catIf You Have a Cat, Don’t.

Look, I like cats. They’re cute and cuddly and they do adorable shit like get stuck in paper bags or whatever.

They piss on everything, though. Everything. On the walls, on the carpet, in the fireplace. It doesn’t matter. If it’s a surface, a feline will spray urine all over it. And it smells. Awful. A lingering odor of rotted pine and ammonia that punches you in the goddamned face and makes you realize that, “Hey, a cat pissed here. Frequently, even!” And like the outline of a decomposed corpse on a nice hardwood floor, it doesn’t go away. Your house will forever be haunted by the stink of a million cat accidents. I will not buy your house, and neither will anyone else. Raze it.

If You Smoke, Don’t.

See above. The stink isn’t as permanent, but it takes a good, long while to eradicate. So if you just crushed out an unfiltered Lucky Strike moments before I entered your house, it will still smell like it. And when I come clip-clopping through, every movement I make will kick up new clouds of carcinogens. I will not want to buy your house. Most other folks will not, either. You may not need a complete demolition, but you’re going to have to work on airing that shit out. Seriously, who even still smokes in their house, anyway? Isn’t that what your back deck is for? Or your stoop? Or your porch?

Clean. Seriously.

I get it. I’m not the most fastidious guy when it comes to cleanliness. My toilet gets a little unkempt at times, and my mirror gets splattered with a fine peppering of toothpaste particles. I am NOT, however, trying to get a stranger to look at my mess and say, “You know what, wife? I like this guy’s style. I’M BUYING HIS SHIT-BOX WITH NARY A SECOND THOUGHT!” If I were, I’d sure as hell put a little effort into cleaning up. A little baseboard scrubbing. Some elbow grease. I’d Tidy-Bowl and Swiffer my way into a sale, or at least die trying.

You wouldn’t BELIEVE (or maybe you would, if you’ve gone house-buying recently) how little people seem to care. Poop-stains on the carpet. Wads of chewing tobacco left for posterity on the back of the toilet tank. Dust and grime and graveyards of dead bugs in the corner of the garage. Is it really that hard to run a broom through the place? You wouldn’t expect me to buy an excruciatingly filthy car, would you? Then why would I buy something equally as dirty, only at 15-20x the cost?

lawnMow Your Lawn.

Again, this seems like a no-brainer, but, well… I mean, what is the FIRST thing a person sees when they pull up to your house? It’s not your house’s “meticulously maintained hardwood floors!” or “all new kitchen fixtures!” That stuff is INSIDE, hidden behind THE KNEE-HIGH GRASS AND WEEDS clogged with poisonous snakes, gopher holes and rust covered tricycles. This isn’t a deal-breaker, obviously—I can mow it—but it kind of starts off the tour on a really poor note. If you can’t be bothered to mow your lawn, how can I reasonably expect that you’ve kept up with other routine maintenance items?

A Solitary New Sink Doesn’t Mean “Recently Renovated!

Everyone loves new, shiny things. Light fixtures! Granite counter tops! Pretty sink! GLASS TILE BACKSPLASH! But if your only actual renovation is that you installed a couple of pewter faucet-handles in the master bath, I’m not going to overlook the cat skeletons in the rec room and you shouldn’t be flapping your gums about just how “recently renovated” your home is. And I know it’s a sales tactic—like “cozy!” means tiny and “charming!” means old and “solid structure/good bones!” means old and shitty—but it only works to get you in the door. And while “getting someone in the door” is over half of the battle when selling home stereo systems or elaborate fish tanks, it means squat when you’re selling a house.

Close to Everything! Could Mean Absolutely Anything.

This is the “don’t piss on my steak and tell me it’s juicy” principle. Of course the house you’re selling is close to everything; we’re in a metropolis, not Snake Rape, Montana. Right now, we’re all reasonably close to lakes, museums, lots of chic eateries, beautiful, rolling hills, vast expanses of peaceful prairie, scenic fountains, upscale shopping and lots of places where you can get your tires mounted, balanced and rotated. Close to everything means nothing. It’s a hollow phrase that conveys desperation and a lack of anything really interesting to say. Please refrain from using this vapid expression in your listings.

2CarGarageYour Two Car Garage Probably Can’t Fit Two Actual Cars.

It just won’t. I swear. I don’t know if I’ve seen a legit two-car garage yet. And it’s one of those things that you notice upon viewing, so I’m not sure why you lie about it. Again, not a HUGE deal breaker, but if it were, I’d be angry. And you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. You know, because then I probably wouldn’t buy your house or whatever.

And I’ll stop here. You’re welcome. I honestly could go on and on about this—I’m becoming quite passionate about home-shopping—but my phone just dinged, alerting me that there’s a new house to look at. If you need me, I’ll be stabbing my eyes out with a fork because WHO SERIOUSLY THINKS IT’S OK TO POST ONE FUCKING PHOTO OF THEIR HOUSE?


I’m on Twitter, @StanfordWhistle

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27 Responses to Leftridge: Advice to Home Sellers, From a Guy Who’s Looking to Buy

  1. Super Dave says:

    Lefty, where in Sam Hill are you looking at houses? I just had a friend close yesterday on his new place and of course while he was looking I had to look at countless listings on line and make a few tours of places he had an interest in, but wow never seen anything like you I guess have been seeing. Well ok was the one place where there was a hump in the middle of the floor that turned out to be…….well let’s just say to protect the innocent that what was under there didn’t belong there. But after dealing with properties and renters for years I know just what you mean about how some people live and don’t seem to think it would bother anyone else either. A neat clean nice smelling house with a mowed yard even if it’s more crab grass that fescue will sell much faster than a house one might think is located at the gates of hell. I wish you luck in your searching and if you need some good advice and pointers Hearne can put you in touch with me.

    • We’re looking in Prairie Village/neighboring parts of OP/Leawood. And I’m exaggerating, of course, but I really HAVE been surprised at how little people spruce their place up when trying to sell it.

      We looked at a huge house on 83rd by Cornith Square that had only just been listed that day. The place was extremely… lived in. Okay, it was filthy.

      The realtor kept telling us, “look at ALL this great space, location, so forth. You could buy it, pump $100k into renovations and double the selling price…” And that’s great, but we’re not looking to flip a house. We want a place to LIVE.

      Anyway, he carried on about how great it was, but he could tell we weren’t interested so we split. Much to my amazement, the house sold the next day– one day after being put on the market.

  2. chuck says:

    “Snake Rape”. LMAO!

    I am stealing that.

    Hey man, I wish ya luck with the house, but I would guess that most of us are all busy putting ours up for sale now that the metropolitan area is an even MORE dangerous place.

    You’re gettin a car?

    You’re gonna drive?

    On city streets?

    Get the women and children off the streets, Mr. Urban is behind the wheel.

    • Yeah, I haven’t owned a car since before we left KC for Chicago over 5 years ago… so that’ll be a change. I haven’t forgotten how to drive, though, I promise.

  3. Guy Who Says What Others Think says:

    Build a house, or buy a spec house. Next.

    • Building a house can equal serious money that we just don’t have. And a spec house would be nice, but there just aren’t a ton in the areas we’re looking. Maybe if we went all the way out to Lenexa or Olathe or something, but I don’t want to be that far away from civilization.

      • Irishguy says:

        I think what the guy is telling you is that buying a used house is a lot like buying a used car. Human beings are messy creatures and a home that’s been lived in for years is going to have a lot of flaws.

        Just like you don’t want a used car with a bad head gasket or a bad tranny, you don’t want a home with major issues. But if you are going to eliminate the homes where a cat has peed on the floor, well be prepared to pay the price.

  4. Irishguy says:

    Tip to a first-time home buyer. Look beyond the cosmetic. If you are going to limit your search to only homes that are owned by non-smokers, non-pet owners, and are as clean as an operating room, you are going to pay a price for that.

    Yeah, you want the home to be reasonably clean. You don’t want one in which a hoarder with 85 cats lived in it. But at the same time, look past the things that can be fixed easily.

    Second, make sure the guy doing the pre-sale inspection isn’t Stevie Wonder. Also look for yourself for signs of major things wrong. Look for leaks in the roof. Check the plumbing. Find out how old the water heater is. Have the furnace and a/c thoroughly checked out, even if you got to hire your own guy to do it. These things can cost you thousands that you don’t have any more because you sunk your dough into buying the house.

    In other words, don’t be too concerned about cat stains on the floor if all the major systems in the house are sound.

    Third, take advantage of the time you have before move-in. If the house is already vacant, get in there and fix it up the way you want. Don’t like the peach dining room? Go buy a can of “oops” paint at Home Depot and change it.

    And clean the house to suit yourself. It’s easy to do when the house is empty.

    Fourth, if you are going to restrict your search to Prairie Village, well, good luck. As you discovered with the “filthy” home on 83rd, that’s still a hot home market and you might get into a bidding war especially if you find the perfect, ready to move in home.

    • All very good points.

      And you’re right– I’m not TOO concerned with certain aesthetic shortcomings, but since we’re not fixer-uppers, I can’t look past HUGE issues. That said, I wouldn’t discount a particular property solely because of a poor paint job. I do, however, want the place to be somewhat inhabitable upon posession.

      Our realtor has been really good about pointing our structural flaws, drainage issues and the like. I’m confident that he won’t let us purchase a lemon.

      • Irishguy says:

        YOUR realtor? Son, the guy is working for the homeowner. He’s trying to sell you a house for as much money as he can. That’s how he makes his living.

        It’s a common trick for a realtor to show you homes with “fixer-upper” issues first so he/she can jack up that upper limit budget number you have in your head.

        And every “used” home you look at is going to be a “fixer-upper.” Different people have different tastes, and the odds are hugely against you if you expect the previous owner to have the same taste as you. There are going to be lots of things you don’t like.

        So set a list of “non-negotiables” in your head, but keep it small. Like a certain number of bedrooms and bathrooms.

        Oh yes, and if it has a finished basement, check carefully for mold. That can be a huge issue.

  5. John Altevogt says:

    You need a new Realtor. Either you’re extremely picky, or your Realtor is doing a horrible job of finding you properties. Secondly, Prairie Village, OP, or Leawood? Really?

    • We’ve only seen 12 or 13, I think. From everything I’ve heard, that’s not unreasonable. Obviously, a handful of those are for calibration purposes. The last few we’ve seen have been MUCH better, actually.

      And yes, PV, OP or Leawood (the older parts of the latter two). Why is that strange?

      • Irishguy says:

        It’s strange given your persnickety comments about cats and smokers.

        Don’t expect people to put too much effort and time into those homes in that market because they don’t have to.

        Also, I’m trying to square your comment about everything being “close in” to any metropolitan neighborhood with your search in such a limited, hot market.

        • There are still a lot of homes in those markets that have been listed for months, though. They’re either snapped right up, or they languish.

          • Irishguy says:

            Ummmm, there are usually good reasons that homes in that market “languish.”

            Some of them are two-bedroom, one bath bungalows with some serious issues.

        • kansas karl says:

          A good number of folks, particularly the kids selling the nursing home bound parents don’t do much to “show” the house for sale. However there are more than a few who have taken the time and money to maintain and improve on their property, those folks are making money. 2k sq ft for close to 300k, a Nichols cape too. Wells built add another 20k, I am speaking of north of 75th east of Nall west of Belinder, Nichols 3 bed 1 bath ranches for better than a deuce and a quarter, Where you will find 3 beds and 2 baths is south of 75th and good luck. Not a realtor, just lived here a while.

          • “…the kids selling the nursing home bound parents don’t do much to “show” the house for sale.”

            That’s interesting. I think you hit the nail on the head with that comment. It’s pretty obvious, too, when you see it.

  6. slicksds says:

    I believe what Mr. Leftridge is saying is that a shithole should be priced accordingly, and he is right. Hang tough sir, and don’t let your agent push you into something that doesn’t feel right. Forget the outside advice (particularly from those that don’t think cat piss is an issue) and go with your gut. There will always be another house. When you find the right one, you will know–trust me (or better yet, yourself). Good luck and don’t let your emotions overcome your good sense.

    • Brandon Leftridge says:

      I appreciate that.

    • Irishguy says:

      And what people living in the real world are saying is that cat piss stains on the floor or a lawn that needs mowing is not going to affect the price of a 3 BR/2 bath home by one dime in that market.

  7. Chris Lyon says:

    Hi Brandon,
    The good ones are snapped up fast. I have been showing clients around PV recently and it is slim pickings. Demand far outstrips supply. Don’t take too long prices are starting to climb and rates are also.

    • You’re absolutely right. We locked in a low rate when we could because they’re climbing fast.

      The good news is, we found a place. It’s in OP– JUST west of PV boundaries, which made a gigantic difference, price-wise. Everything’s been updated within the past two years, it’s a ton of great space and- as mentioned- the price was more than fair.

      The best part was that we didn’t have to settle… we got exactly what we were looking for by just being persistent and thorough.

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