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RISMEDIA, Sept. 25, 2007-(MCT)-When it came time for Virginia Ernst to sell a home she owned in Windsor, Connecticut, she went against conventional real estate wisdom and left the home completely vacant.

No furniture. No decorative curtains. No pictures on the walls. No plants in the corner or welcoming rugs over hardwood floors.

Empty.

“It was a risk, because when we bought the house, it was filled with lovely antiques, and that was part of the appeal,” Ernst said. “But this way, I was hoping buyers could picture their own belongings in the space.”

The strategy worked. After undertaking cosmetic renovations such as painting walls and polishing floors, the three-bedroom home sold in June for $217,000, about $5,000 below the asking price.

For Ernst, leaving her home vacant was a convenience. She had been renting the home, and it was easier to spruce up the space and show the house once the tenants had moved out. Other sellers are finding that they have to leave their houses empty because of job relocations or because their house is taking longer to sell than expected.

Whatever the reasons, buyers, sellers and agents say that vacant homes are becoming a more common occurrence in the local real estate market, where inventory has grown during the past year and, in most places, it is taking houses longer to sell.

Agents agree that, in most cases, it’s best to avoid selling a house completely empty. But they say there are also ways to make sure an empty house is still appealing.

“There’s two schools of thought if an empty house will hurt you or help you,” said Carla Presz of Re/Max Central Real Estate, based in Windsor. “An empty house is a blank canvas, if it’s in good condition. A prospective buyer can more easily imagine what their belongings might look like.

“But it can also be a sign that the sellers are anxious to sell, and it might produce a lower offer,” she said. “But it all depends on the condition of the house. A vacant house could give you a competitive edge, but it has to be in really good condition and still show well.”

Part of the problem, agents said, is that once you move your belongings, the wear and tear on the house is clearly visible — from the dirty carpets and scratched floors to faded spaces on the walls where pictures used to hang.

“I don’t care if you are the most meticulous housekeeper in the world, when you take pictures down, there is going to be discoloration on the walls,” said Suzie Hatch, an agent with William Raveis Real Estate in West Hartford. “Then someone comes in and says, ‘The whole house needs painting.’ The brain doesn’t tell you that when it’s furnished.”

If you must leave a house vacant, agents agree that the house will need to be cleaned from top to bottom, totally repainted, floors resurfaced and carpets cleaned or replaced.

There’s also the exterior to consider. Empty houses can often be high-maintenance, especially if the seller has relocated out of state and the house is sitting on the market for months. Lawns, as well as flowers or other vegetation, must be mowed and watered.

Heating or air conditioning should also be turned on, outside pipes need to be closed off in winter, and appliances or other electronics should be turned on regularly to make sure they are still functioning. (Owners who plan to leave homes vacant should also check with their insurance companies to make sure their policies cover the house when it is empty; sometimes additional coverage is necessary.)

“You really command less money when a house is vacant,” said Teresa Sirico, a New Haven, Connecticut agent. “When buyers see a vacant house, they feel they are going to get it for a much better price. Vacant equates to desperate.”

So when is it the right decision to leave a house empty?

Agents said a cluttered house might show better empty, especially if the clutter spreads into every room. Homes with unusual furniture might also be better left empty.

“If you have a house that is so beautiful, it can work against you because a buyer walks in and says, ‘I don’t have anything that works like this. My stuff will look bad in here.'” Hatch said. “But for the most part, most people’s houses are normally furnished. They don’t have a Degas over the fireplace or phenomenal sculptures. Most people can relate to what is in someone else’s house.”

The decision to leave her Windsor home vacant was the right one, said Ernst.

“It was so much easier than working around a tenant,” she said. “We tried to make it completely appealing with the renovations. It freed the home for a quick sale, and it was easy because buyers could come in any time they wanted.”

Copyright © 2007, The Hartford Courant, Conn.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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