How Touring Open Houses Helped Me See My Own Home in a Whole New Light

Jillian Pretzel

Want to learn how to sell your house? Simple: Put on your buyer hat and tour a bunch of homes for sale in your area. That's what I did, and I learned a ton about how to sell my own place.

I'd bought my cozy one-bedroom condo in Irvine, CA, three years ago; it was perfect for a single 20-something ready to break away from the renting game. But now, I’m married, with dreams of having kids who will need their own rooms and with plans to get a brood of pups, who probably won't be impressed with my cement balcony “backyard.” With these goals on our horizon, I realized that my husband and I were going to need a bigger place.

So, I started touring open houses in my area, often with my husband in tow. While my original motive was to figure out what we wanted to buy, it didn't take long for me to feel like an expert in buying and selling. Here's what I learned

Home staging makes a huge difference

One weekend, my husband and I toured a house I loved—it felt so homey and elegant. I was inspired by the kids' rooms, with their vintage feel and soft colors. I even started imagining family dinners at the gorgeous wood table next to the kitchen. I could practically taste the ice cream we'd have for dessert.

Then, a few weeks later, we went to see another house. Within moments of walking in, I walked right out, calling it “definitely skippable.” That's when my husband stopped me. “You know that’s the same layout as the house you loved, right?”

I hadn’t even noticed! Sure enough, as I looked at both listings online—both in the same preplanned community—I realized that almost everything was exactly the same. I’d walked through the same rooms, seen essentially the same views though the windows, and even tested the same faucets, without connecting the dots.

I couldn’t believe how different it all looked—and how quick I had been to dismiss the second house. This convinced me that good staging could offer a huge advantage, one that I'd have to make use of when selling my own home. While I'd once considered simply moving my furniture out of my condo before selling it, I realized now that it was important to keep at least some of the best things. Buyers will have a hard time picturing eating their meals at a table they can't see, or imagining falling asleep in a bedroom without a cozy-looking bed.

Odds are, some areas of your home are outdated

Walking into an open house, it can be hard not to look at the owner's sense of style before anything else.

Sometimes, I’d be overwhelmed by the gorgeous design and glamorous art pieces that seemed made for the home. I’d even go as far as to ask if I could buy that couch, or those bar stools, along with the house. But at other open houses, I'd find myself unpleasantly distracted by an outdated dining room table, or gaudy light fixtures. You expect a house to be at its absolute best when it’s being shown, so when I went into one house with a way-too-'80s fireplace and baby-blue walls that made the living room look like a nursery, I couldn't even focus on the large living space or the great view.

Being (relatively) young and (moderately) hip, I thought I was in the clear from any big style faux pas. But one day, coming home from open houses, I realized that my condo might be a style offender, too. Once I started looking at modern, expertly designed homes, I started to notice that none of my furniture really went together and that the accent wall I loved so much was a bit outdated. I realized I’d have to give my condo a refresh if I had any hope of fetching top dollar.

Don't forget about the outdoor areas, too

Since my own home had a balcony, I made a point to tour some condos with balconies, just to see how they compared to my own.

As I saw terrace after terrace with sleek furniture and creative features like shade-providing curtains, it quickly dawned on me they were much more stylish and welcoming than mine, even though they were about the same size. I realized there was a lot more I could do with this small space.

Inspired, I bought some new cozy outdoor chairs for my balcony, added a small table and a few more potted plants, and even an outdoor-friendly rug for some more color. When I'm ready to sell, my balcony will already be buyer-ready!

You have to spend money to make money

When I first started looking at homes, I didn't understand why they were priced the way they were. I’d see some homes with three bedrooms and three baths that were $100,000 more expensive than houses the same size in a similar area. It wasn’t until I toured the homes that I understood. These pricier houses had some noticeable differences, such as upgrades in the kitchen and better curb appeal. I realized that people are willing to pay handsomely for certain features.

When it came to my condo, I knew there were updates I should do to the kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities. It wouldn’t cost too much to update those things, but I knew that when the time came to sell, buyers would be more willing to pay top dollar with those updates—so they were worth the added expense.

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