There are a number of benefits to buying a vacant home, including potential cost savings, but there are also some downsides.
Similarly, selling a vacant home can be both a tricky affair and a good opportunity to find a buyer.
While home staging has become a popular way to pique buyers’ interests and give them a great idea of how their new home could look once they have moved in, an empty property is like a blank canvas in that people can create their own images.
And this is a situation more buyers are finding themselves in as homeowners increasingly need to move out before their properties have sold.
Selling a vacant home: what to do – and not to do
With the market now more subdued in many areas, properties are taking longer to sell and, because it’s not always possible to delay plans like starting a new job in another city or moving to a different country, a growing number of sellers are forced to move out of their homes before they are sold, says Cobus Odendaal, chief executive of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Johannesburg and Randburg.
“In some ways, this facilitates the selling process because potential buyers can view the property at any time, not only when it’s convenient for the sellers, and the agent can host show days as often as they please.”
However, he adds, selling a house that is vacant comes with its own set of challenges because although it allows for easy, unhindered access for short-notice viewings, and it’s also easier for a buyer to see the basics of what they are buying, warts and all, it simply doesn’t feel like a home. And this is a major stumbling block because people don’t just buy a house, they buy a home and a lifestyle.
“When prospective buyers view a property, one of the key factors they take into consideration is whether or not it resonates with them and ‘feels’ like it could be their home, which is a difficult sentiment to elicit from an empty space.”
Odendaal lists some key considerations when selling a vacant home and offers a list of dos and don’ts to help sellers successfully market their properties.
– Invest in high-quality photography: Empty spaces can be challenging to capture, but professional photographs can highlight the property's features and create a compelling online listing, despite the lack of decor. Hire a skilled photographer to showcase your empty house in the best light.
– Keep up with regular maintenance: An empty house still needs care to maintain its appeal. Ensure the property is clean, well-maintained, and free of any signs of neglect. This includes mowing the lawn, cleaning gutters, and addressing any necessary repairs.
– Ensure all necessary small repairs are completed: Take care of scuffs on walls, replace missing light bulbs and fill wall cracks. Don’t allow prospective buyers start wondering what else could be wrong with the property by neglecting to do small, inexpensive repairs.
– Highlight the potential of the space: Showcase the best features and clearly communicate any renovation or remodelling plans you had for the property. Highlighting the possibilities can attract buyers looking for a project or those seeking a blank canvas to personalise.
– Leverage online marketing: Since the property is empty, potential buyers may rely heavily on online listings so advertise on all the main platforms and real estate websites and use professional photos and compelling descriptions.
– Be flexible with showings: Empty houses can sometimes feel cold, so offering flexible and multiple viewing times allows potential buyers to experience the property in different lights. Accommodating their schedules increases the chances of a successful sale.
– Leave the utilities on: Having lights on, especially in darker areas and rooms, will add warmth to the property. On a practical level, potential buyers will want to check that light switches, taps, and fitted appliances are working.
– Consider professional staging services: Empty houses may lack the warmth and appeal that staged homes provide, especially if it’s an older home clearly in need of renovation. Staging helps potential buyers envision the possibilities of each room and can significantly enhance the overall presentation.
– Neglect security: Vacant properties can attract unwanted attention. Install a security system, ensure all windows and doors are secure, and consider periodic check-ins to prevent issues like break-ins or vandalism.
– Overlook kerb appeal: Just because the house is empty doesn't mean the exterior should be neglected and a well-maintained and inviting exterior creates a positive first impression which will encourage buyers to look further. Keep the lawn manicured, add some potted plants, and ensure the property looks inviting from the outside.
– Overprice the property without notable justification: While you may have invested time and money into the property, be realistic about its market value because overpricing can lead to a prolonged listing period and potential buyers losing interest.
– Settle for dull marketing materials: Empty houses can lack character, so it's crucial to compensate with engaging marketing materials. Use creative language and emphasize the unique features of the property to capture potential buyers' attention.
– Underestimate the power of virtual tours: In the absence of physical furniture, virtual tours become even more critical. Give potential buyers the opportunity to explore the property online, allowing them to visualise the layout and flow of the space.
– Delay necessary repairs: Address any issues promptly, even if the house is empty. A property in good condition is more likely to attract serious buyers, and addressing repairs early on prevents potential complications during the sales process.
Odendall says the age-old adage of ‘you only have one chance to make a first impression’ certainly applies when selling a home, especially in a tough market where there is a lot of competition, so it definitely pays to make the extra effort.
“Selling an empty house requires a strategic approach and attention to detail, and by balancing online visibility, property presentation, and addressing potential challenges, there is every chance of a successful and stress-free selling experience.”
Buying a vacant home: The pros and cons
Like any real estate investment, buying an empty property comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Real estate agents consider these to be the biggest pros and cons that buyers should bear in mind when viewing and considering purchasing a vacant home:
– You could save money as vacant houses are often priced lower than occupied ones. This could be due to homeowners needing, and being motivate to, sell quicker. And this could give you more power to negotiation the price.
– You can undertake renovations or remodelling as you please because the home has no tenants to inconvenience. It also gives you the opportunity to redesign or upgrade the home to your liking – whether you choose to live in it or rent it out.
– A sale could be finalised quicker as there are no tenants or occupants to plan viewings around. You also will not need to wait for people to move out.
– Viewing a property when it is empty gives you a better chance to spot and investigate potential issues more thoroughly as you have full access to every part of it.
– As there are no tenants, you won’t have to deal with any disputes or go through any eviction processes.
– Depending on how long the property has been vacant, you may be faced with more maintenance issues due to lack of regular use. This is because problems such as leaks, pests, or mould can worsen over time.
– Criminals often target empty properties, stripping them of pipes and other metal they can sell. Squatters also look for opportunities to move in to unoccupied homes.
– If you are buying the property with the aim of renting it out, you will need to get it ready for tenant occupation and follow the necessary processes to find a good tenant. Until then, you won’t be earning a rental income but still have a home loan to pay. In this case, it would be easier if the property already had a tenant.