Homeowners who want to sell quickly should first clean up their house, a survey says. Other big turnoffs include uncontrolled animals and odors from last night's dinner.
Q. My husband and I have been looking for a new home, and I just wanted to comment about what "pigs" some sellers are! You would be surprised at how many homes that we have toured are filthy, unkempt, have dirty dishes in the sink, etc. If these homeowners really want to sell, they should "clean up" their act!
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A. I have toured literally thousands of homes during the past several decades, first as a professional real estate agent and then later as a homebuyer, investor and real estate journalist. So believe me, I've seen my share of properties that were in no shape to sell quickly or at the best price.
There's really no excuse for a seller failing to have their home spruced-up for a formal "open house" or an individual viewing appointment that was scheduled several hours or even days in advance. But other times, you have to cut sellers some slack if, say, you drop in with just a few minutes' notice, and mom and dad are fixing dinner for their family after a long day of work.
That said, a recent survey of more than 50 agents conducted by the National Association of Realtors found what the trade group calls the "Top 10 Worst Home-Showing Offenses." No. 1 was sellers who hang around during the showing, including some who even take showers while a potential buyer is present or follow them around the house to see what is said to the buyer's agent.
The second-most irksome problem is pets and their messes, a category that ranges from unchained dogs to overflowing kitty-litter boxes. Such troubles are closely related to others high-up on the list, which includes bad smells from cooking (garlic and fish are big offenders) and wild animals that roam about the property or even the attic.
Odd home makeovers and wild color schemes made the list, too. So did dirt and clutter, as well as the inclination of some sellers to leave bank statements or other personal information in plain sight -- a problem that not only distracts buyers but also leaves the seller a potential victim of identity theft.
Dimly lit rooms are big turnoffs, buyers and agents say, as are homes where keys are missing from the selling agent's lockbox or otherwise difficult to obtain for a showing.
And finally, agents say that sellers should consider the photos or other art that's on their walls. One sales representative who was surveyed recalled showing a family a home that had life-size, nude photos throughout the house: Her clients went racing for the door while covering their eyes.
Q. Our 18-year-old son is about to head off to college. Will his laptop computer and other personal possessions in his dorm still be covered by our own homeowner's insurance policy?
A. Probably, but you should check with your insurance agent to be sure.
Most homeowner's policies continue to cover a college student who moves away from home, provided that he or she is under the age of 24 and is going to school full time. But some insurers limit such coverage only to students who live on campus: Your offspring may need to get a separate renter's insurance policy if he later decides to lease an apartment that isn't on the school's grounds.
Q. Last November, we formed the type of basic living trust that you often recommend, so our heirs will get our home and other assets quickly after we die instead of paying a bunch of money to a lawyer to represent them in probate court proceedings. We are now beginning to complete our 2012 income-tax return. Do we have to fill out a second return for the trust?
A. No, you don't have to file a second, independent return for your living trust.
Rules published by the Internal Revenue Service clearly state that no second return is needed, as long as you remain the trustee. Your heirs will need to fill out a relatively simple IRS form when you eventually die or become unable to manage your financial affairs.
Contact an accountant, attorney or estate planner if you want more details.
Real estate trivia: One of "hottest" products at the National Association of Home Builders' annual convention last month was a new refrigerator built by GE Appliances that not only dispenses ice cubes but also can quickly deliver a 10-ounce stream of hot water -- perfect for a mug of instant coffee or soup.
• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405.
© 2012, Cowles Syndicate Inc.