Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Queries and House Staging

As I write this, we've been in Colorado for three days. As you read it, we'll have been here six days and I'll be getting ready to leave.

We spent virtually all day Friday and Saturday with our Realtor looking at property. Since we haven't sold our house yet, we have no purchase power, but if we're planning to spend the rest of our lives out here, we wanted to get a feel for the various communities. The hubster has been adamant about not wanting to be near highways or neighbors, so we're looking in the mountains. We started by looking in a town out beyond the back of beyond, where we drove through nothingness relative to civilization, but plenty of gorgeous scenery. But to find the houses our Realtor had scheduled, we had to follow a dirt road complete with cattle guards for about 12 miles. Then we wound through more mountain roads until we arrived at the house. The owners hadn't been home since before it had snowed, so we tromped up the drive, up snow-covered stairs and entered the house.

(Yes, I took a picture, but I don't think it's appropriate to show it here, since I don't have the owner's permission. Instead, I'm sharing some of the views.)

Now, if you've been following this blog, you're aware of all the Realtor hoops we've jumped through to make our house attractive to buyers. Judging from many of the homes we looked at, this is a very loosely followed guideline. When we opened the door to this house, we were inside a small multi-purpose room. A very cluttered multi-purpose room. But what took us more than aback were the hunting trophies all over the walls, on shelves, everywhere. Elk, deer, a turkey and more game parts than I'd ever seen outside a natural history museum display.

We found other houses where dirty dishes filled the sink, where dirty clothes layered the floors, where all the things we were told to get out of sight abounded. Our Realtor had scheduled these appointments, so it's not like the sellers were caught by surprise.

Our search reminded me that before we left, I'd been drafting a query letter for my mystery, and that there were many similarities between a good query and a good house showing.

While it's true that a dedicated buyer might be able to see past the disaster areas, one has to wonder how badly these people want to sell their homes. It reminds me of those writers who refuse to follow guidelines when they send out query letters. That's their first impression for an agent, yet they don't bother to clean up and make it sparkle. Yes, it's possible there's a brilliant manuscript behind the query, but most agents will do the equivalent of closing the door, drawing a line through the home, and say, "What's next?" The attitude that an agent will overlook a sloppy query is no different than the attitude that a buyer will overlook a sloppy house. Why increase the odds of rejection?

Then there were those who followed the 'staging' rules. We entered to soft music, to the scents of spice, to brightly lit spaces. We spent more time examining those homes, even when we both felt it would be highly unlikely we would live there, either because of price or a layout that wouldn't work for us, or any number of other features. But we came in looking for reasons to like the house, not reasons to leave.

Then there was the down side. The house we loved, but because we have to sell ours first, the odds are slim that it will still be on the market. Agents often love a manuscript, but know they won't be able to sell it for a variety of reasons, none of which have anything to do with the quality of the writing.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Good points here, Terry. I've never thought about the similarities between staging and querying, but you're so right.

Can you imagine not preparing your house for a showing? In THIS economy? And then you start thinking...wonder if they took care of their house or if there are all kinds of repairs that need to be done...

Mystery Writing is Murder

Jess said...

or..maybe the mess will dissuade other buyers and it'll be there, cheaper, when you're ready!

Carol Kilgore said...

You'll find a house you like as well or better if that one isn't available when you're ready to buy. It usually works like that.

EilisFlynn said...

the difference between Colorado and Florida is going to be vast for you ... hope you sell fast!

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Eilis. We're aware it'll be a change, but after so many years in Florida, we're more than ready.

Terry Spear/Terry Lee Wilde said...

Excellent post, Terry! When I was looking for a home to get closer to where my parents lived, it was AMAZING how messy homes were. Or how bad they smelled. One had a bedroom that was a multi-dog room. It smelled like dog. I'm not sure you'd ever get the smell out of that room. Another, the family needed a couple of hours to clean before we arrived. We wondered what it looked like BEFORE we arrived, it was such a wreck when we got there. :)

Terry Odell said...

Terry - thanks for stopping by. And one of the side benefits from our experience was that the hubster now understands why I get so anal about making sure our house looks good when we have a showing. And why we have to keep it within an hour of perfection just in case.