5 Ways to NOT Sell Your Home

5 Ways to NOT Sell Your Home - picture of messy kitchen counter

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Just the other day, Greg and I went to a couple of open houses.  Now, before you start lecturing me about vapid lifestyle inflation, let me set one thing straight.  We aren’t moving…we’re just bored.  Since we’re on FALL FINANCIAL LOCKDOWN, we’ve been trying to find fun (and free) things to do.  We’ve taken the kids to the park, gone on walks, and taught our four-year-old the joy of playing cards.  Hell, we even had a picnic in the park the other day, which was totally fun and free.  Anyway, I see open houses as just another form of free entertainment.  We can walk around stranger’s houses, look at their furniture, and critique their home décor…just for fun.

Although we’re not currently in the market to buy a new home, I absolutely love real estate.  I totally love going to open houses and I think it’s so fun to see what’s really going on behind people’s closed doors.  However, I have noticed some specific details that are often overlooked.  When you’re trying to sell your home, there are just certain things that you absolutely shouldn’t do.  So, without further adieu, here are five ways to NOT sell your home:

Stay Home During the Open House

I swear that I couldn’t make this up if I tried.  At one of the open houses we went to this weekend, the owner chose to stay home and serve as a host.  Big mistake.  We barely got in the door before she bombarded us with a whole boatload of TMI.  Then, she followed us all around the house pointing out where the bathrooms and bedrooms were…..AS IF we couldn’t figure it out ourselves.  In my mind, all I could think was “we’re not going to steal anything, lady!”  And, even after we told her that we didn’t need a tour, she forced us into certain rooms for shared memories and awkward moments.  Unfortunately, the poor lady probably has no idea that she could be scaring potential buyers away.

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Don’t Clean

There is something disconcerting about a dirty house for sale.  Why?  It makes me wonder whether the owners ever did any of the required maintenance on their home.  It also makes me wonder if buying the home might lead to a multitude of disgusting discoveries.  And really, who wants to buy a home that needs a top-to-bottom bleach bath?  Not me. 

Leave Up That Wallpaper

I know, I know.  That purple paisley wallpaper was all the rage when you had it professionally hung twenty years ago. Oh, and that apple border in your kitchen?  Totally bitchin’.  Unfortunately, potential buyers may not feel the same.  I’ve personally been there and done that with the whole wallpaper thing and Greg and I promised each other that we would never go down that road again.  Do you know what I see when I enter the open house of a wall-papered home?  Work.  Stress.  Mess.  To this day, my mom jokes that “we throw terrible parties” since she spent New Year’s eve 2007 helping us steam and scrape wallpaper at one of our rental propertiesNever again.

Leave Your Pets At Home

At one of the open houses we attended, the owner’s dog was locked up in the laundry room.  It wasn’t a big deal except for the fact that we couldn’t see the laundry room.  I mean, maybe I’m wrong but I have to assume that potential buyers might want to see the laundry room of any home they make an offer on.  In my opinion, leaving any room “off limits” during an open house may make people wonder what you have to hide.

Leave Personal Items….Everywhere

Having an open house is a great way to showcase all that your home has to offer.  However, potential buyers don’t necessarily want to see your prom picture from 1998.  They may also be less than amused by the pot leaf-inspired décor that you have so creatively displayed in your garage.  Oh, and that bottle of feminine wash left in your shower?  It made me feel uncomfortable.  If you want to sell your home, put your stuff away. Please.

What crazy things have you seen at an open house?  And, what home selling tips do you have to add to the list?

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  1. Totally agree! Before buying my house, I saw this everywhere! People at home is the worst–it’s like saying they really don’t want to sell. Wallpaper has to go! If I ever buy another house, I will deduct because it’s a pain to remove.

      1. We bought a house with wallpaper, but it also has vertical blinds. So we’re just somehow mentally trapped in the 80s.

        I really like the entry-way and dining room wallpaper though. It’s very 19th century (it looks identical to some wallpaper in one of my southern heritage cookbooks!) and goes well with the art we have put up there.. The bathroom wallpaper is gradually steaming off and will be easy to remove before we do anything with the house.

        1. As long as you like it, that’s all that matters! I would be open to wallpaper if I actually liked the pattern.

  2. Oh this brings back memories! When we were in the market buying our house we looked at a place where the owner followed us everywhere! It was the most uncomfortable 10min ever! We just left as quick as we could. It could have been an amazing house, we’ll never know, but we still laugh remembering our awkwardness.

    1. Yes, exactly. People should stay away during the open house!

  3. Love this post. Our homes have sold so quickly that we never had to hold an open house…but we sell them quickly because we take it seriously and both times worked for months in advance before listing. I know some people don’t have that luxury.

    However, when we were looking for our first home, we visited this great house with amazing tiered decking and a really great layout, but every single inch of closet space and spare room was cram packed with the woman’s Barbie collection. She apparently owned every single doll in the original box. We weren’t allowed to open some of the locked areas to see how much space there was. I wanted the house because of the setting and deck but I wasn’t buying without being able to see behind locked doors.

  4. Good tips, Holly. We recently went through the home buying process, and we saw all of these on a regular basis. I would agree that staying at home while others are viewing your house is the absolute worst. It puts a weird kind of pressure to hurry up, and makes you kind of nervous that the owners don’t want you to take a deeper look.

    Selling a house is certainly a huge pain in the rear, and being asked to be out of your house for a 4 hour window, sometimes with only a few minutes notice, is totally not fair. But you still have to do it.. it will be worth it in the end.

  5. I hate people staying on top of you when you browse for something, a house, a car, a laptop… here is looks like that is the first thing they teach you at salesmen school, jump on the client when they walk through the door and be as invasive as possible while they have a look around. Generally I just run and try to buy online.

    1. Me too. I just like to browse and think things out myself.

  6. The funniest and most annoying was, as you mentioned, when the homeowners were home during an open house.

    The husband just followed me around telling me how much work he did and why the house was so great. I was really surprised their realtor didn’t kick them out but I know some homeowners don’t care what their own realtor tells them.

    The Warrior

    1. Yeah, a realtor probably can’t make someone leave against their will.

  7. So I have never owned a home I personally live in, just investment properties. I can tell you that selling those is a process with its own unique set of issues. Essentially all the things listed above are out of your control entirely. I saw a property two months ago where out of five tenants there were: a good housekeeper who didn’t speak a word of English, a crack head, a mentally handicapped person, a hoarder, and another crack head who literally had a prostitute in his apartment when he let us in.

  8. Ugh. We went to a house one time to view it and the owners were home. We looked at maybe two rooms and left. It was awful and awkward and there was no point in looking at any more because we didn’t’ feel that we could walk through and critique what we wanted to, so why look at all? Plus they were smoking outside when we were there, and we could tell they smoked inside when we werent.

  9. I totally agree the owner should scram. I went to one open house and the son of the former owner told me all about his dad dying and how much he loved the house, apparently so much that they couldn’t bring themselves to change Dad’s turquoise carpet. That has been a couple of years ago and that house is still on the market!

  10. I agree that the owners should leave, but occasionally that is difficult. Many years ago we listed our house. We had a 1 yr. old and a two yr. old; we did not have a second car, lived in the country and DH had to work. I corralled the kids in a high chair and walker and stayed quietly in the open kitchen. I did not engage the potential buyers and the first three people to see the house made offers. Not optimal, but it did work.
    Holly, your mom must be a saint!

  11. I find it interesting that so many people hate wallpaper. Obviously the individual pattern is a choice everyone would not necessarily like. However, to just hate wallpaper for being wallpaper is odd to me. I’ve been to quite a few home shows in a couple of big cities and guess what….these brand new, interior designer staged million+ dollar homes have wallpaper. And none of the home show visitors seem to mind. I often think that we have become to ingrained by HGTV and other tv shows where the people who obviously don’t have money to build a custom house act so snobbish about wall color, wall paper, granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances. If they are on television, they must be right. Right?

    However, because we all seem to have the same follow the herd mentality, you are right in what you say. When selling, the more bland/neutral the better.

    1. I don’t think that it was anything to do with the herd mentality. I don’t have cable, or watch HGTV, and I’m not a snob at all. What I don’t like to do is buy a house and spend the first week scraping wallpaper off the walls (I’ve done that before!). What I also don’t like to do is buy a house and plan my entire décor around wallpaper that someone else has chosen.
      I don’t mind buying a house with ugly paint colors at all because it is such an easy fix.

      But, with that being said, I’ve seen wallpaper that I love! I would be down for it if I really loved the pattern and it matched most of my stuff. Unfortunately, that usually isn’t the case.

  12. My wife and I enjoy going to open houses too…although we are intending to buy at some point in time. Great tips for those having an open house. It is definitely true that how clean and organized a place is makes a difference. We went to a co-op building so the apartments are very similar but we liked the places where the apartment was neat and had nice looking furniture where as the apartment with clutter, stains, etc turned us off. If the apartment was vacant…it would probably look the same!

  13. I love real estate as well, and I love looking at potential dream houses online! Haha I am crazy.

    P.S. Wallpaper is bad. I have seen so many pretty houses with wallpaper, and then it’s just so much harder to imagine living there.

    1. Yeah, I agree. UNLESS I really like the wallpaper!

  14. Great tips Holly. Personally I do not own a house and definitely would like to take a note on your tips when going for an open house

  15. Besides the fact that CJ is allergic, pets just make me think germs. I am with you on the feminine wash making me feel icky, but I just can’t help but think of animals and their licking and where their….you get the idea! If you want to sell you house, take Fido to Grandma’s or on a play date with Fifi down the street!

  16. We’re on a house hunt and I’ve run into EVERY SINGLE ONE of these.

    And every time I’m shocked.

    But what’s more shocking? The housing market is so strong around me that those wall-papered carpet-stained dirty-litter-box-having homes?

    They sell FAST.

  17. These are all things that we have to take care of when we put up our house next year. While I don’t have wallpaper, and probably never will, we will have to take our dogs somewhere, but we will make sure to have the house cleaned.

  18. I LOVE looking at houses! Second best is looking at apartments. Or the model homes for new builders. Totally my idea of a fun, free afternoon!

    My sister and I were both house hunting once at the same time, and used a Realtor that was a client of my sister’s at the vet clinic. The woman was from a very expensive side of town, and used to selling posh homes that were way out of our price range. We were looking at homes in the $50,000 price range, mainly foreclosures. The Realtor was (unintentionally) hilarious! Oh, the things you see in foreclosures! She wouldn’t even walk in several houses, just unlocked the doors and let us wander. The house I ended up buying the guy didn’t even bother removing the old pizza boxes from all over the house, even though it had been on the market for over 6 months, and he’d already moved into his new home!

  19. Another way not to sell – become emotionally attached to the home and ask for way more than it’s actually worth. If it’s not selling, it’s over priced. Plain and simple.

  20. My 5-year old daughter and I go to open houses just about every Sunday! She just loves investigating new places and I kind of like seeing what’s out there even if we aren’t looking to buy a new house.

    I cannot stand it when either the homeowner or real estate agent follows you around! People just want to look and be left alone.

    In addition to the wallpaper, I would get rid of any outlandish colors on the wall. People want to move in and not be bothered with having to repaint a house!

    1. I agree with that. A lot of people let their kids paint their rooms neon orange or something. It’s fine if you’re living there but should be repainted before you try to sell.

  21. Hey Holly, great post. I have to agree that a dirty house would lead me to think that it was not maintained and, if I did stay home, I definitely wouldn’t badger my potential buyers. Thanks again for the great post!

  22. Being a Real estate agent I am completely agree with this post, when there are open house day thehouse would must to be on its best, in order without a lot of memories, story about rooms and owners a lot of time doesn’t understand.
    Hopefully a lot of homeowners will read this post so next time I will not force to stay out from the house for several hours.

  23. My parents put their house on the market yesterday and I tried to convince them of some of these items, but it was no use. Their “family photo wall” was not coming down, they said. It really makes a big different having the opportunity to imagine yourself living in a potential house instead of un-imagining the current occupants living there!

  24. You must have some strong willpower, Holly! You “absolutely love real estate.” You’re bored and sounds like you’ve got future plans to purchase/upgrade homes. What happens if you come across the perfect home when you’re out and about checking out the open houses? That’d be awful tempting!

    1. Moving right now just isn’t an option but maybe in the future. I have to figure out what I want first!

  25. Going to open houses is a great fun, free activity! When my parents were selling their house, we never ever stayed home for the open houses. I left whenever someone was coming for an appointment because I found it awkward. We did have to leave our cat home, but she is friendly (though the real estate agent accidentally let her out one time!!). Before even listing it, we re-painted everything and cleaned everything down. Just common sense! Plus we got to enjoy it for eight months or so while we continued to live there.

    1. At least your car was free-roaming and wasn’t locked up in the laundry room barking! =)

  26. Wow! It’s hard to believe these people are actually TRYING to sell their homes. I enjoy open houses too, such a fun, free activity. Though I do get a little depressed about never having enough money to buy my own home. But it lights a fire under my ass to get out there and make it happen!

  27. I remember checking out open houses and seeing piles of laundry or dish in the sink and thinking to myself, wtf? Clean your house! I’m not going to buy a house I saw that was messy!

    1. I would understand if it was a last minute showing…but an open house is different!

  28. I can imagine that lady following you all around the house. What a trip! I have never been to an open house with the owners there…seems like something her realtor should’ve advised against.

    It’s like marketing anything else: put on your ‘buyer’ hat.

    1. Yes, exactly. She was really nice and I’m sure she meant well but it was very off-putting.

  29. this reminded me about a house we rented a couple of years ago; the couple lived in Dubai , and had promised to remove every personal items before they left, so there would only be plain furnitures left for us… but what do you think we found when we locked ourself in? 30 year old kindergarden paintings, awkward personal items in the bathroom, toooooons of tacky angel decor, and more ugly pictures. it took us hours to take it all down. absolutely horrible!!!

  30. If I would have known the owners had stayed home I wouldn’t have set foot in that house. Talk about uncomfortable….How would the owner even think that you could honestly discuss the home with her up your ass the whole time?

    I can’t look past clutter either. I viewed one home when I was into flipping that looked like a gigantic trash can…………no lie. It was a foreclosure but it was seriously the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

  31. I love that you tour open houses out of boredom. I toured an open house in SanFran during a trip and it was awesome. I’m similarly obsessed with real estate and also appalled by what people do — and don’t do — with their homes when they’re trying to sell. My biggest pet peeve is clutter, especially in the kitchen. I don’t need to see every brand of cereal your kids eat displayed on your countertops, nor is it helpful to find a smattering of family photos on your refrigerator. Ultimately, you want buyers to envision themselves in your home and not be distracted by your family memories.

  32. My wife loves model homes! She says she get ideas from the way they are decorated. I once went to an open house that smelled of curry. That was probably the strangest thing I ever saw.

    1. I think you’re supposed to make it smell like freshly baked cookies, not curry! =)

  33. Make the beds! There is nothing I dislike more than a bed with sheets all over the place. It just feels dirty to me!

    And yes, looking at open houses is a great way to spend some time on a Sunday. My husband and I did that quite frequently before we had kids. Some of the houses were simply beautiful. Others left me wondering how people could have that much money and such bad taste.

  34. LeRainDrop says:

    The most uncomfortable thing I saw was a bachelor who left his distinctive porn collection out on bookshelves near his tv, in a manner that really put it all on display. My boyfriend and I were sorta creeped out that he left it there. But the kicker was that he came home before we finished up at the place, and ended up stuck in a conversation with him for awhile on the back deck, all the while thinking, “THIS guy has THAT collection!”

    1. Oh no!!!!! LOL

      Yeah, and I’m sure you were thinking “I know what he is going to do later!”


  35. Ah, it makes me so sad that we don’t have the concept of an open house here in Romania. I would totally love to go and check things out, for me it would be one of the best forms of free entertainment. And it would be the small details – the things you mentioned on your not to do list – that would make the thing even more fun. Having a crazy old lady tell me everything about her since the 1800s, now that beats any type of stand up comedy 🙂

    And although it doesn’t really fit in the open house category, when I was in college and looking for an apartment to rent, I found my old lady who had this terrible one bedroom: electricity was not working because the neighbor above had caused water damage to the entire apartment. The bathroom was particularly a mess: the wall was all wrinkly and ready to fall, the smell was unbearable and I am sure that if it wasn’t already there, mold would’ve made an appearance soon. The old lady was with the contract in her hand, urging me to sign that moment and promising that she would take care of everything after I move in. Oh, and as a bonus, she had no internet and wouldn’t allow me to sign a contract because they would’ve had to drill a hole through her walls for the cable – this would’ve been the biggest problem there. So… some people really know how to sell their stuff!

  36. Great post, Holly! At one house we looked at last Summer there were multiple renters in the house. It was a foreclosure and we were startled when we opened a door and they were in there playing video games. Our realtor asked if their realtor had told them about the showing. They said “no, people just come and look from time to time.” Not surprisingly this was a home that would go into foreclosure if it wasn’t sold quickly.

    1. HA!

      So, they didn’t care whether it went for top dollar or not!

  37. Haha, sounds like a really fun hobby! I think I’d be super nervous to have people traipsing through my house, but I guess that’s why you don’t leave personal items laying around. I always feel a little guilty walking through if I know I don’t want to buy it.

  38. Are you trying to say I should take down my prom pictures? You spoil all the fun.

  39. I went to an open house years ago – the house itself was fine. I went to the basement and could tell it was where “the guys” hung out. There were several folding lawn chairs surrounding a little table, upon which sat a full ashtray with a joint still sitting in it.

    Um. . . yeah. The agent was mortified.

  40. Haha, I’ve never really done the whole open house thing but I can easily imagine all of those things being off-putting. In the end, you’re buying a home for you, not for what it meant to someone else. Sellers need to keep that in mind.

  41. I love touring open houses too! Just be careful you don’t fall in love with one of them and blow your plans…. it happened to my folks. They were on the hunt for investment real estate and instead found a home for themselves.

  42. I have seen dirty and messy but the worst was the real estate agent opening a bedroom door of a home he was showing us and there was very grumpy teenage boy sleeping in the bed. He was sleeping, then he was yelling.

    Teenage boy bedrooms are very stinky.

  43. Tara @ Streets Ahead Living says:

    I can’t believe people do some of these things. The wallpaper thing I kind of understand if the person selling the house doesn’t have the finances/time to take it down themeselves but to not clean? To stay home during?

    I also heard about how when selling you can’t really cook anything, especially ethnic food or fish. I’ve heard that can really turn off prospective buyers.

  44. Hoarders! Rooms and basements filled top to bottom with stuff.

  45. All excellent tips, especially the first two! Just because you had fond memories in an area of the house, doesn’t mean prospective buyers will or have to know about yours. And with some of the houses we’ve seen, I agree it makes me wonder how much structural upkeep they’ve done if the surface maintenance is dingy.

  46. Nice post Holly. Interesting take on this considering that most people are only concerned about buying a home not selling.

  47. You are hilarious! Actually, now I am thinking about going to open houses this Sunday. We too are in a budget lock-down due to our baby being due in about a month and a half, so fun, free activities are always welcome! Good advice for sellers, too, but I ran the idea of going to open houses past The Big Guy and surprisingly enough, he thought it sounded like fun too!

  48. I’ve had a couple of people stay home during the open house, but they were both old widows and one of them was in her mid 90s. I don’t blame her for not wanting to leave her house at that age. She did think I was trying to steal stuff when I opened a kitchen drawer to make sure it was in good working order. (it was a second showing, so I was looking more closely the second time around).

    I’ve seen a home that was a full blown hoarder house complete with dead animals. Oh the smell. It can’t even be described with words. You had to be there.

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