If all of the houses in your neighborhood were built by just a few different home builders from a limited number of house plans and finish options, then you live in a cookie cutter neighborhood.
You may think that your home is unique and special, however potential buyers typically value every home in your section of your neighborhood about the same. Often times, homes in cookie cutter neighborhoods have a sale price that is based on the home's total air conditioned square footage - such as $150 per square foot. Some houses might sell for slightly less if the home is not maintained or out dated and others might sell for slightly more if they have extra amenities or have had a quality renovation, but the sale prices all tend to hover around that magic number.
If there are several homes for sale in your neighborhood, then you have stiff competition.
How do you set your home apart from the rest to get your home sold faster and for more money instead of sitting on the market while your neighbors' homes sell?
What You Can't Change
A few factors that you cannot easily change about your home are the number of bedrooms, the number of bathrooms, open concept, walk in closets, the square footage, the number of garages, the lot amenities (big/small, wooded, lakefront, swimming pool, backs up to park, corner lot, cul-de-sac, quiet street, close to school, etc), and the lot location in larger subdivisions (close to entrance for shorter commute to work, farther from entrance so no traffic noise, etc).
Many buyers are very specific about those needs and will automatically exclude your home from their search based on your home not meeting their criteria. There is really nothing you can do about those issues without investing a lot of money, so focus on other things.
Here are a few things that you can change about your house to set it apart from the rest.
Know Your Competition
Before you even contact your realtor, research the other homes in your neighborhood that are for sale or have recently sold.
Many websites will show the for sale price of homes as well as the price that was paid for a home that was recently sold.
This informaton will give you an idea of what your home might be worth so you are not shocked when a realtor presents the information to you.
When looking at other homes, notice what upgraded features they have.
Your home should not have laminate countertops if all the other homes have granite. Your home should not be all carpeted if everyone else has hardwood floors.
Know your competitors and make sure that your home meets the minimum standard for your neighborhood.
In larger neighborhoods, each section or street in the neighborhood may have its own minimum standard, so make sure you compare homes that are the most similar to yours.
Does your home still only have the same 5 bushes and 2 trees that the builder planted before you purchased the house?
When selling your home, your front yard landscaping should be one of the best in the neighborhood so that potential buyers would be proud to live in your beautiful home. If your landscaping is not good, then they might not even get out of the car to look at the inside of your home.
Pressure wash your home and driveway to make it look brand new.
Put a thick layer of mulch in your weed-free flower beds.
Add some flowers with seasonal color to add charm to the outside of your home.
Plant a flowering tree outside a window to bring the outdoors inside.
Make sure your address numbers are readable so realtors can easily find your house.
Consider replacing your doorbell button to make your home stand out from the crowd.
Disguise unattractive features, such as your garbage cans, A/C units, and other mechanical items with landscaping or fencing.
In your back yard, consider planting some fast growing evergreen shrubs, evergreen vines, and/or evergreen trees to shield your yard from the neighbors' windows or other less desirable things surrounding your home.
Remove the Unnecessary
Anything unnecessary needs to go since a cluttered home feels smaller than it actually is.
Clothing that you no longer wear might fit well in your closet, however removing that clothing will show potential buyers that there is so much closet space that you cannot even fill it.
Duplicate or expired bathroom items (lotion, medicine, sunscreen, hair products, makeup) are filling your cabinets, but potential buyers would prefer to see extra storage space that you are not using instead of full cabinets.
If you have kitchen items that you do not use, also get rid of them to show how much extra space you have in your kitchen cabinets.
Keep your kitchen countertops mostly empty to show off the abundance of countertop prep space.
A clean home tells buyers that your home is well maintained, which may not be true of other homes in your neighborhood.
This is not an everyday clean, but a deep clean!
Clean behind things, under things, between things, and above things.
After you think you have deep cleaned your home, clean it again.
Clean the ceilings, walls, behind the fridge and washer, your blinds and curtains, your light fixtures, your doors and door handles, change your air filters, wash your windows, shampoo your carpets, and clean your grout.
Sevice your air conditioner and any other mechanicals in your home to show that they are maintained and in good working order. This is especially important in order to help seal the deal when potential buyers do a home inspection.
Ensure that there are no foul odors (you might be nose-blind, so ask a friend or neighbor for their opinion).
Everything in your home needs to be in good repair to show potential buyers that your home is in like-new condition.
If you have a spot on your wall that needs to be repainted, then do it before your home goes on the market. If you have a leaky faucet or toilet that runs on occasion, then make sure that gets repaired.
Everything needs to be near perfect.
Many people decide which home to purchase based on a feeling that they get when they walk through the door. If your home feels more high end and custom, then people are willing to pay more.
Your home needs to have a little something special to make it memorable and have a little "wow" factor.
For your entryway, the focal point might be an interesting rug or a beautiful pendant light that your neighbors do not have.
The dining room focal point could be a gorgeous chandelier or some eye catching artwork on the wall. Adding board and batten paneling is another way to give your dining room a custom look.
Fireplaces are the typical focal point in a living room, so consider doing a mini-makeover to bring the design up a notch and have your home stand out from your neighbors. Make sure your furniture faces toward the fireplace instead of facing the TV and ignoring the fireplace.
A gorgeous bed is normally the focal point of a bedroom, so make sure your bedding is top notch. You might enjoy the article How to Make a Bed Like a Designer.
For your master bathroom, the typical focal point is the bathtub, so try to make it special with a unique light fixture or special wall tile. Another option is to replace the tub apron (the front vertical piece) with something unique like tile or stained wood. Add cabinet knobs and pulls to your bathroom cabinets.
The cooktop with a vent hood tends to be the popular kitchen focal point these days. Consider replacing the cabinet and micro-hood over your range with a stand alone vent hood and install a special backsplash that your neighbors do not have (your realtor or a local interior designer can advise you on what backsplash trends are popular in high end homes in your area). Upgrading to a drop in range will show off your new backsplash better than a standard range with controls at the back of the unit. Your microwave can be relocated to another location that is less conspicuous. You should also make sure you have cabinet knobs and pulls that are more unique than the ones available at your local home improvement store.
Basic Upgrades Throughout Your Home
Potential buyers typically want something special and unique, not the same thing every other house in the neighborhood has.
Here are a few ways to upgrade your home and give it a more custom look without breaking the bank. Many items can be done by a reasonably handy homeowner.
Replace your frameless bathroom sheet mirrors with framed mirrors.
Upgrade your basic light fixtures and plumbing fixtures.
Add crown molding to all rooms, or at least the public rooms, master bedroom, and master bathroom.
Upgrade your kitchen appliances.
Replace your basic kitchen and bathroom countertops with something nicer.
Upgrade your boring beige carpet with hardwoods or nicer carpet, especially if it is stained or worn.
Let There Be Light
Many potential buyers want light and bright homes.
Make sure that your window coverings are open to let the sunlight in when showing your home.
If you need to disguise something ugly outside a certain window, add sheer curtains to that window to allow light to come in but hide the view.
If a window looks onto something boring or less attractive, consider adding something to look at, such as adding a flowering vine to a boring fence.
In order to get top dollar for your home, it should look like it belongs in a design magazine.
Study design magazines to learn how to properly style your home.
Notice how coffee tables are decorated, how bookcases are styled, the artwork on the walls, the window treatments, and which items are on display in a kitchen.
One designer trick for making a home look worthy of a design magazine is to have something living in each of the main rooms. This could include an indoor tree, a flowering plant, a vase full of flowers, or a bowl full of fruit.
Add at least one of these items to each of your main living spaces as well as your master bedroom and bathroom before taking the realtor photos to make your home stand out from the rest.
Also, make sure that your realtor has professional photos taken of your home instead of quick snapshots that look dull and lackluster.
Whenever a potential buyer visits your home, their realtor should provide your realtor with feedback concerning what the potential buyers liked and did not like about your home.
If their realtor is very busy, they might not get around to it.
Make sure your realtor contacts the realtor of everyone who visits your home for feedback.
You may have something wrong with your home that you are unaware of that is easily fixable, such as a squeaky stair or a burned out light bulb.
Make sure that you address every reasonable issue that is presented to make your home the best in the neighborhood.