Couple Drinking Coffee

My husband and I put our Northern Virginia home on the market this spring, confident its location (12 miles outside of D.C.), its high-profile school district, square footage and large lot size would sell fast. What we hadn’t considered in that equation was our buyer. Or, put a different way, how much buyers had changed since we’d purchased the house in 2005.

As tracked by the National Association of REALTORS, the median age of first-time homebuyers in 2017 was 32 years old. They are digital natives who likely navigate their home-buying journey online.

Other than their taste for tech, today’s first-time homebuyers vary. They could be couples planning a family and willing to do some projects to customize the home to their style and needs. They could be friends looking for a house with several large bedrooms. They could be single and looking for a “turnkey” house so they can move right in and live comfortably.

But what do these buyers have in common? They crave a certain lifestyle – the one they see on home renovation shows: Brunches. Poolside happy hours. Evenings telling tall tales around the fire pit.

Setting Buyer Expectations

From “Trading Spaces” to “Fixer Upper,” home renovation shows have changed the home-buying landscape. Viewers watch with envy as pros purchase, fix and flip homes – all during a single episode. But in real life, they may underestimate how much work or money those kinds of repairs cost.

“I caution buyers that while anything can be fixed, it will take time and money, and possibly a pro, to do the job, costing even more,” explains Eileen Staron, a REALTOR®/stager in Vienna, Virginia.

Marketing to Buyers

Exposure to high-end made-for-TV home upgrades can make it harder for sellers to compete for the attention of these buyers. You have to get inside of their mindset and price and stage your home accordingly

“With these buyers, it’s about selling a lifestyle,” says Staron. “They are looking for open-space plans and enough space to accommodate impromptu get-togethers.”

They’ll also eat up extras. When seller Fritz Irwin listed her Northern Virginia home on the market in May, she highlighted the home’s proximity to the Metro station and the town’s nightlife. “We also included a membership to the nearby swim and tennis club. Normally, there can be a 10-year wait to join.”

Staging What’s Trending

If you’re selling a home more than two years old, you’ll need to be aware of what’s trending on TV to help your home compete. You should also know what’s right for your market. A mud room is expected on the East Coast; solar panels might add $30,000 in value to a property in the West.

While knocking out walls or adding a mudroom may be over the top, there could be cheap and quick fixes that speak to lifestyle. For example, we added a flagstone deck with a fire pit to our backyard for about $2,000. The install took just a day, and many of the buyers who viewed our home commented that the backyard was a feature they really liked. It looked “s’more-ready.”

We also had two bedrooms upstairs that were considered small by many people, so we staged our smaller rooms with a child-sized bed and desk in one and a crib and rocker in the other to make those rooms seem more spacious and help buyers envision the function. Alternatively, they could have been staged as an office and library.

Highlighting the Kitchens and Bathrooms

Of course, a huge emphasis is always put on the kitchen and bathrooms.

In the kitchen, buyers will look for enough space to entertain, modern appliances in a popular finish (such as stainless steel) and a floor that’s not too worn, whether it’s in laminate, tile or wood.

Easy fixes for a tired kitchen are decluttering countertops to make them appear larger, refinishing or refreshing wooden floors, and adding modern faucets. For bathrooms, wider vanities and higher toilets are in. And, adding a modern faucet will make the bathroom seem up-to-date.

Giving Your Home a Sniff Test

Finally, if you’re unsure about the “sniff test,” ask a trusted friend what odors they smell in your home. Any room that smells musty or like a pet will need some attention.

Any carpet that is worn or stained will need to be replaced. And if it has pet urine, consider replacing the padding and plywood, too (or treat it with a bacteria-killing wood sealer) before new carpet is installed. “Carpet that becomes urine-soaked will quickly deteriorate, and further cleaning will only worsen the problem,” advises Alan Fletcher, author of The Complete Carpet Buying Guide.

Getting It Sold to the Next Generation

As a seller, you can only fix certain things before it starts to impact your financial benefit. For instance, a fresh coat of paint is pretty low-cost. And, smart-home features, which allow the buyer to control appliances and security features remotely, go a long way.

But even if you can’t add a backyard patio or offer a pool membership, take a look around and see how you can cater to buyers’ tastes. “What’s important is to showcase how your home creates a lifestyle,” says Staron.

What concerns do you have about selling your home to today’s buyers? Let us know in the comments below.

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