How I brought a tired empty home back to stylish, joyful life.

Through referrals from some lovely people who know I’m not your average estate agent, I was approached by a client whose old childhood home had been on the market with another agency for four months, yet they had only seen two viewings in that time. 

The home in question was a huge Victorian detached house with a self-contained annexe that had been in my client’s family for nearly 35 years. Now, if you’ve ever met me, you’ll know that I adore older homes, Victorian especially, so I was in love before I set foot inside the building! However, it wasn’t necessarily going to be a simple sale. 

Situated right on a busy crossroads, it definitely wasn’t going to suit everyone. Plus, this home was a real example of Disguised Potential – I could see past the tired and dated décor, the unkempt garden and the work that was needed to make this the type of home that today’s buyers want, but those buyers definitely could not. Plus it was completely empty, which always makes it harder for buyers to get excited. Hence the low viewing numbers.

The patterned carpet and dated curtains weren’t helping this gorgeous room to look its best

The house had been priced as if it was ‘done’ and ready to move into, but in its current, tired and empty condition, that was simply putting buyers right off. It was clear to me that we needed to change what we were offering to the market in order to attract the right kind of buyers who would suit this unique home.

In this situation, where there’s a mismatch between price and offering and the market is telling you so by leaving your home unsold for months, there are two choices. Drop the price to match what you’re offering, or raise your offering to match the price. And of course, I can create a mixture of the two in order to align both the seller’s needs and buyer expectations. 

This home’s main problems were the busy road position, difficult vehicle access, dated décor, and the fact that a buyer would likely consider there to be “too much work” needed. This last phrase came straight from one of the two buyers who viewed the house with the previous agent, and it’s always very important to listen to previous feedback. It’s a valuable opportunity to learn what buyers really think of your offering, and gives you the chance to improve. 

A new plain carpet and classic furnishings helped this room to shine

Based on those main issues, I put together a bespoke improvements strategy for my client, designed to address the immediate factors that I believed a buyer would be concerned with. Of course we couldn’t pick the house up and move it off that busy crossroads, but what we could do was to make the rest of the house fabulous so it would be worth living in that position. The strategy included:

  • Installing remote-operated electric gates to make access far easier
  • Repairing the roof – there were no leaks, but replacing slipped and broken tiles that could be seen from below meant that there would be no concern about the roof from any buyer
  • Fully redecorating the house, including the exterior doors and window frames
  • New carpets in the main rooms
  • Electrical and gas safety certification

This may sound like a lot, but when you compare it to the level of a price drop that would be needed in order to secure any interest at all, this investment easily paid for itself. My client paid around £15,000 for all of the above work, and when you consider that most buyers will offer at least 10% less than the asking price if there is anything they are worried about, this would have been a drop of about £42,500 on the £425,000 asking price so my client actually saved at least £25k! (spoiler alert, we did sell for the full asking price 😊)

That’s the lesson here – it almost always costs you less to do/pay for work yourself than it will cost you in the price drop you’ll have to give a buyer to do it themselves.

While still beautiful, the dark patterned wallpaper throughout the hall, stairs & landing made it difficult for buyers to imagine it looking any other way

Happily, my client understood this, and was willing to invest in the improvements but didn’t have the time or the inclination to do any of the work or to manage it all. This is why I was chosen to take on this home from the previous agency – I’m the kind of estate agent that can manage all this stuff so my client doesn’t have to. I call it my concierge service – just hand me the keys and I’ll sort it!

I planned out the improvement project and handed this over to my project manager to oversee the works. Trade invoices for improvement projects are charged to the client at cost, so the client knows exactly what they’re paying for and there’s full transparency. 

We designed the interior based on classic, relatively neutral colours that complement the period features such as the dark wooden staircase and fireplaces, stained glass windows and textured wallpapers, with the intention that buyers would agree they could move in without needing to do anything, but could then make changes as and when they wanted to. 

Now the walls are one plain subtle colour, chosen to complement the carpet and woodwork, the real features of the entrance hall can take centre stage

This is the holy grail with homes that are in need of modernisation or refurbishment – unless you’re trying to sell to a developer, or someone who is willing to take on a lot of work (and you’re priced accordingly i.e. low), then what you need to offer buyers is a home that can be moved into straight away, with no essential work needed. Most buyers are happy to decorate and upgrade things but many of them don’t want to have to do these things straight away. If you can show them something that’s fine for now but has potential to improve when they’re ready, this is the sweet spot 😊

Once the improvements were nearing completion, we started sourcing furniture and accessories to fill every room and make it look like home. Empty rooms are so boring to look at and difficult to photograph – there’s nothing to take a picture of except walls and a floor! And certainly, nothing to make a buyer feel something, which is what your photos need to do.

Usually just a beautifully-made bed, bedside tables and lamps are all that a bedroom needs to provide a focal point for both the camera and the eyes of your buyers

When I furnish empty homes for sale, I always make sure that I select items that suit the age and style of the home itself and are of a style that our ideal buyer is likely to approve of. Highly contemporary furnishings wouldn’t have been a good fit for this 100-year old home, so I chose classic designs that allowed the original period features to shine through. 

Each room was given the essential furniture – enough to show buyers how they could arrange the rooms themselves, and to show the sort of lifestyle that they could live there. Beds, armchairs, sofas, dining furniture, desks, and side tables to hold lamps, mugs and books. 

Lamps and shades were added to help bring layers of light to each room, which is important to make rooms look great both in the photos and in person. I always turn on EVERY light for viewings – it’s less about making the room light, and more about bringing those homely layers of light into play.

I’m always trying to create an aspirational feel in my interiors – we want buyers to desire what we’re showing them

Stylish accessories and soft furnishings such as bedding, cushions, throws and curtains were carefully chosen to complement and enhance the design scheme for each room, and suggest those lifestyle elements that make a room feel lived in. I laid the dining table ready for dinner; nothing too over-the-top, but just enough to encourage buyers to think of special meals with friends and family rather than just the mundane and rushed Tuesday night feed!

I also hung loads of pictures, because empty walls are just dull and suck the life out of a photograph – I hate dead space in photos! And if you’re wondering about what to do with picture hooks when you’ve sold, I recommend you simply leave them in. There’s no fear of damaging the wall then, and if you’ve hung a picture somewhere, it’s likely a new owner will want to put one there too so the existing hooks do them a favour! 

Once the house was complete, I arranged the professional photo shoot. This was a half-day shoot, and as with every home we work with, we took three types of photograph:

  1. Room shots
  2. Feature shots
  3. Lifestyle Images
The room shots go onto Rightmove and into the brochure to show each room at its best. 
Feature shots help to show buyers more individual items that they will actually be buying but which may not be fully visible in the room shots, such as fireplaces or stained glass windows.
And lifestyle shots help buyers to imagine how they could live in this home.

I love the combination of an open book, a mug and a lamp next to an armchair with a throw on it – can’t you just imagine the bliss of settling down in the evening, snuggled in a blanket with a steaming hot cuppa to read for an hour? That’s the sort of thing we want buyers to see in their minds because rather than selling bricks and mortar, we’re trying to sell them their ideal life that they could be living inside those bricks and mortar. 

Once the photos had been selected and edited, the description and brochure were commissioned. As the front door with that gorgeous stained glass was a major feature of this home, we wanted this to be prominent in the design of the brochure, so my designer suggested the fold-over cover to evoke the feeling of opening the door.

It’s nice to do something different for each brochure; every single one we produce is unique. And you’ll see how my designer used the pattern of the stained glass as a motif throughout 😊

It was a real pleasure to show my client around the house after the photos had been taken, to see her reaction to the changes we had made. I always feel a great sense of responsibility when I take on the sale of a home, especially when there are big changes required and clearly so many memories attached to it. It’s important to me that I balance the needs of the sale with the feelings and emotions of my client. I was proud to create a home that both honoured the history of the house and its family, and that today’s buyers would find attractive and desirable.

Once we were ready to launch the house onto the market, I carried out a thorough check of the local competition to verify the correct asking price. This is an area where I differ from many estate agents – my service is not based on a valuation given at a first meeting on what is seen right then and there. Rather, I advise my clients on the best strategy to achieve their goals, which as you have seen may include making some changes to the home and its presentation, and it may include recognising that going for the absolute top price isn’t the client’s highest priority. Every client’s strategy is different because every client is different – what is right for one will not be right for another. Once we’ve identified the client’s priority and goals in selling the house, and agreed on the sale strategy, I then commit to achieving the highest possible price for the house at the time of marketing. 

Brochures are handed to buyers after viewings to help keep this home at the forefront of their mind and to reinforce the feeling that they could be buying something really special here

My extensive research settled on a price that I believed buyers would respond to positively, and my client agreed.

So did the buyers – we had 11 viewings booked in within two weeks and received two offers, one of which my client was happy to accept at the full asking price.

Everyone was really excited; we’d found a new family who would make this a joyful noisy home once more, and everything got passed on to the solicitors.

However, as can happen sometimes in home sales, a couple of months later the buyers decided not to proceed with the purchase. It was heart-breaking for both the buyers and my seller, and of course, I was upset too – only a couple of days previously, I’d started to pack away the accessories and strip the beds in preparation for clearing the house. The thought that I had jinxed the sale did cross my mind as I was making up the beds once more, but of course, it’s not true.

The key part when a sale falls through is to not take things personally, try not to dwell on what might have been, but pick yourself up and try again.

The house went back on the market straight away, and this time we received even more interest: 26 viewings were booked within just three weeks.

We received four offers, and again agreed a full asking price offer from another lovely family who were super-excited to have more space in which to raise their three children and a home that they could truly make their mark on over the years to come.

This time, I did not move so much as a wine glass before we had exchanged contracts! I even left all my plants there, visiting weekly to water them and make sure everything was ok. I know I said it’s important not to take things personally, but I’ll let you know if I ever have any success with that…every home I sell, every family I work with, it’s all personal to me 😊 

Happily, with a combination of a determined set of buyers, a seller who responded to every request for action or information immediately, and many phone calls from me backwards and forwards with both solicitors, we were able to exchange and complete less than 10 weeks after the offer was accepted. In today’s market, where solicitors and mortgage lenders are so busy they are generally taking far longer than the usual 12-16 weeks to complete transactions, this is a feat we are all proud of. 

Introducing: bedding mountain. How many pillows do you think a 5-bedroom house needs? Answer: 18. Plus 5 duvets, and over 20 cushions…thank goodness for those Ikea bags!

My assistant and I packed up all the furniture, accessories and pictures the day after exchange, and we made sure that everything was ready for the new owners.

We vacuumed, dusted, read the meters and I prepared instructions for various things that I knew the buyers would need. When working with empty homes, we often have a lot more up-to-date experience as to how the house actually works than the seller does, and it’s important to us that we pass on this information to make the buyers’ first few days as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

Here’s a fun time-lapse video of my assistant Jackie and I packing up the dining room – I wish it went this quickly in real life!

On the day of completion, there was a fair bit of waiting around for a phone call, with the buyers chomping at the bit to start unloading boxes! As soon as we had heard the money had transferred to the seller’s solicitor and the sale was complete, I took the buyers round the house to explain as much as I could without taking up too much of their time, and handed over the keys.

Champagne was exchanged, flowers were given, and smiles were plastered all over everyone’s faces!

I just love completion day 😊

I then visited my seller to give her a well-deserved bottle of champagne and a framed portrait of the house as a memento. It was a bittersweet moment, of course, having sold the family home that was a big part of her childhood, but I’m so happy to have helped her to remove the problem that was standing in the way of her new home. Now the house is sold, she and her husband are free to place an offer on their dream home and they’re in a far better position to get that offer accepted. They’re free to move on.

Notes like this make my heart happy
A framed print of a red-brick Victorian home
The framed home portrait I gave as a memento

It was a joy to work with this beautiful home, to bring it back to life and honour the memories of my client’s childhood. I love knowing that I helped to transform a stressful, traumatic experience into one that went far more smoothly, and achieved the main goal of getting the house sold for a great price, even with a hiccup in the middle. I also loved being able to help the new owners find and secure their dream home. My job is about houses, but really it’s about helping to move people into the right homes for the next chapter of their lives.

If you’ve got an empty home to sell, or something that’s standing in the way of your new chapter, get in touch today by calling  0115 901 7060  or emailing anna@annaharthomes.co.uk and I can provide you with tailored, expert advice to support you through your specific set of circumstances.