8 Sure-Fire Strategies for Selling a Vacant Property

By Sandy Dixon, InteriorArrangements.com

Sandy Dixon

Sandy Dixon

Think of a house as a theatrical stage. When it is not being used and is void of props and scenery, it lacks interest and rarely warrants a second glance.  However, after the set designers have worked their magic, the space comes alive and sets a “scene” for the onlookers.

Whether enticing, energizing or relaxing, the ultimate goal is to elicit an emotional reaction and connection to that particular space.

The same applies to homes that are on the market. Without furnishings, many houses lack interest and buyers have difficulty imagining how the space would look furnished, not to mention picturing themselves living there. Look at home builders who have known for years how buyers emotionally connect to model homes that have been beautifully furnished and accessorized.

Due to job transfers, divorce, tenants vacating or a distant move, it’s not always feasible (or economical) to keep a home furnished when it goes on the market. So here are some simple ways to improve the marketability of a vacant property and increase the chances of a swift sale:

1. Curb Appeal: Buyers like to drive by prospective properties and many won’t make an appointment to see the inside if curb appeal is lacking. Sellers need to have a plan for keeping the lawn mowed, shrubbery trimmed, flower beds weeded, and gutters and windows cleaned. Also, eliminate any items left behind in the yard that are not included with the house or that make the property appear unkempt.

BEFORE - Photo Credit: Sandy Dixon

BEFORE – Photo Credit: Sandy Dixon

2. Odors: Potential buyers are often greeted with a blast of stale or mildew-ladened air when they enter a vacant house. Deal with the mildew before the house is listed. Leaving the heat or air conditioning running while the house is on the market helps to reduce odors. It also makes the house more inviting and comfortable to be shown when the temperatures are extreme.

3. Cleanliness: Some sellers don’t bother to clean a house before they list it or if they do, the results don’t last if the house remains vacant and unsold for any length of time. Dust, cobwebs, and bugs tend to take over if routine cleaning isn’t maintained. Some buyers get the impression that a house will require repairs if it looks dirty, cluttered or abandoned—which can dramatically impact whether they make an offer and how much they offer.

AFTER - Photo Credit: Sandy Dixon

AFTER – Photo Credit: Sandy Dixon

4. Lighting: Bright, well lit rooms look bigger and create a more inviting atmosphere. Make certain all light bulbs are working and that light fixtures are clean. Any dated or outlandish light fixtures should be replaced with more modern and simple fixtures. If sellers take light fixtures with them, make sure a replacement is hung before a house goes on the market. Note: For closets, attics, or crawl spaces where there is no lighting, install battery operated light disks sold at all home improvement stores.

5. Window Treatments: Eliminate heavy, outdated and worn draperies and window coverings (this includes valances). Blinds and sheers can be left if they are in good condition.

6. Confusing Rooms: Some buyer’s can’t make sense of the floor plan in an unfurnished house. If a room’s function cannot easily be identified, if it looks out of place or negatively impacts the flow of the house, have a game plan ready. If the situation cannot be corrected or minimized, consider either furnishing the space to eliminate the confusion or write a short “action plan” with remedies that buyers might use to modify the space.

7. Dual Functioning or Multi Purpose Rooms: Many homes are being built these days with rooms that serve dual or multi purposes. For instance living/dining rooms; kitchen/office areas; and family room/play room/homework area. Because many buyers have difficulty envisioning a room in any other way than the way they see it, it’s important to either show or tell them the potential uses for the room.

Use area rugs to better define the individual functions of a room—place one where the dining room furniture would be and another where the living room furniture would be. Print cards and display them in a prominent place that says: “Don’t forget (or did you know) …this room could also be used for a play room, computer room, library/reading room, sewing/craft room, etc.”  It is a written way to help buyers envision the possibilities of the room(s).

8. Vignettes or PPP’s (Places to Ponder the Potential): It’s often hard for buyers to get a feel for the size of a room when it is vacant. Furniture provides a gauge. If completely furnishing a room is out of the question, consider either adding a few essential pieces—for instance, a queen or king size bed in a master bedroom that might appear too small to accommodate. Better yet (and more economical), create a “vignette” … a mini scene … a cozy seating and conversation grouping. The ingredients could be as simple as one or two chairs, a small table, lamp, and a touch of silk greenery.

Pull it all together to create a scene or snapshot of what the room might look like. Buyers often like to sit down in a home they are considering buying to get a sense of how’d they’d feel living there. Creating a simple vignette facing a dynamic view, in front of a fireplace or in a room that oozes charm and comfort, could be the deciding factor.

A well planned strategy for selling vacant properties is imperative in all markets—sluggish or hot. Creating an inviting environment may not require adding furniture or accessories, but it does require a keen assessment of the house as to the best way to get prospective buyers to emotionally connect and picture themselves living there.

Don’t let your vacant listings leave buyers feeling empty. Set the stage and you’ll get them sold!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sandy Dixon was a real estate professional in southern California in the 1980s and eventually drawn to a career in professional organizing and interior design. She combined her three areas of expertise, and in 2002, she started Interior Arrangements Inc., a real estate staging, consulting, training and speaking company. She offers workshops that teach simple steps to interior arranging in every room of a house. She is also an instructor for the Interior Redesign Industry Specialists, an international organization of redesigners.

Melissa Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, writing about home & design trends, technology, and sales and marketing. She manages the magazine's award-winning Styled, Staged & Sold blog.

More Posts - Website

  1. These are some great tips! There is nothing more off-putting than walking into a potential new home only to be assaulted by a musty odor and cobwebbed ceiling fans. A good thorough cleaning will do wonders on a home’s appeal.

  2. Twenty years ago I had a home that would not sell. Sat on the market forever. I went in without a buyer and looked and thought “What is wrong?” The black kitchen floor! Would white cotton rugs help? I went to a resale shop, Goodwill, and went crazy. I got white rugs, red flower arrangement, some pictures to hang on the nails that were already in the walls, and a welcome wreath for the front door. Primitive staging, small town, cheaply done. The home sold one week later, to the next buyer that it was shown to. Now I have totes in the storage room and I can decorate a house in short order, just odds and ends……… but it works!

  3. Buyers rely on a host of social networks and websites to search and identify homes they’d like to see. Professionally done staging accomplishes the task of immediately presenting a sense of scale and purpose that otherwise is hard to convey.

  4. A new service is available that notifies you when your dream house or condo is listed for sale: http://notifymewhenlisted.com/ .

  5. During my 48 years in the real estate business I must have shown many thousands of properties. Whenever was to meet property at a property I would get there early to open all the drapes and blinds to brighten the house. This was an excellent post. I enjoyed it very much!