Love at first sight DOES happen in real estate.

Buyers pull up to a listing and their hearts start fluttering. The home is affordable and has fantastic curb appeal. A giddy sense of possibility fills the air.

“Buying a home is very emotional. People just know,” says Beth Jaworski, an associate vice president with Shorewest Realtors®. “It starts with curb appeal. Then they walk inside and immediately say ‘Oh my, this is it!’ There are 2,000 or 3,000 square feet left but they just know.”

Of course, a lot of work goes into creating a home that buyers will fall in love with.

“A good first impression can definitely help sell a house and it can also kill a sale for sure. It happens in seconds and, once the first impression is made, it is difficult to get that image out of a buyer’s mind,” adds Jaworski.

If the yard is well-kept and the home has nice updates, buyers will likely take a full tour.

Courtney Stefaniak, a third-generation REALTOR® with the Stefaniak Group, sees the flip side, as well. “If the lawn is a mess or there’s a strong animal or cigarette odor in the foyer, there’s a good chance buyers will plug their noses and leave.” 

Creating a Picture-perfect Image

These days first impressions are made online. Stefaniak says using a professional photographer is best.

“Thanks to technology and social media, your first ‘showing’ happens online. A professional photographer knows the best lighting and angles. They will turn off ceiling fans and close toilet lids. All of those things make a difference in the images that bring your listing to life.”

First Steps to Wow In-person Buyers  

Getting a home prepped may be intimidating to sellers. However, it’s important to remember that your REALTOR® is an expert and ready to help.

REALTORS® know professionals who remove junk, clean, paint, stage and perform whatever services a home may need. In addition, there are simple things sellers can do on their own to present their home in the best way possible. 

For curb appeal, Jaworski suggests cutting the grass, trimming the bushes and doing exterior paint touch-ups. She says you may want to put a fresh coat of paint on the front door if it’s peeling or change the light fixture on the front porch.

When you get to the interior, start with tidying and creating a neutral environment so the buyer can imagine living in the space.

Jaworski says, “People who watch HGTV have high expectations. Declutter and depersonalize your home. Box up your knick-knacks and take family photos down. Those are just some of the easy ways to create a fresh, clean look.”

Ranking Your Renovations

Once inside the home, it’s important to fortify the first impression with a lasting impression. This may take a bit more work but will ultimately be worth the time.

Jaworski rates the next steps in terms of payoff. “The best return is always a fresh coat of neutral paint. The second big payoff is flooring. Start with the entryway, living room or great room. Refinish hardwood floors or get new carpeting. At a minimum, you will double your investment.”

Stefaniak shares a case in point.

“With a recent listing, we removed old furniture and clutter. Then we tore out the carpeting and found beautiful hardwood floors. We did some painting. And finally, we called in professionals to clean and photograph the home. We spent less than $1,000 fixing up the home, got seven offers and sold it above listing.”

It’s not a must to bring in stagers but, if the home is vacant, it’s something your REALTOR® may suggest.

Establish a Budget for First Impressions

Home sellers can discuss a budget for fix-ups that will yield the best returns when they talk with REALTORS.

“You may want to ask, ‘What recommendations do you have to prep my home for sale and what would you help me with?’ or ‘What kind of budget would I need to put our best foot forward?,’” Stefaniak says.

The budget will vary, of course, depending on the home.

“You can start with $200 to $300, depending upon the property,” Jaworski says. “That covers a new welcome mat, a pot of flowers and a new light fixture in the foyer.”

If the home is larger and outdated, you will probably need to spend more.

“One client went all in, and boy did it pay off. It was a big home and the seller spent $20,000 on prep. Light fixtures and faucets were replaced, tubs were re-enameled, and flooring was replaced. The seller easily got $100,000 more than they would have otherwise,” says Jaworski.

The REALTOR® Advantage

A REALTOR is a member of the National Association of REALTORS, is committed to a Code of Ethics and has the expertise to find the right home for everyone. Look for the “R” to determine if your agent is a REALTOR®.

Locally, the Greater Milwaukee Association of REALTORS® is a 5,500-member strong professional organization dedicated to providing information, services and products to help REALTORS® help their clients buy and sell real estate. Visit for more information.

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