If you want to sell, spring is an excellent time to present your property in its best light, especially as estate agents are reporting a shortage of fresh stock in many parts of the UK.
However, don’t get carried away by the first daffodils to wave their heads in the sunshine and assume that by Easter the deal will be done. Elizabeth Weintraub, a US real estate agency, says “yellow flowers stimulate buying urges, as they induce feelings of happiness”, but it takes more than a pot of daffs by the front door to convince buyers.
What a successful spring sale really calls for is a battle plan that gets the basics right — from the price to the floorplan to legal preparation.
Set a proper price
When you’ve had valuations from three different estate agents — ideally including a local independent who will know the market — and done your own research on neighbourhood sales, you should achieve a realistic asking price. “Go for sanity not vanity,” says property search expert Edward Heaton, of Heaton and Partners. “Set a sensible initial guide price, to generate interest from the start.”
If offers come through within the first week, Sally Fraser, of Stacks Property Search, warns that your asking price might be on the low side. “Expect to achieve at least the guide price,” she says, “or continue with viewings for a couple of weeks then invite best and final offers. There’s nothing like a bit of competition.”
Put it in the picture
“The best time to take the perfect photograph in spring is on a late afternoon,” says James Taylor, the group sales and marketing director of Hadley Property Group. “This will provide the right amount of light, with a softer touch. Ask to approve the photography and don’t be scared to ask for it to be reshot if it is not good enough.”
Taylor advises selecting three “hero shots”, to capture the elements that make your property stand out — be it the architecture, the garden or designer kitchen. Viki Lander, the creative director of Ensoul Interior Architecture, says you should ensure that your brochure cover photo is the “killer selling shot”, so if your kitchen is the main attraction, make that the primary image. “You don’t have to follow the masses who use an exterior shot,” she says.
“We recently switched the lead photograph on a brochure to one that looked out to the garden from a living room,” says Jo-Anne Neighbour, of Savills, Islington. “We instantly had four viewings booked and the property is now under offer at asking price.”
Make the details do their job
Your agent might spend hours writing up a description of your house, but many property experts admit that they don’t bother reading these. “I never read any of the text in an agent’s particulars, except for the summary of accommodation and the postcode, so that I can see exactly where the house is,” Heaton says. “All the guff is generally a waste of time. Photos, floor plans and minimal text are the order of the day.”
That said, you want any description to be correct, so stick to the facts, preferably as bullet points. As Lander says, detail is key: “Kitchen appliances should be named for keen cooks; high-speed IP network for home-workers; and 4k television content and surround-sound for those of us who enjoy a cinema experience at home; plus any smart home devices and apps, from door entry to smoke detection, heating and so on.”
If your home requires a complete makeover, say so, says Matthew Kaye, of the estate agency Kaye & Carey, in Belgravia. “Buyers often respond better to houses described as ‘unmodernised’ even if the condition is just rather tired.”
Have a foolproof floor plan
Once seen as a must-have for only the grandest houses, a floor plan is now considered essential across the market as buyers look for ways to maximise space. Fraser says: “A clear floor plan with room sizes and overall space is a must, with compass points and an easy understanding of the aspect of all rooms. It allows an interested party to see if alterations might be viable to make the house work for them.”
Furnished floor plans, with possible configurations, are an even better way of demonstrating the property’s potential, says Taylor. “Don’t be afraid to shake it up. For example, if your dining room can take a table for ten and you only have a table for four, show a table for ten. If you have a single bed in a double bedroom, let the floor plan show a double bed.”
Prepare the paperwork
“Before a buyer is found, my advice is to have all the paperwork in place, with the fixtures-and-fittings forms and property questionnaires completed, but most importantly a local authority search,” says Harry Wigram, a partner at Strutt & Parker, Chelsea. “Once a buyer is ascertained you are then in a strong position to put them under pressure to perform. Your buyer can purchase the search back from you. Doing this, there won’t be a two to three-week delay because a search is still outstanding.”
Paul Cadge, a partner at Myddelton & Major estate agency, says with country properties especially it’s essential to get organised with legal details relating to “easements”, rights of way, boundaries and so on. “Local searches can take six weeks or more,” he says, “so applying for your own will assist the buyer to exchange sooner rather than later.”
Get to grips with the garden
Showing off the garden is a good reason to sell in spring — if it is presentable. “Make an effort to give the lawn a cut and tidy borders and paths so buyers don’t feel they are inheriting a burden,” says Mark Parkinson, a managing partner at the property search company Middleton Advisors.
Don’t overwhelm buyers with too many photographs. Concentrate on key features such as a pond, fountain or gazebo, and stunning views. Use foliage inside too. “Herb pots in the kitchen give off amazing aromas,” says Lander.
Put effort into presentation
It’s not enough to declutter and light some Jo Malone candles, says Simon Ashwell, the head of Savills in Weybridge. Potential owners want to see how your home can fit what they are looking for. “Showing buyers how and where they can create additional space demonstrates how your property might work for them, without the expense of carrying out any structural work,” he says. “We’ve known sellers to create an additional brochure with CGi images and proposed floor plans.”
Make the most of natural spring light by opening window blinds, curtains and shutters — remembering to clean the glass inside and out. “Often people think neutral colours and beige lessen the chance of offending a buyer, but we find that purchasers respond well to colour,” says Jake Russell, of estate agency Russell Simpson, Chelsea.
In Cirencester, Sam Trounson, the head of Strutt & Parker, says his top tip for viewings is to always have an open fire lit, especially at this time of year. “It sounds obvious, but put the heating on,” agrees Jo Eccles, the founder of Sourcing Property. “It amazes me how many cold properties I’ve shown clients; a warm and inviting property gives a lot of subtle positive vibes to a buyer.” Eccles also advises letting your agent do the job you are paying them for. “Try to be out of the property,” she says. “Most buyers don’t relax when the seller is there. At a Notting Hill viewing that coincided with the sellers’ children’s tea time, the estate agent took the entire family out for a pizza so that we could view in peace.”
Get across online activity
Which property portals are the most effective remains a matter of debate. “I would suggest being on Rightmove, Zoopla and PrimeLocation. Most of our clients aren’t even aware of OnTheMarket,” Eccles says.
There’s nowhere to hide on the internet, so homes “sticking” on the market are clear for everyone to see. What can you do to revive a flagging profile? “Country houses often have to wait for the right buyer as they are so individual, so it is important that your agent has a better strategy than ‘drop the price’,” says Rachel Johnston, of Stacks Property Search. “Ask if your agent – and the portal itself — is sending ‘enticing’ emails to prospective buyers, rather than just downloaded links.”
How long is long enough?
Once your house is on the market, don’t let it languish. In general, agents agree that if there have been few viewings and no offers after four weeks, action is required. “Ask: is the property being seen by as many people as possible? Is there a floor plan and plenty of good photos?” says Adam Day, the managing director of online agent Hatched. “Then we would recommend looking at the price and how it fits within the market.”
For some prime London properties, Taylor says, you could be looking at months rather than weeks. “Family houses and properties above a million pounds can take a lot longer to sell,” he says. “A large family house in Barnes, for example, which would go on the market in the region of £5 million to £6 million, could take at least six months, as families quite often have property to sell and need to talk to schools and so on.”
Christopher Bartlett, based in the West Country for Stacks Property Search, says: “In the country-house market in Devon, even if you are correctly priced it can take time, up to a year. Be patient, and pick the correct agent at the start. Changing agents can cost you money.