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Ask McEnearney: How do I avoid being a juicy chapter in a real estate tell-all book?

This week’s Q&A column is sponsored and written by Ann Duff of McEnearney Associates Realtors®, the leading real estate firm in Alexandria. To learn more about this article and relevant Alexandria market news, contact Ann at 703-965-8700 or email [email protected]. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

Question: How do I avoid being a juicy chapter in a real estate tell-all book?

Answer: Realtors don’t judge, but we have seen everything… and we could write a book! Don’t become a juicy chapter! 

Tell-all books continue to be the rage, but the story you want to tell about the home you are going to sell or lease should be happy, not scandalous. Buyers or potential lessees should be delighted to see the space you are offering, not bombarded with unexpected situations.

Just this week I visited a lovely home to prep it for a spring sale. It offered an up-close look at the lingering impact of COVID Confinement. At the moment, this house takes real imagination to picture former bedrooms in their original state, littered as they are with ring lights, files, PCs, office chairs and files.

Unwanted surprises can be the simple crunching of a Lego piece or ink pen under a boot, or shocking eyeballs out of their sockets with inappropriate “artwork” of unclothed subjects, animals mounted on the wall and framed political revolution flyers.

You would think that owners would put prescription drugs away, stash the cash and watches, and hide their private correspondence, Social Security numbers and password lists.  Unfortunately, in many cases you’d be wrong. Also, often in plain view are too many personal photos, knickknacks and geegaws distracting the visitors.

And, if not just distracting, you can unintentionally create worries. Obviously broken items, all-too-fresh paint, and sticky notes claiming “as-is,” “plumber coming back,” “mold test underway,” or “pardon the mouse traps” can raise concerns about the level of maintenance the house has received during your ownership. Reading any detailed brochure copy will be helpful, but a now-startled buyer may offer thousands of dollars less than originally considered or simply walk away.

Corral the pets, too, because hyper-amorous dogs or slinky cats in need of attention can literally trip up buyers or tenants. If you leave the house, take the four-legged ones along. Slow-moving tortoises in a glass terrarium are just fine, but keep the other animal life out of the tour. Even a screeching macaw makes just too much noise and suddenly the rooms feel small, I know from experience.

Under construction? Just removed those steps to the basement? Forgot to put up yellow CAUTION tape? A dear real estate friend took a step through an unmarked doorway and broke both her arms when she suddenly landed on the basement floor below.

Remember The Shawshank Redemption “Why?” Think twice before plastering a room with posters, even if it is your personal shrine to Justin Bieber or Raquel Welch, because people might think someone is either hiding wall imperfections or an escape tunnel.

Humans are a tricky commodity, as well. Tenants may not “get with the program.” Even after giving hours and sometimes days’ notice, my compatriots and I have walked in to find bodies in the shower, racked out in bed, cooking some odorous food or smoking cigars and more. Lordy, you’d be surprised what Realtors see!

Owners can be careless, too. Good grief, they agreed to the appointment. You’d think they’d move the ragged pile of magazines from the den, announce the wet deck stain, clean up dog ‘bombs’ in the yard or throw some mosquito poison pellets in the stagnant fountain to shoo away the flying carnivores.

Discretion is always the by-word and the goal is to have happy buyers and tenants thrilled by what they see when entering your residence. Boring as it may be, creating appeal for all simply means neutrality, fresh paint, good lighting and no nudes.

Wish we could leave this tome with gentle reminders, such as “do not wax the wood steps” or “sweep acorns off the steep driveway,” since I will absolutely fall on my “duff” again, but I have a public service challenge here — to keep you OUT of the annals of real estate lore or the book I might write!

These thoughts and years of experience are brought to you by Ann Duff, Realtor, with McEnearney Associates. Based in Alexandria, Ann is busy day-in and day-out in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, listing, selling, and leasing distinctive properties with and for wonderful people — and all with a splash of fun! Let’s Get Busy… contact Ann at 703-965-8700 or visit her website

If you would like a question answered in our weekly column or to set up an appointment with one of our Associates, please email: [email protected] or call 703-549-9292.

McEnearney Associates Realtors®, 109 S. Pitt Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. Equal Housing Opportunity. #WeAreAlexandria

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