Do Empty Houses Sell for Less or Take longer to Sell?
You are trying to sell your house and for whatever reason, you find yourself in a position where you are not living in the house you want to sell it empty. You’ve moved the furniture out and now you’re ready to sell but you are worried that you might be crushing your valuation or making it harder to sell.
You are also probably in a position where you need to sell the house fast, which is adding to your stress levels.
Thousands of sellers have been in the exact position you are in right now and the first question they always have is: “Will this house sell for less because it is empty.”
The short answer is yes, empty houses do take longer to sell than furnished, occupied or staged homes.
A study from the Appraisal Institute found that vacant houses sold for 6% less than occupied houses and stayed on the market longer.
There are a few reasons why this is the case.
Price Becomes Your Only Marketing Strategy When it’s Empty
According to studies done by Realtor.com, over 90% of homes are first discovered by buyers online–and the first impression made online is created by the pictures that are uploaded by you or your agent.
These pictures are really your time to shine–unless your house is completely empty. Your house fades into a blob of nothingness with all of the other empty houses the buyer scrolled through that day.
When the individuality of your house is taken away, it’s almost impossible to differentiate your home from others on the market with anything other than price.
Many sellers with empty homes end up having to lower their price to make themselves stand out.
Rooms Look Smaller When They are Empty
Have you ever looked at a picture where a person, or a water bottle looks as big as the Eiffel Tower? When your eye isn’t able to use something in the background for scale or depth perception, it’s extremely hard to judge size.
Empty rooms are going to look smaller to the buyer and that is going to cause downward pressure on your home’s value.
Buyers Are Going to Think You’re in a Rush
You’ve got an asset that’s costing you money and stress to keep, and you need to sell it. Unfortunately buyers can smell blood in the water and they’re going to try to low ball you. It doesn’t help that you are probably in a position where you really do need to sell fast.
It may not be fair, but an empty house signals a desperate seller–even you aren’t one.
“Buy your house for cash” places will typically offer only 65% of your home’s true value–and they get deals all the time from people who are in a hurry.
Don’t look like you’re in a hurry.
Flaws Become More Obvious
No furniture means there is no way to cover up those scratches, dents and other accidents that have accumulated over the years of home ownership.
These little nicks and cuts won’t throw off a home inspection or anything crazy, but at this point you are trading dollars for nickels on your home’s value in the mind of the buyer.
All of these things seem pretty small by themselves but they can add up to create an overall negative impression in the buyers mind.
Not all hope is lost, though. You just need to get ahead of the roadblocks before you begin. Use and accentuate the assets that you do have to fight back.
We’re going to focus on these key things to help you win:
1) Creating the right first impression on the outside of the house
2) Maximizing comfort and cleanliness inside the home
3) Securing the house and deterring burglars
Creating the Right First Impression
First impressions make all the difference when you are looking for that edge to sell your house. First impression are formed within a fraction of a second–before the buyer even has a chance to step out of the car.
When you’re trying to sell an empty house, the last thing you want to do is a give a potential buyer the impression the that it isn’t cared for. A messy experience outside combined with a completely empty inside, will give buyers the sense that the house is abandoned.
Would you buy a used car that you thought was sitting abandoned on the side of the road for the past month? Perhaps you would, but you would want a killer deal.
If you can’t be around to take care of the house, make sure you hire someone to do it.
Simple things that you can do that go a long way are:
1) Painting the shutters and house number to give it a refresh
2) Updating the outside lighting to look modern (signals the house is newer than it is for cheap)
3) Cut and edge the grass frequently
Maximizing Comfort on the Inside
Leave a Few Pieces of Furniture Behind
If staging your home isn’t an option, consider putting the bare minimum amount of furniture, even if it’s not the nicest stuff in the world. A place to sit goes a long way when you’ve been looking at houses all day. It’s a nice gesture to leave a few chairs or stools so prospects have a place to sit down.
Think about adding some inexpensive secondhand furniture as a way to help the buyer visualize the space.
Keep All Utilities On
You may not have the house furnished but that doesn’t mean you can’t maximize the comfort of visitors. Keep the utilities on so the lights, fans, and electricity still work. Keep the thermostat set to turn A/C on at 80 degrees and turn heat on at 68 or higher for heat.
You don’t have a lot to work with here, so you need to make the house as comfortable as you can.
Keeping the heating and cooling on also helps to avoid anything like frozen pipes, and musty smells.
Have Someone Clean the House Once Per Month
So you’ve kept the electricity on and the thermostat is cranking along keeping the environment of the house stable, but that is still not enough to keep out that smell that too much stillness and stuffiness creates.
Just like you did with the outside, you’ll want to hire someone to come over and regularly clean in the inside of your house. It should be pretty cheap and shouldn’t take them very long to do, but it’s super critical especially because people will still be entering your house and bringing in dirt from the outside with them.
God forbid it’s a rainy day and someone looking at your house leaves a track of mud on your floors for the next prospect to discover.
The key is to minimize the chances of a negative experience. Keep the house very clean.
Keep the Ceiling Fans on For Air Circulation
This one’s a no-brainer. You have to keep the air moving in your house or it will get stale in there. Put the fans on low and let them do their thing.
Don’t Use Plug-in Air Fresheners
If you’re thinking air freshener, you’re at least on the right track. You do want the house to smell fresh–but an air freshener in an enclosed space can have the exact opposite effect.
Air fresheners become overpowering when someone first enters the house after the door has been closed for long periods of time. Right away the buyer might get a sense that you are hiding something–why else would you flood the house with air fresheners?
It’s a much better bet to have someone come and clean the house once per month to keep things smelling fresh than try to fake it with an air freshener.
Make Sure Your House is Secure
There is a lot more you need to do to secure your house than just locking all the doors. Consider purchasing a few fake security system stickers and make them visible from the outside.
You might think that won’t make a difference, but evidence of an alarm system is one of the biggest things that deters a would-be home invader.
Take Photos for Online Listings Before You Take the Furniture Out
Taking photos of the house with furniture in it to put online serves two purposes: It throws off any potential burglars that may be using real estate listing websites to scout out potential targets and it gives buyers the chance to visualize the house with furniture in it.
Now, it may seem like a dumb idea on it’s face for a burglar to rob an empty house–but within the house is a treasure trove of metals like copper that can worth a pretty penny. Taking pictures of the house with furniture sends the signal that you are still living in the property.
During the Great Recession and housing crises between 2005 and 2009, increases in home vacancies lead to a subsequent increase in burglaries according to a study published by the London School of Economics.
According to their study, when an area experienced a 1 % increase in vacancies, the burglary rate rose by 1.21%.
If a thief hits your house, the damage it causes to your plumbing could cost you thousands and force you to either repair it or sell it at a discounted price.
Make Sure to Forward Your Mail or Have a Neighbor Get it
Keeping with the theme of deterring burglars from making your home a target, make sure your mailbox is regularly cleared out. A mailbox that is overflowing is a dead giveaway that the owners of the house have not been home for a long time.
Any indication that you’ve been gone for a long period of time is something you’ll want to avoid.
In a survey of convicted burglars, researchers from the University of North Carolina found that roughly 40% of respondents said they considered a house as a potential target if they saw newspapers left out in the driveway and an overflowing mailbox.
Ask a friend or neighbor to clear it out regularly or let the Post Office know you won’t be there and have them forward your mail to your new address.
Selling an empty home is not easy, but if you are able to create the right first impression, maximize the comfort inside the home, and deter burglars you will give yourself the best possible chance to sell it for the full amount that it is worth and avoid any potential setbacks.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever sold an empty or vacant house and what you learned from the experience.