Bryce Courtenay - How to build a solid profit on the sale of your home

Fiona Ruth
This article by Bryce Courtenay appeared in The Australian newspaper several years ago and is as relevant today as it was then. Bryce Courtenay One of the more unrewarding experiences you can have within the urban landscape is the business of selling your home. Building a home is said to be the number one cause of nervous breakdowns and the number two of divorce. Selling your home is somewhere in the top 10 causes of modern-day urban stress. Having recently sold my house for less than the real estate bloke told me I'd get and more than I had a right to expect, I have evolved several grass-roots marketing principles. While too late for me, they may be useful to you if the roof over your head is about to be sold, in order to keep you in a future manner to which you have no right to become accustomed. These are not rules, they are simply marketing ideas that could make the difference. The point is that a $100,000 difference in the price of a house may be something you added to it that cost you a couple of hundred bucks. Most people buy a house emotionally. Sure they walk around looking for rising damp and knocking on the odd wall to see whether it's hollow, but in house terms this is like kicking the tyres of a second hand car so the salesman won't think you are an idiot. A properly marketed house is capable of getting the heart pumping overtime and turning brain to mush before the potential buyer reaches the front door. So let's begin with the front door - even before it - the front gate! Your house may need a good overall paint job, but if the gate and the fence are freshly painted and the front door has been done in a designer colour with a brass lion with a ring in its mouth for a knocker, you've already told the potential new owner that he or she is dealing with the sort of house that will make them look good. The best colours for a front door are deep olive, deep maroon (known as oxblood), battleship grey or salmon pink all in super high gloss and set off with a big brass doorknob, knocker, letter slot or bell or, for a top brass door, all of these things. If the front garden is a bit of a mess, plant a few flowering shrubs which you can buy at the markets a week or so before the first inspection. If you have a pathway to the front door then buy or hire a dozen standard roses in bloom and bury them in the ground, tub and all, to suggest that they're the work of a caring owner with old fashioned home values. Standard roses can add tens of thousands to the end price. Don't forget to mow the lawn on the week before the inspection so that it looks green and inviting by inspection day. Always clean the windows. Clean windows are the sort of thing people don't see, they feel. And on a sunny Saturday morning, clean windows can give the interior of the house a crisp spring look. If there is a down gutter or two showing on the front of the house that has rusted through, replace it - preferably with a copper one. Don't paint the copper, make it look like a recent repair you haven't had time to paint. Copper drainpipes are the sign of an owner who insists on only the best for his home. Husbands who are oblivious to the other niceties will pick this up in a flash, even if they know nothing about building. If you get all these first impressions right, the inside is easy: be tidy but not spotless; make sure that the hygiene of the home is right - the bathroom and toilet spotless (no sign of mould in the shower recess), the kitchen gleaming. If you have carpet on the bathroom floor, replace it with new carpet. Most bathroom carpets, even in the best houses, are stained. Make the beds, don't leave washing in the bathroom, but make the house look lived in. Flowers should only be where flowers are normally expected. Don't turn the place into a florist's shop. If the house at one time in its history featured a fireplace which subsequently got blocked up, unblock it and rebuild it to the authentic design. Admittedly, this could cost you a few hundred but it will add $20,000. Always set the fire with fresh logs and pine cones, summer or winter, as though it's ready to be lit at the touch of a match. A house with a fireplace or two is a deeply atavistic experience for most people. The next important factor is smell. Homes that smell of animals, particularly cats, can cost you thousands. So board the cat and the dog for a couple of weeks before the inspection and get the smell out. But just as important is putting smell back in. There are three important smells to know about: fresh bread, cinnamon and coffee. Most houses are up for inspection over a two or three week period and people can often return for a second look, so varying your smell can be the clincher. The fresh bread smell is achieved by buying a large white loaf and opening up its belly and pouring a bottle of vanilla essence into it and popping it into the oven at medium heat for half an hour before the inspection begins. Remove it before the real estate man or lady arrives. The result is a home that smells of freshly baked bread which, as you know, is the warmest, cleanest, most home-caring smell there is. Another smell that kills any other smells that might have been left behind by the cat or the parrot, is cinnamon. Simply warm a couple of tablespoons in a pan and allow the smell to invade the house. If your home is a bit upmarket or in a trendy area, then use the famous coffee-bean ploy. Half a cup of coffee beans roasted in the oven will fill the house with the aroma of fresh coffee. Add to this a tape of Vivaldi's Four Seasons or a little Mozart both played very softly, and the result can be a year's salary added to the value of your home. The point is, even if the prospective buyer isn't a classical music lover, he or she will make decisions about the house that are most favourable if Mozart or Handel are thought to be in residence. Finally, the backyard - it must look lived in but well kept. So make sure it has recreational furniture and that this is in good condition. A child's swing is a terrific asset. A few hastily planted flowering shrubs can also make a big buck difference and a nice looking garden shed or greenhouse can be the clincher. A couple of citrus trees, a Eureka lemon and a grapefruit are turn-ons and can be bought in an advanced state of growth from most nurseries. And, of course, if there is a pool the water in it must be perfect. Buy a bottle of water polish (I'm not kidding) from your pool shop - it gives the pool a wonderful translucent look. The thing to remember always is that the buyer has been out, sometimes for weeks, looking at houses most of which are identical in appearance to yours. The difference, providing your place isn't positively falling down, will be the little things. Most people buy a home on first impressions. The emotional impact they receive in the first few moments can be critical to the way they bid at auction or bargain when it comes down to the sale. Last of all, don't let the real estate bloke tell you that these little touches don't help. Most real estate people don't even see a house, they are house-blind. Your house is a name on a list - one of three they have to be at that morning. After six weeks of supervising regular inspections at my house, I asked the real estate man to close his eyes and describe my home to me. He couldn't even tell me how many bedrooms there were in it and he didn't know the colour of the carpet, the front door or the roof tiles. Market your house as though you were buying it yourself. Remember, a couple of grand (usually it's less) spent carefully upfront, can make the difference of tens of thousands of bucks. The two or three weeks you put into getting it ready to sell may be the most profitable investment of time and money you make this year.