Here are some things that prospective homebuyers should watch out for:
1. There is mood music playing.
When walking into a staged home, you will often see a lifestyle depicted: wine glasses set on the bistro table under the bougainvillea trellis with the Cuban rhythms of Buena Vista Social Club playing in the background.
It can be seductive to envision yourself in that scene ― that’s the point ― but stop swaying to the beat long enough to ask the agent to turn the music off. Why? Music is frequently used to mask traffic noise, and there is no easy fix for the sound of trucks rolling by at 2 a.m.
Simply planting trees or thick bushes won’t be enough. Some people plant bamboo because the swishing sounds it makes can help disguise the noise. Others replace old windows with new ones that block sound better, which works fine until you open them. But pretty much nothing short of a solid, 8-foot masonry wall will make much of a difference.
An entire industry has evolved around trying to quiet traffic noise. It can be diminished ― at a cost ― but it is unlikely to ever be fully eradicated. So before buying a house on a noisy street or near a highway, it’s best to decide whether that’s something you can tolerate.
HowLoud.com can help house hunters check out just how noisy a property is. Put in an address, and the site spits out a score based on roadways, air traffic and other factors.
You should also know that traffic noise generally devalues a property and makes it harder to sell. But if the listing price reflects that ― meaning you can buy it for less than comparable homes in the area ― it still might work for you. Just remember that when you go to sell this house down the road, you will likely be dusting off those Buena Vista Social Club CDs.
2. There is a love seat, but not a sofa.
There are many frequently used staging techniques that make a small room appear larger. The simplest one is to replace the sofa for three with a love seat for two. It may look the same in terms of room design and style, but you will absolutely notice the difference when you try to move in your couch.
Ask for room measurements, and know the size of your furniture. You may even want to come back for a second look armed with a tape measure.
Staging a home for sale has increasingly become part of the marketing package. According to the National Association of Realtors, 38 percent of sellers’ agents said they stage every home before listing it. More than half reported that staged homes fetched sale prices that were between 1 and 25 percent higher, so it’s understandable why a seller would want to stage a home. But buyers need to pay attention and not be misled by the tricks of the trade.
3. Room fresheners or diffusers are in full use.
A room freshener is a mask of another kind, and prospective buyers need to figure out what it is attempting to cover up. Top contenders are pet odors, cigarette or cigar smells, or a septic issue. The first two will eventually go away, but that last could be a costly problem.
Dig deeper and find out what you aren’t smelling behind the floral mask.
4. Every light in the house is on at midday.
Natural light depends on a lot of things, including the time of year, the time of day, and how the house sits on the lot. South-facing homes tend to get the most light, but that isn’t going to matter if the porch roof overhangs or there’s a hill, mountain or big oak tree between the house and the sun.
Because many buyers want bright, open, airy homes, real estate agents generally run around turning on lights before a potential buyer walks in. It’s perfectly fine to tell the agent to turn them all off.
Dark houses can be improved to varying degrees with skylights, trimming back trees and installing larger windows. Mountains, however, can’t be moved. Assess how much natural light there is and whether it’s enough for you. See if there are ways to increase it. But start by telling the agent to turn the lights off.
5. The smell of fresh paint.
Many sellers slap on a coat of fresh paint before putting their house on the market. Nothing wrong with that.
But as a buyer, it behooves you to ask specifically if the touchup is meant to mask mildew and water damage. Often, corners and floorboards near water sources ― like the shower ― get wet.
While a paint job may cover up the area and make it less unsightly, it won’t repair any water damage or prevent the problem from getting worse when you are the home’s owner.
6. Hedges surround the property.
Hedges are nature’s Band-Aids, inasmuch as they cover up boo-boos.
Hedges screen things from view. When they’re high and in front of a window, they were planted for privacy and maybe also to make a crook’s job harder. When they line the side yards, their purpose may be to block out the neighbor’s dumpy backyard, which is being used for car repairs. They grow fast and thick and invariably block something that the seller wanted blocked.
Find out what that something is.
7. The agents use a lot of Realtor-speak.
An agent’s job is to present a listed house in the best way possible, and thus a real estate language was born.
When a listing describes the living room as “cozy,” you can expect it to be small. If the kitchen is “newish,” it isn’t brand-new. “Peek-a-boo views” may be what you can see if you stand on the roof. And “room for a pool” is not the same as “the sellers got the permit and did the geological studies and everything is honky-dory for your pool guy’s bulldozer to start Monday.”
While listings on a multiple listing service, or MLS, are presumed to be accurate representations of a property for sale, potential buyers would do well to verify the accuracy themselves. The MLS does not provide independent verification, nor is it liable for any inaccuracies. Agents frequently rely on the sellers to provide information about square footage and the number of bedrooms and bathrooms.