August 26, 2019

JF1817: How To Get Top Dollar For Your Home With Minimal Improvements with Caroline Carter

Caroline and her team help homeowners sell their homes quickly and for the highest amount possible. They do through through a process called Total Home Transition, and they also help with packing and unpacking at the next house. Hear her best tips for getting a home ready for market. If you enjoyed today’s episode remember to subscribe in iTunes and leave us a review!

Best Ever Tweet:

“It’s not about the seller when you’re selling your home, it’s about the buyer” – Caroline M. Carter

Caroline M. Carter Real Estate Background:

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Joe Fairless: Best Ever listeners, how are you doing? Welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I’m Joe Fairless, and this is the world’s longest-running daily real estate investing podcast, where we only talk about the best advice ever, we don’t get into any of that fluffy stuff.

With us today, Caroline Carter. How are you doing, Caroline?

Caroline Carter: Hey! Good, Joe. How are you?

Joe Fairless: I am doing well, and looking forward to our conversation. A little bit about Caroline – she’s the founder and CEO of Done In a Day. She’s helped more than 2,000 families repair their homes to sell for top dollar and avoid the chaos and stress of moving. Based in Washington DC.

With that being said, do you wanna give the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about your background and your current focus?

Caroline Carter: Sure, absolutely. I’m happy to. I was a middle child, one of four. I grew up in New Jersey. I had some high-achieving other siblings. I never expected to be a high achiever myself. There was not much really expected of me. I was an average student; I’m sure you’ve heard this before. But I was very tenacious, very driven, very OCD, a little bit of a clean freak, and I was organized to a fault. So I thought “Hm, what can I do? What are my special skills and abilities that I bring to the table?” And one of the things that I realized very early on is that I was a nurturer. So I started babysitting as a mother’s helper at eight years old, and amassed $400 in the bank by the time I was 12. So that’s kind of how I grew up… My parents were not helicopter parents at all. As a matter of fact, they were just the opposite.

I remember my mother saying to me, when I was very young and struggling with making a decision about something… She said “You know, Carrie, I don’t worry about you. You always land on your feet.” And I thought, “Okay, that’s the worst thing you could possibly tell a child”, because I didn’t have the tools necessarily to figure out what I was struggling with, but yet, I remembered that through the years as I’ve gone through more difficult periods in my life, and had to really dig deep to figure out “You know what, I am gonna land on my feet, and I’ve just gotta figure it out.” So in essence, I’m glad that I didn’t have helicopter parents, looking back.

Joe Fairless: So you are the CEO and founder of Done In a Day.

Caroline Carter: Yes.

Joe Fairless: Will you describe your business model?

Caroline Carter: Sure. We focus on total home transition. The process is called total home transition. You’re gonna say “Well, what does total home transition mean?” Total home transition is the process that we all go through, from the moment we decide to sell a property until the moment we’ve unpacked the last box in the next house.

Essentially, what we do is we partner with agents – realtors, real estate agents – to work with their clients to guide and educate them how to make the best use of their time and money as they walk through this process. There’s really two phases of it.

The first is understanding how to package your property to sell. Now, a lot of people say “Oh, you’re a home stager.” Well, staging is only one part of it, and I’m sure you’re familiar with — are you familiar with home staging, Joe?

Joe Fairless: I am.

Caroline Carter: Okay. So most people believe that that’s really what it’s all about… But you can’t stage a home – which is in essence bringing in furniture to highlight the house – until you’ve  actually performed a non-emotional buyer-based assessment of the structure and property… Meaning you’re going to look at the house to figure out what it is that you need to fix; anything that beeps, squeaks, creeks… So essentially, I’m a visual marketer, right?

Joe Fairless: Right.

Caroline Carter: I was with someone the other day and we were walking out on their back patio… And the door to the back patio wouldn’t open. He said “Hold on, I actually just have to jiggle it up a  little bit.” I said “Okay, John, that’s something that we’re gonna wanna take care of.” So the visual packaging of a home, which includes painting, carpeting, visual and cosmetic updates – that’s the first portion of the process to position it to sell. So we work along with the agent to provide this assessment.

Then you go into kind of no man’s land, when the house is on the market and we have to keep everything perfect, and we’re living in this hotel-like home… Once you have a ratified contract, you then move into the Move portion of the sale. That’s really figuring out “How am I going to move this family, get the best deal on the move, the best to organize it and supervise it, to get them  unpacked in the new home?” Essentially, you’re trying to work with this family to smooth the transition.

Joe Fairless: Okay. And on that front, I’m sure you get sometimes “Well, I’ll just hire a moving company, so what do I need you for?”

Caroline Carter: Sure. What’s interesting about home transition – and I work with many, many people who are heads of their individual industries. When it comes to our home, we all of a sudden lose our ability to think without emotion.

Joe Fairless: [laughs]

Caroline Carter: No, seriously.

Joe Fairless: I know, I agree with you.

Caroline Carter: [unintelligible [00:07:10].28] and it doesn’t matter if it’s 1,000 sq. ft. or 12,000 sq. ft. This has happened with anybody and everybody, from sports figures, to [unintelligible [00:07:20].18] high-ranking government officials… And all of a sudden you start talking to them about how to non-emotionally look at this process, and they say “No, I get it, but…”

Joe Fairless: [laughs]

Caroline Carter: So it’s a problem, because when it comes to your home, people don’t understand that this is a discoverable process, meaning after having worked with over 2,000 families over the last 14 years, we know that there is a process of about ten steps that each family walks through. These are identifiable steps. We know by educating our sellers on what to expect, we know it’s a total rollercoaster. We know where the high points are, we know where the dips are, we know where they’re going to falter, so we prepare them for that, so they approach it in more of a business-like fashion, as opposed to winging it, which most people do. They separate the sale of their home and the move, whereas Done In a Day looks at it as one continuous process… Because it really is, rather than two separate processes.

Joe Fairless: So help me understand a little bit more specifically in my own mind, and perhaps some listeners… When I mentioned, “Well, I will just hire a moving company”, then you talked about “There’s an emotional process involved, and there’s ten steps that each family goes through…”, but what is it that’s more complicated than “Well, I will just hire a moving company. They’d move things from A to B”? And where is emotion involved in that process? I guess I’ve just missed that connection.

Caroline Carter: Okay, I’m sorry. I get over-excited about my process… Because it really does affect everybody. So when you make the decision to sell your home, that is a very personal decision. You may have made it because of a death, divorce… It’s one of the huge life-changing events, for all of us. Now, the U.S. Census Bureau says that Americans, more than any other country, move an average of 11 times over their lifetime. Think about it, 11 times you’re packing up your Kitty Karry-All and taking it on the road. So these moves become very complicated.

So you make the decision to sell… Typically, you reach out then to a realtor,  or  a real estate agent, right? The National Association of Realtors says that still, 87% of us will engage the services of a realtor. What’s a realtor’s job? A realtor’s job is to sell your home, right?

Joe Fairless: Yup.

Caroline Carter: Okay. Have you ever met anybody that didn’t wanna make the most possible money on the sale of their home?

Joe Fairless: I have not, no.

Caroline Carter: Right. So that’s where I come in. It’s visual packaging, meaning we look at the property, the interior and the exterior of the home, and we create what I call the perfect listing. The perfect listing is a listing that presents as updated, clean, with the buyer’s wants and needs and preferences in mind… Meaning it’s not about the seller when you’re selling your home, it’s about the buyer. It’s about understanding what today’s buyers are looking for, and speaking to that.

In order to actually get to that point, we each have to go through our homes – if we’re doing this correctly – and sift through the roughly 300,000 items, according to the L.A. Times that we have in our home. Now, of course, I’m counting the plastic tupperware we used to put our– right?! But we all have storage areas, and garages, and basements, and attics, and even if you’re living in an apartment, you have a storage area in the basement maybe. So what you wanna do is by combining the move and the sale of the home into one process, you’re actually sorting, purging, donating, packing to store, and ultimately move, so that you’ve gone through your home as part of this process, you’ve touched everything once and made a decision about it… Right?

Joe Fairless: Yup.

Caroline Carter: So you are at the end of packaging the house to sell. You’ve also packed to move. You’ve packed the things that are not necessary to the packaging of your home, so when your home is on the market. Everybody will tell you, put away your personal photos, and your tombstones, and so on and so forth. The total home transition process goes much deeper into the process. So it’s helping you to sell your house, walking you through the emotion of making these decisions, making good, solid, non-emotional business decisions, so that you’re looking at everything you own and deciding what it’s gonna cost for your to keep it, what it’s gonna cost for you to store it, and whether or not you need to and want to. It’s a very organized process. Does that make sense?

Joe Fairless: That does make sense. What’s an example of maybe a client that you worked with who had some items that you gave a suggestion to do something with, whether it’s remove it or highlight it…? Just to kind of give some specific examples of clients; I think that’d be helpful, too.

Caroline Carter: Sure. The way that we start every single project is through  a consultation. These are paid consultations, where we go in and meet with the seller and talk about the scope and schedule of the project… The schedule being “When is it that you intend to list your house for sale?” and the scope being “Let’s see how the house currently presents and let’s see what we need to do to create a house where a buyer is going to immediately identify and wanna find out more about this house.”

I had a situation recently where a woman had lived in this home for about 25 years, and she was looking to downsize. It was actually a beautiful home. It was all painted yellow, which was a very prominent color about ten years ago. There were personal photos everywhere. She basically intended to leave the house just as it was, meaning she didn’t believe in visual packaging, she didn’t believe in the power of the buyer, who’s really actually driving the sale. She dug her feet in the sand and said “Really, this is about me. I’m not changing anything.”

Anyway, she had a hallway – which many people do – of portraits and  pictures of trips and so forth with her family over the years. And I suggested to her that one of the most important things is to allow a potential buyer when they’re walking through to see the width and depth of a particular area or hallway without drawing attention needlessly to photographs, and artwork that was just placed there just for our pleasure, but had no real reason to be there.

Joe Fairless: Okay.

Caroline Carter: I suggested that she remove and pack away this portrait hall. And she said “I think you’re great, and I’ve heard a lot about you, but I’m not doing anything.” And when I left that consultation, I thought to myself “She’s gonna sit on the market”, because she is absolutely someone who cannot remove herself emotionally from the bricks and mortar. She still thinks of it as her home, instead of a marketable product that we need to package and sell. It needs to be updated, so that it can relate to today’s buyers. She was still very attached.

So the moral of the story is she changed nothing. Her pictures online of the property, where we know that’s where we first come into contact when we’re looking for a home – we put in our coordinates, “I’m looking for this”, and up pops five, ten, fifteen listings. How are we gonna decide what we wanna see? We decide visually first. We go through and we go “Ewgh, ewgh, ewgh… Uuuh, this one looks good!”

So anyway, she did not change a single thing about her house, and it sat on the market for three months, until her agent suggested that she do a sizeable price reduction, which was about $150,000 on this particular property. So instead of anticipating and addressing these objections ahead of time with me, three months before, she was not interested, not ready, and that cost her $150,000 for not addressing the emotional aspect of moving. It is very emotional, but it’s really not about you, it’s about the buyer.

Joe Fairless: You live in Washington DC now… Do you work with clients in the DC area, or in the North-East, or all across the country?

Caroline Carter: We focus pretty much on the DC Metro Area.

Joe Fairless: Okay, got it. So how do you identify what type of buyer you want to attract for a particular house?

Caroline Carter: That’s a great question. The interesting thing is that even though people think “one size fits all” and they’ll throw out things like “You have to paint the entire interior, and you have to recarpet, and you have to replace appliances”, that’s not always the case. If you are able to look at your house in a non-emotional way, and you understand who your target buyer is – that’s really important, Joe… Because today – we know today’s buyers are very, very distracted; they’re extremely distracted by their social media. They’re always on their phones… They’re able to identify with one click what perfection means to them. So “Oh, master bathroom – click. That’s the one I want.” So they’re able to identify it, and they have these preconceived notions in their mind… So what my job as a visual packager is is to get that particular listing as close as possible, so that it will appeal to today’s buyers.

Joe Fairless: What are some things that are tried and true, that appeal to today’s buyers?

Caroline Carter: The first one, the most important, is to be able to neutralize the walls. When we move into our homes – this relates to the emotional [unintelligible [00:18:07].18] throughout our homes… It’s the way we make a house a home; we design it to our taste. But when you go to sell it, it’s totally different. We wanna speak to that buyer.

So the most important thing is to show value visually and physically. What do I mean by that? When a potential buyer is walking through your home, they need the bricks and mortar, what they’re buying, to actually speak to them, without the bricks and mortar saying  anything. It sounds funny, right? They need to be able to see the width and depth of each room or area, the height of the ceilings, the play of light… You wanna highlight the unique assets in the house, and one of the ways is to neutralize the paint. Well, people have been saying this for years and years. Some people think that their home is the exception. It’s not the exception. No one’s home is the exception.

The second thing is you’re going to want to declutter. That’s the big buzzword today. But as we talked about earlier, decluttering is not just cleaning out your closets, it’s making mindful decisions about everything you own, so that yes, you’re cleaning out your closet for the benefit of the buyer, but you’re also beginning to dump, donate, pack to store, and that sort of thing, for yourself; you’re taking charge of the process.

The other thing is you’re gonna look for fast and inexpensive updates. Kitchen cabinets – you might put a white coat of paint on your kitchen cabinets and upgrade your hardware. The knobs and pulls on the outside of your kitchen cabinets. You might also reface your appliances. Let’s say your appliances are in good shape, but they’re all white-faced, or they’re all black-faced. Did you know that you can get sheet metal cut and cover the front of them, instead of replacing the whole appliance?

Joe Fairless: That’s pretty cool.

Caroline Carter: Yeah, it’s totally cool, and a lot of people didn’t know that. So if you’re talking about replacing a Sub-Zero refrigerator just because you don’t like the color… So what we do is we look at each and every house and we figure out “How do we maximize this space? How do we highlight the unique assets of this particular property, show value to this potential buyer in a way that they can relate to?”

So you’re not actually changing the house, you’re merely polishing it. Deeply polishing it, obviously, with paint, and white towels… There are all sorts of tricks. White bedding… What’s gonna photograph well and what’s not…? But essentially, what you wanna do is you want to guide a buyer’s visual tour of the property, so that you’re placing artwork, you’re tablescaping to guide that buyer… Because buyers are very distracted, so you wanna make sure that you’ve got their attention from beginning to end. And they’re gonna give you less than 10 minutes, period. They’re there to check it off their list.

Joe Fairless: Anything – and this might not be as relevant where you live; perhaps it is, but anything from a landscaping standpoint, or backyards, that you look to address?

Caroline Carter: Absolutely. Again, we talked about the interior and exterior. Regardless of how much yard you own… When I was growing up – of course, I’m 55 – we called it the backyard. Now they call it outdoor living room. They’ve got all these crazy ways to refer to it. Essentially, what you want to do is you want to look at the exterior as closely as you look at the interior. Very often that will require you looking at the color of the paint of the exterior of the house, the shutters, the front door, the quality of the hardware on the front door.

Here’s another interesting point for your Best Ever listeners. Have you ever looked at a door — I had a door recently on a two million dollar house, and the hardware (the handle etc) looked cheap to me; and it’s on a two million dollar house. And one of the things I suggested was “Let’s get some new door jewelry. Let’s make this door look as solid, secure and reflective of the price point of this property. Because right now it doesn’t look secure, it doesn’t look impressive…” And that’s what we did. So it’s visually tuning up the outside, whether it’s replacing shutters, painting shutters, so that you’ve created this beautiful, valuable visual. And it doesn’t matter, your house doesn’t have to be a 12 million dollar house, or a one million dollar house… It’s about making the best of what you have, focusing on your unique asset.

Sure, you’re going to have to trim trees that block the facade from the street, or overgrown bushes, or dead limbs on trees. You’re gonna have to edge and mulch, you may need to put in sod where grass is not growing. Essentially, you want to show value, both inside and outside, so that the buyer feels that they’re really getting a good deal for what the house is listed at.

Joe Fairless: Taking a step back, but on a related note, what is your best advice ever for investors who are selling their homes? I know you’ve talked through a lot of your advice, but maybe more macro-level.

Caroline Carter: Sure. I think the best advice I could give any seller or any agent who is working with sellers is to understand that this is not about you, it’s about the buyer. And it’s a visual game. Sure, it’s financial, sure, it’s still your home, no question; but we live in a visually-driven world, and we also live in a world where these buyers today expect perfection, they know exactly what they want, and they are determined to find it. So if you’re able to understand what that target buyer is looking for, speak to them and you will sell your home.

I just recently went through this in my own home, and had to package the home to sell. Very, very different than designing to live. I did this to my own home, and I sold the home for full price in eight days. So… I have to put my money where my mouth is. But essentially, to understand that this is a discoverable process, and you simply need to remove the emotion from it. You will not make good, quality decisions about the sale of your home, and the move, unless you remove the emotion from it.

Joe Fairless: We’re gonna do a lightning round, and then I’ll ask you some quick-hitting questions. Are you ready for the Best Ever Lightning Round?

Caroline Carter: Absolutely.

Joe Fairless: Alright. First though, a quick word from our Best Ever partners.

Break: [00:25:09].01] to [00:26:10].07]

Joe Fairless: Okay, best ever book you’ve recently read?

Caroline Carter: Best ever book… One of my absolute all-time favorites is Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill, and my dog-eared copy is always pretty close to my desk. But I recently read one this Sunday, with a cup of coffee, called “Find your lane’, by Bruce Waller. The book is very easy to read (I’ve read it in one sitting) and it’s all about digging deep to understand the why behind your life focus. And while I’ve read millions of these books, this one came at a good time, and it helps you to really ask yourself some basic questions about the balance in your life, and why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Joe Fairless: Best ever way you like to give back to the community?

Caroline Carter: I’d have to say that’s an easy one… The Best Buddies Organization, working with differently-abled children and adults. I’m a single mom of three kids, and we’ve always been involved with the Best Buddies Community, locally and nationally.

Joe Fairless: How can the Best Ever listeners learn more about what you’re doing?

Caroline Carter: They can connect with me in a variety of different ways. They can also purchase, if they’re interested in hearing more about this process or how to survive during a home transition, they can purchase my new book which I just wrote, called Smart Moves, available on Amazon. But they can connect with me at, Facebook Caroline Carter Smart Moves, LinkedIn Caroline M. Carter. I’m on Instagram and Twitter too, and if they wanna email me, if they have specific questions, they can get me at

Joe Fairless: Outstanding. Congratulations on your book, Smart Moves: How to Save Time and Money While Transitioning Your Home and Life. I see it on Amazon right here. I will be purchasing it.

I really enjoyed our conversation, Caroline. Thank you for getting into the specifics of how to visually package our product when we are selling our home, and thinking about it from the buyer’s perspective. It’s not about us, it’s about them. And then you got into some really tactical things that we can implement after listening to this…

Thank you for being on the show. I hope you have a best ever day, and we’ll talk to you again soon.

Caroline Carter: Thanks, Joe. I appreciate it.

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