Putting a house on the market can be divided into two, labor-intensive parts. The first is getting the house ready for listing with an agent. The second is getting the house ready for an open house or a showing.
"People consider our job to be advertising and selling their homes, but our real service is spending time and effort in preparation before there is any contract with the homeowner," said Scott Granse, an agent with Re/Max of Juneau.
Janet Argevitch, an associate broker with Century 21 Totem Properties, said there were 98 Juneau residences including mobile homes listed for sale last week. She anticipates a peak of 150 during the next six months. Argevitch stresses these steps to prepare a home to list with an agent:
Clear the walls of clutter, including family photos, art work and framed needlepoint.
Weed out the number of plants.
Paint inside and out, whatever needs it.
Shampoo the carpet. Or, "Install new carpet if you can afford it," Argevitch said.
Zachary Knutson of Coldwell Banker Race Realty agrees that "plenty of elbow grease" is a necessity. "Clutter should go away," he said, getting right down to the nitty-gritty of "curb appeal," making the house look good on first approach or when potential buyers drive past:
"Broken-down cars in the driveway are no good," Knutson said. "Anything with tarp on it looks bad, especially tip-out windows with tarp on the shingles."
If there is algae on the siding, spray wash it. If there is moss on the roof, spray wash it. Prevent moss with zinc strips on the peak.
Make sure the garage door has a pleasing appearance.
Paint walls a neutral color such as white or beige.
Windows should be sparkling inside and out. Clean blinds.
Replace 40-watt bulbs with higher wattage bulbs in fixtures that can accept them. Fluorescent bulbs darken over time. Replace with new ones.
Put classical music on low and repeat on the cassette or compact disc player.
If selling in winter, leave out photos of summer flower beds.
Cleaning, de-cluttering and painting represent a minimum investment of cash, Knutson said, but are crucial to a speedy sale and getting the price you want.
"These things don't increase the value of the house, but the marketability," he said. "They make the price you're asking reasonable."
Knutson has 25 years of real estate experience. He learned many of his tricks during his years in the sweaty competition of Pensacola, Fla., where 1,800 real estate agents battled for commissions among 60,000 residents. Juneau has about 50 agents for a population of 30,000, he said.
In his years of inspecting houses before agreeing to be agent, one of his worst experiences was a 400-square-foot house on a lot whose ownership was unclear.
"I had to see it with a flashlight, and it was occupied!" Knutson said. "The only light was in the bathroom - a pull-chain fixture. There was no carpet and plywood floors. It was horrible. I decided not to list it or waste my advertising bucks on it."
These days Knutson partners with agent Mike Mauseth, specializing in residential properties in the Mendenhaven area of the Mendenhall Valley.
"Right now demand is there, and supply is not," Knutson said. "So the values of houses in that area have been going up for six months."
The open house season kicked off recently in Juneau and will continue through the summer. Additional rules of open houses or showings, according to several local real estate agents, are:
Get dishes out of the sink.
Pick up children's toys.
Turn on all the lights to make the house as bright as possible.
Make sure everything is as neat as possible to make the home look as large as possible.
Make yourself scarce. "Potential buyers will inspect the house and say good and bad things, trying to figure out its value in terms of what's being asked," Argevitch said. "It's not comfortable for a seller to be there."
Pets should make themselves scarce, especially pets that bark or menace.
Realtor Scott Granse of Re/Max of Juneau zeroes in on odor. If the house smells bad, "It leaves a lasting impression that is almost insurmountable, and that first impression is absolutely crucial. Pet odor is without a doubt the killer. And most home owners who have pets don't realize."
Some homeowners boil a water-and-vanilla-extract solution, or light cinnamon candles to give an apple-pie impression. Others bake cookies and leave them out for buyers.
"Usually we try to give overnight notice for showings," Argevitch said. "But that's not always possible. The more you can enhance" on short notice, "the better."
Juneau's four dozen real estate agents are gearing up for the open house season with mixed feelings. Some, like Argevitch, prefer personalized showings. Others, like Scott Granse, admit the likelihood of selling a residence because of an open house is slight, but still include them in a sales program.
"I feel an obligation to do everything I can for my clients to get their house sold, and I feel there is an advantage to the open house," Granse said. "People will see the ad in the paper, may not come to the open house, but will be interested in the house."
Before he signs a contract with a seller, Granse, a former appraiser, gives the house a thorough going over.
"If I expect there will be repair problems or latent defects, I recommend an engineer's report," he said. "The biggest thing in Juneau is water; moisture is insidious. Many residence deals fall apart because of roof repair issues. One in six houses that I see needs a roof replacement."
A second moisture problem is rotten rim joists, the house members that rest on top of the foundation. Homeowners need to monitor attic and crawl spaces for moisture problems, most of which can be avoided with maintenance, he said.
Houses in good repair sell quickly in Juneau, often within 90 days, Knutson said.
Granse doesn't let the little things stymie him.
"I keep smoke detectors in my car and a Phillips screwdriver, so if (a missing detector) is the only defect the engineer's report finds, I can put one in. You don't want the deal to die for a rinky-dink item."
Ann Chandonnet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.