Random Musings

SELLING YOUR HISTORIC HOUSE

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Historic house for saleLife changes can interrupt the most heart-felt, best laid plans. A marriage, a divorce, a new baby, a job transfer, a lay-off, a family member in need of care, any one of these things can profoundly affect your circumstances.

So, after much soul-searching & considering options, it’s time to be selling your historic house, the one that was going to be your forever home. You want to ensure that it doesn’t end up in the hands of a flipper, (with my pardon to those who maintain & preserve historic features. You know that you are rare!) or the victim of someone who thinks that the plot of land on which your precious bungalow sits would be a prime spot for a marble clad McMansion.

So, how do you attract the right buyer when selling your historic house?

THE IDEAL HISTORIC HOUSE BUYER

Let’s pause to consider what your ideal buyer might look like.

1. They love all aspects of old houses.
2. They love old neighborhoods.
3. They understand that old neighborhoods have the potential to transition.
4. They are financially qualified to be able to easily get a mortgage.
5. Your home’s location is convenient for them.
6. Your home’s size & layout will suit their needs.
7. They have sufficient resources to deal with the issues that can be found in an old house.

So, how do you attract this buyer?

Another numbered list:

Lo-o-o-ong before you make this decision-

bungalow the ultimate arts and crafts home1. Research the history of your house & neighborhood. Dig deep. In our disconnected world, people are searching for connections. You want to make the builders & former owners of your home real & lovable. Read my article on researching your home’s history.  It should provide you with the information you need to flesh out the cast of characters & bring them to life.

When the time comes, you will have an abundance of material to display in a beautifully arranged notebook with your other marketing materials. You might want to frame any images you find in period frames & hang them in a group. They’re your house’s family!

2. Collect a library of information on homes of your period. Study these materials while you live there. Display them with your other sales materials. You might want to include them as a gift to the new homeowners.

3. Learn basic principles of historic preservation so that you make the right choices. The general public is becoming more & more aware of preservation. They may not share your love of purple, but the right buyer will understand why you didn’t open up the kitchen.

4. Create an organized list of your service providers with all pertinent facts- contact info, pricing, skills, caveats.

5. Create a dedicated file for all repairs & improvements as you go along. I keep a “House Box” with all my receipts, service contracts, etc. Also keep a warrantee/instructions file for all appliances & systems in the box.

These will be included in your sales display.

Historic house marker6. Here’s a biggy. Most municipalities have historically designated houses. With all the research that you have done, you probably have sufficient information to apply for & be granted such a designation, at the local, state or even national level. This designation can go far in protecting your house, at least its exterior. There is nothing cannot be challenged in a court of law, but generally this designation will chase people away who want to seriously maul your house.

When I sold the Hare House, I made much of the fact that it was designated, in all its marketing. Most of the potential buyers who came to view it were very eager to own an important house, but I can remember showing it to a woman one day who slid in expressing her enthusiasm that it was on 1 1/2 lots. I don’t know what architectural mayhem she was envisioning but I happily pointed out its historic status. When she asked what that meant I cheerfully said, “The City of Los Angeles regulates all construction & maintenance. They fully control everything, but you pay for it.”

She didn’t make it past the entryway.

Historic documentary7. Connect with your neighborhood group. Older neighborhoods tend to have strong neighborhood associations. You will make good friends & learn much about the history of your area.

My participation in my neighborhood association allowed me to produce a historic documentary film about its origins. Its premier to a sell-out crowd at Tampa Theatre, one of America’s most elaborate movie palaces was the outstanding achievement of my preservation life.

In these groups, you will connect with local Realtors. If & when the time comes to put your house on the market, you want to know these folks well. I had a bit of a prickly personal relationship with the Realtor who sold the Hare House but I knew that she was the most knowledgeable, competent & connected & I didn’t think twice about hiring her. I was dazzled by her every move. Thanks to her large mailing list, the open house was flooded with old house loving people. Thanks to her connections, by the time of the open we already had offers. She had a great relationship with the agent of the buyer I liked the best & the whole transaction was astonishingly smooth.

I also recommend taking an active role in one of these groups. You can leave your neighborhood better than you found it.

7. Support local businesses. They are part of your community. Many of them are your neighbors. When the time comes, contact them about your house sale. They may have customers who like your area & would love to live there. Several in my neighborhood allowed me to display my sales fliers on their counters.

OH, DEAR!

Yes, this is a really long article. I have spent a week writing & re-writing it to make it concise but selling your historic house to the right buyer takes some planning & some work. Stick with me.

BEFORE YOU PUT YOUR OLD HOUSE ON THE MARKET

IF YOU HAVE NO $$$$ (Hey, it’s happened to all of us.)

Bedroom-in-Arts-&-Crafts-house1. De-clutter. Yard sale or donate anything that you do not need. Just get rid of it! This includes furniture.

2. Put away everything that’s left that you do not need to function daily. If you have a place to stash extraneous furniture items, stash them.

3. Leave out only the decorative items that truly enhance/complement the house. I have old family photos that I framed in period frames. These stayed & got many positive comments.

4. Free up storage as much as possible. If you look like you’re overflowing, it will read as being not enough storage for their stuff. This includes attic, basement, garage, kitchen- any place anything can be stashed. I know this conflicts with item 2. I have no solution to this, but better stashed in storage than in the house.

5. Clean the house from top to bottom. Use natural, unscented products. I clean everything in my house with white vinegar, full-strength in the bathroom & mixed with water elsewhere. (Make sure that you have good ventilation. It’s pretty acidic.)

Hit the walls where there are smudges, doors & door frames, & get behind any furniture that you can. And, yes, wash the dang windows!

Wash or shake out curtains & draperies. Vacuum the blinds.

Clean the kitchen so that anyone would feel comfortable eating off of any surface. Ditto the bathroom.

6. Rent a carpet shampooer & clean those carpets. Use unscented products.

Baking soda to clean a historic house7. Wash your sheets & mattress covers & your pillows if they are washable. Again, skip the scented products. I wash with baking soda, letting stinkier loads soak. I do not use fabric softener. It is made with cheap, petroleum-based ingredients & fragrance & is very unhealthful.  Now’s maybe a good time to ditch it forever.

You want your house to look & smell fresh, fresh, fresh. Many people have (or wish to avoid) chemical sensitivities so skip the air fresheners. You don’t want to trigger an asthma attack in a prospective buyer!

It’s a spring cleaning on steroids!

8. Open your windows & turn on fans as much as you can. We’re going for fresh. (Remember?)

9. Clean litter boxes & keep them clean.

10. Tidy your lawn & gardens. This includes vehicles, yard equipment. Now’s a good time to sell or donate any that you do not use.

IF YOU HAVE $$$ TO SPEND

All of the above, plus,
1. Paint your interior, especially the kitchen & the bathrooms. Use lighter tone, period appropriate colors. None of the people who bought my houses repainted.

2. Ditto your exterior. Again, period colors.

3. Refinish your floors if they need it.

4. Install seasonal flowers in bloom. I stayed up until 2 AM sticking fall flowers along my sidewalk the night before Jane & Linda came to photo my house for BUNGALOW: THE ULTIMATE ARTS & CRAFTS HOME, 2 days before my open. Yes, I was fried!

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE SELLING YOUR HISTORIC HOUSE

Magnifying glass contracr 1. Understand the market for your price point in your area. Right now, inventory is very low so although interest rates are high, the shortage of houses is acute, raising the value of those available.

2. Do your own comp’s.
A. Look at properties near you online. See what is selling & what has recently sold. This will help you have realistic expectations.
B. If you can hit some open houses, or visit some houses for sale in your area, so much the better.

3. Understand your listing contract. It is a legal, binding contract with your Realtor. She may be the sister of your beloved dog groomer but it is not a casual relationship. Work everything out before you sign & definitely before you’re in negotiations with a buyer.

My Realtor understood that I was not going to choose the highest offer, I was going to choose the best steward. This agreement was in the listing contract because it could dip into her commission.

4. Get a home inspection if you can afford it so that you will have no surprises.

DISCLOSE EVERYTHING! Nothing will dampen the enthusiasm of even the most ardent buyer than feeling like they are being lied to. My inspection from when I purchased the house was there on the table with my current inspection. I disclosed that my inspector was my cousin & the buyer’s Realtor was fine with it. Cuz had such a great reputation that there was nobody else to refer!

MARKETING YOUR HISTORIC HOUSE

Cutting leaves for historic house sale1. 11” X 17” paper costs about a nickel a sheet. Doing a 4 page flier in a foldover instead of the standard 2 back & front, sets you apart from the crowd & allows you to really tell your bungalow’s story. Here are some things you could include:

A photo & a description of the features of the interior & exterior.
Information about the style of the house.
A concise history of the house.
A list of updates such as plumbing, electrical, HVAC, new paint, landscaping.
A diagram of the layout.
Information about the neighborhood, its history, amenities & character.

2. There are several sites online that promote old houses for sale. If your Realtor will cover the cost, that’s wonderful but even if she doesn’t, I think it’s worth the expenditure to this targeted market.

IT’S ON THE MARKET

NO $$$
1. Keep vases full of fresh cut flowers & or greens. I would skip the artificial ones. If you don’t have anything growing in your yard, ask your neighbors. It’s in their best interest for your house to sell at high value. Keep the water & foliage fresh every day.

2. Keep the entire property spotless. Repeat the BEFORE steps as needed.

3. Keep it fresh. Forget the liver, Brussel sprouts & fish. Unless you live on cinnamon toast & chocolate chip cookies, get even the more mild food smells out fast.

4. Keep kitty’s box clean.

5. Do not use air fresheners. They are just as toxic as fabric softener.

6. Make all the beds every day.

7. Make sure that your towels are fresh every day.

$$$
1. Keep cleaning & refreshing.

2. Fill the house full of cut flowers. If they can come from your garden, so much the better. I make large arrangements that are half bought flowers & half greens from the garden. Change the water often & keep the flowers fresh, replacing as needed.

Fresh. Yep, I said it 25 times & I’ll say it again. FRESH!!!!!!!!!

OPEN HOUSE

1. Ensure your Realtor is going to promote your bungalow on every line that she has. My open was so full of people that we could hardly make it out the door. People were taking turns to see our beautiful bathroom. It was a total party! And it generated 5 offers.

2. Create your display table with the brochures, the history notebook, the home inspection, the reference books tided in a big red bow, (It’s a gift!) any materials about the neighborhood. Maybe tuck your house box under the table for easy access. My Tampa house had been featured in American Bungalow magazine & I purchased a book stand & propped a copy of the mag open to its full page spread.

3. Request that your Realtor place signs up on every major street & if you’re a long way from busier streets, she needs additional signs that guide people to your house.

4. Contact all your friends & invite them to come.

5. This is the day to have new, fresh flowers out.

6. If it’s a hot day, provide tiny, chilled bottles of water for all visitors.

7. Have soft music playing. I prefer classical.

8. Have as many windows open as you can, depending on the weather.

9. Turn on all the lights.

10. Follow your Realtors guidance.

SELL YOUR HISTORIC HOUSE TO THE BEST STEWARD

I am hoping that if you take these steps, you will attract such a flow of qualified buyers that you will be able to take your pick. The woman I chose for the Hare House called me for advice before making any changes & she even flew Jane Powell down from Oakland to consult on the kitchen restoration.

I wish you the best. I also request that you send me any tips that I may have omitted.

Old typewriter

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