Winning at the Real Estate Game

Here at we’ve had our fair share of adventure in the Lower Mainland real estate game this past year while we prepared to sell up and move with two babies/toddlers.  If you and your family are planning to sell your home and relocate, here are a few ideas that might help ease the pain of relocating.  Everyone has to find there own way when negotiating a sale and move, but hopefully these tips can help you on your journey.

Deciding to List

If you have decided to list your apartment or house, think about the time of year when you are planning to sell.  The earlier that you sell in the peak selling seasons the better so that you can take full advantage of prime selling periods.   Is it almost Christmas? Expect viewing traffic to drop off.  Sales pick up again in the springtime.  Is it the buying season for overseas Chinese investors who are visiting Vancouver? (Think spring.)  How is the market looking right now?  If it isn’t a good time to sell, do you need to sell right now?

Finding an Agent

You will receive numerous glossy advertisements from realtors in your mailbox. If you can, find an agent through recommendations from friends and families.  Word of mouth truly is the best way to find a good realtor.  Successful realtors will tell you that if they have a few vocal past customers spreading the word about their talents, this is the main way that they will keep up a good level of business.  Some successful realtors don’t put a lot of effort into promoting their business beyond building an attractive website and printing cards and stationery.

Think about whether your potential agent has the experience to sell in your area. Selling condos downtown requires a different type of experience and approach than selling a house in the Fraser Valley.  Of course realtors also tend to focus on specific regions.  If your realtor specializes on the west side she or he may not be the best choice to sell your home in Coquitlam. As a buyer it can be disconcerting to view a home and find that the realtor has been parachuted in from another part of the Lower Mainland and cannot answer many of your questions about the region.   After you interview a prospective realtor you will be able to discern if there is a good fit.  If the realtor lets you know that she likes to work in a certain fashion – for example heavily staging a home – and you disagree with this approach, you probably shouldn’t proceed with a contract.

Listing your home for sale

Your realtor will submit the information that is attached to your MLS listing, as it appears on sites like or his or her personal website.  If you have any talent as a writer, don’t be shy about making suggestions for the write-up.  Look at attractive write-ups for similar properties and note the key words that make these properties sound interesting. Learn more about the hot selling features that people seek in homes like yours. Make a detailed list of all of the recent upgrades and custom features that make your home stand apart from others in the same category. Make sure that you do what you need to do to get the paperwork moving so that the listing can go through in a timely fashion. When a real estate market is softening or picking up, timing is important.  It also is a good idea to have your listing up in plenty of time before you are planning an open house on the weekend.

Staging your home for the listing and for viewings

As part of your listing process you should and will provide photos of your home. Hopefully you chose a realtor who works with a professional photographer who can shoot your home to its best advantage.  Professional photographers use lens that slightly distort a room and make it look ever so slightly bigger in photos. It’s a bit of a sneaky approach but is a common practice.  If you take your own snapshots, your photos will make your rooms look smaller and less vibrant compared to other homes where photographers have been working their magic.

Before you take your listing photos you will want to have your home staged to perfection. Mention staging to some people who have sold before and they will roll their eyes.  The reality is that staging your home increases your ability to sell quicker and achieve a better sale. It’s that simple.  With the onslaught of home decoration shows on HGTV and big box stores selling swanky and cheap decorative items made in China, people expect homes today to look fabulous. When potential buyers are viewing your home they might be coming from the showroom of a new property. They are buying into the future, fabulous lifestyle that they are dreaming about.  Moreover in the Lower Mainland they will be paying top dollar to buy your property.  If your home is looking dated, overstuffed and a bit long in the tooth  – especially in the slick downtown market – you will not be showing your place to its advantage.  This preparation starts early because the photos go up with the listing.  Strategy and a bit of luck are required too as it is better to take inside photos and view photos on a bright, sunny day.  If you do not have the skillsets required to stage your own home, hopefully your realtor works with or can refer you to a staging company.  They are not expensive and are worth the investment of your money and time. (See Related section).

Here are  a few issues that will come up when you stage your home:

– Stagers and realtors will ask you to clear out much more than you anticipated.  They will tell you that your closets should be 2/3 empty.  Are they kidding?  Sadly – no.  This might not be possible if you need the items or your storage is maxed out.  In that case try to empty them as much as possible. On viewing days create empty pockets of air in the sightline from the closet doors by shifting clothes left and right so that the closet looks spacious.   If you have built-in drawers in your closet, viewers might open those too.  For privacy sake you can lay silk scarves over items in your drawers.  (Unless you want the world to see your lingerie collection!) There is a limited amount of space under beds, and closets are not really an option for storing extra items. As you know, viewers will open closets.  The last thing you want is a viewer thinking your place must be small because your closets are stuffed.  If you are in a condo you can either send your items to a friend or relative’s storage area, use your storage locker (if you still have space), rent another storage locker (in your building or elsewhere) or throw out some items.  (See Related section.) Whatever you choose to do, plan on hauling a lot of items out of your home.  As a last resort you can fill up a section of your garage, if you live in a house.  If you have ever viewed a house that has a curious amount of unrelated items in the garage, including 1970s lamps and old macrame hangers, you can be that the home was staged.

– In your living room remove small area rugs and take away all coasters, runners and other textiles. Thin out your display items to a few generic looking pieces.  You might only leave one item on your mantle, rather than five. Also remove anything of value. If your place ends up looking like an Ikea catalogue, you’re on the right track.  Any item that is part of a personal collection will probably have to go.  The carving from Brazil has to go.  So do the personal family photos.  You can keep your favourite image of Buddha or Jesus on your wall, but make sure you switch it out with another picture before viewings.  Take away magazine holders and remove books that focus on  political or religious topics. Your home needs to look stylish without reflecting your personality.  This will provide the perfect opportunity for buyers to appreciate the home, while imagining that they could live there.  To illustrate this point, if you are a parent of baby twins, you want a bachelor to believe that he can live in your home.

Rearrange your bookshelves to have horizontal and vertical stacks of books mixed with discreet decorative objects and empty space.  Place  large and colour coordinated pillows (some plain and some patterned) on your chairs to dress them up.  If you don’t have any, you can buy them at affordable price at places like Jysk or Home Sense, borrow some from family members or friends, or  include them in your rental package from a staging company.

Try to have an accent colour theme that is pulled through your room by way of the accent pillows, fresh flowers on the dining table and pillows and colours in your artwork. Check out showrooms, interior design magazines at the local library, design websites and articles online and photos from competing properties for inspiration.

If you have six chairs around your dining table, pull away two and tuck in your remaining chairs tightly.  If you live in a small apartment, shift your table as close to the wall as possible, while still making it look like you can sit comfortably in that space.  Some people stage their dining table for a set dinner.  This requires some effort and doesn’t seem to be necessary. Since it may take awhile to sell homes that are not in the hot sales areas, opt for a full orchid plant on your dining table rather than buying fresh flowers. You can find good prices on orchids at Home Depot or at local flower and plant shops on Main street.

Someone from a staging company, or a friend who has good design sense, can help you arrange your furniture so that there is good flow in your home.  The right furniture arrangement can make your rooms look bigger and can draw attention to the right window views.

–  Clear off your kitchen countertops and put out a few generic pieces such as a cookbook holder with a trendy cookbook (David Rocco or Nigella Lawson, for example), a few attractive imported bottles of water or fruit juice and a healthy, green succulent plant in an impeccable planter.  Place a large, low bowl of colourful fruit (preferably in one colour) on a large open counter. Other than a few carefully selected items, your countertops and fridge surface should be completely clear.

– Treat your pantry the same way as you would all your closets. All hidden storage areas should look well organized and not too overstuffed.  Keep the floor clear of boxes.

– Remove bathmats from bathroom floors and hide shampoo and soap that is in use along with all other personal items.  Remove the waste bin, hide the toilet brush and remove the laundry hamper. Viewers don’t want to have to think about where they will put a laundry hamper and this makes the bathroom look bigger.  Think about the condition of your outside shower curtain. If it is dark and ratty, invest in a light coloured or white, plain and spa-like new curtain.  You can find affordable bath items at Jysk, Ikea and on sale at major department stores.  Clear off your counter surfaces and set out some key items such as a soap holder with a wrapped, expensive soap. (The type you can easily find at a good price at Home Sense).  Have a set of new, pale, fluffy towels that are folded to perfection and hung in each bathroom.  Set them aside and only use them for viewings.  If you want, you can have a flower in a vase somewhere in your washroom to brighten up the space for viewings.  Colourful gerbera dasies are resilient and last quite a few days.  Don’t forget to have strong, coordinated art pieces on the wall.  Photographs printed on canvas work well in washrooms.  If you don’t own any suitable pieces and don’t want to invest in any, you can rent these pieces from a staging company.

– Your master bedroom has to be a showpiece. Ensure that your comforter is a light colour that makes your room look larger.  If you have to, use your summer cover during the winter season. Clear off all side tables and side boards and ensure that you have a modern lamp beside the bed that provides ample lighting.  Larger, coordinated art pieces on the walls, and over the bed in particular, will give your room a “this looks like a nice hotel room” feel.  You don’t have to go overboard with pillows.  Make sure you are using sheets that are long enough so that you can create tight hospital corners. (They might peak out under your top quilt.) Take your comforter and smooth it over your sheets. Place your sleeping pillows on top of the comforter at the top of the bed.  Then place your two pillows in the matching shams against your sleeping pillows.  Finally finish off with one nice accent pillow in the middle.  If you have a particularly stunning woolen blanket you can fold that across the end of the bed.  Opt for a nice orchid plant in your bedroom rather than fresh flowers.

– Other bedrooms should follow the same logic as the master bedroom.  If you are trying to sell a downtown apartment and have a child or children, try to remove as many toys as possible from shelving so that a bachelor walking into the room can picture himself living there.  The more generic your home feels, the more a prospective buyer can put themselves in that space and feel motivated to buy. If you have a baby change table, remove all change table items including the change pad from the top of the table.  You will need to devise a strategy for how you will store these items before a viewing.  You may, for example,  have space between the change table and the wall.  Pull out trays that are sold with cribs are ideal places for storing toys that are used in the living room.

Just before the viewing, turn on every light in the home and close all windows.  This will create a quiet and bright, inviting environment.  Keep track of lights that burn out.  As you are running out the door with your children, it is too late to worry about the burnt out light in the master bedroom closet.

Consider packing away many of your child’s toys, and only keep out
those that can be easily stored under the crib or in a discreet plastic container.


Once your home is listed you will need to prepare yourself for possible viewings that can happen at any time.  When the market favours the buyer, the seller has to be less particular about how much notice they are given and when the viewings take place.  Naturally if you have young children or other issues that cause constraints, you can make this clear to your realtor.  If you do not have a hot property in a favoured area that will sell quickly, the reality is that you are going to be getting used to many viewings.  Once your place is staged for a sale, try to keep it in as close to staged condition as possible. If you have rented pillows or other decorative items from a staging company that are in high traffic areas, set them aside when your home is not being viewed. Otherwise you may find yourself in a position where you have to purchase the items because they are starting to look worn out.

You will need to establish a routine that you go through to prep your home for a viewing.  Store items in the same place and have a set routine for last minute cleaning.  Be prepared to spend at least an hour prepping a condo for a viewing.  Perhaps two hours if you have children and many items in use that need to be stored.

There are mixed reviews about the usefulness of open houses.  In hot markets they can set a home up for a quick sale.  In sluggish markets they won’t necessarily bring in a buyer.  Additionally, in some communities there have been problems with fake buyers stealing items from homes.  If you hold one open house and it doesn’t bring in a lot of viewers, think seriously about whether you want to have any more.  If you don’t hold more open houses this will mean that you will have to show your home many times to potential buyers.

Keep your home in a good state of cleanliness so that last minute cleaning amounts to making your place sparkle. If you are finding the selling process to be an exhausting addition to an already busy schedule, consider hiring a cleaner to come by your home once or twice a month to do heavy duty cleaning. If your carpets are on the old side, but you aren’t going to replace them before selling, consider having them cleaned more frequently.  If you have young children you’ll want to use a company that uses a minimal amount of chemicals.  (See Related section.) Last minute before a viewing, make sure that light switches are clean, sweep floors carefully and look for dust bunnies around the base of cabinets and toilets. Make sure that chrome on all sinks sparkle and that mirrors and glass tables are spotlessly clean.  Be aware of any activity that might cause a scent in your home.  Open windows wide before hand to air out your home.  If necessary, spray a subtle perfume in a room just before leaving to mask food or diaper changing (ahem) odours.  Boiling cinnamon in a pot of water just before leaving is another old, and popular trick.  But only take these steps if you are desperate. In general, you want to have a scent free home.

Make sure your clothes are folded neatly on shelving and group clothes by colours and types so that your closet looks neat and stylish. Make certain that your fridge is clean. If you haven’t had time to do laundry, shove all of your dirty clothes in the washing machine and dryer.

Vacate your home no less than ten minutes before the viewing time.  If the agent and buyers arrive early, politely ask them to wait, explaining that you are getting your children ready.

Don’t take it personally

You will probably hear feedback from the realtor about your viewings.  Some people won’t spend much time in your home.  Others will complain about the noise from outside or will focus on some other aspect in a negative way. Try to use this feedback constructively.  You might be able to take some steps to address issues that are coming up.  For other unavoidable issues, your realtor can let agents of potential buyers know about any constraints.  For example, if you live close to a downtown bridge and an agent wants to bring a retired couple who are downsizing from a suburban home, your realtor can ask the other realtor if the clients are prepared to live in a downtown setting close to the hustle and bustle of activity AND a bridge.  Remind yourself that you will be the same when you view homes.  You will like some homes and won’t like others. You will also go through many homes until you find one you like.  Don’t get upset about preparing your home for viewings that seem like a waste of time.  You never know which viewing will bring your prospective buyer.

Stuff happens

Some buyers will come back numerous times, beyond what seems reasonable.  Then some of these buyers might back away from buying your home.  Some will even back out after an inspection,citing a trivial reason.  This type of behaviour is irritating but not uncommon.  It is up to your realtor to manage the other party if their expectations become unreasonable. (For example, making repeated requests to view a storage locker.)

Sealing the deal

Once you do sign a contract with a buyer, be prepared to have the buyer come in multiple times to take measurements, view the place with an interior designer or for other reasons.  Sometimes these visit requirements are written into the contract.  Sometimes they just happen.  Try to be reasonable about these visits as you may have your own requirements when it comes time to buy a home.  Hopefully what comes around goes around!

Packing up and moving out

The sooner you can start packing the better. If you live in a condo, pack up what you don’t need and shift it to your storage locker. If you run out of space, rent another locker in your building or rent one in a rental facility near by. (See Related section) If you don’t have one yet, now would be a good time to buy a moving trolley that converts from a standup system to a trolley that pulls.  You will save yourself a lot of back pain.  (On the topic of back pain, ensure that you bend from the knees when lifting and maintain a perfectly straight back as you lift boxes.)  You can purchase boxes and packing paper from storage rental facilities, moving companies or stores such as Staples.  Wine boxes are left outside the back of liquor stores and are perfect for packing books and glasses.  Ask the store if you can remove their boxes.  That way you won’t feel strange about clearing out their stash.  Banana boxes from grocery stores also come in handy and are ideal for cross town moves. (As they do not have lids, they don’t work for moves where items need to spend time in storage.   If you can, number your boxes and keep an inventory list indicating which items are in each numbered box.  This will help when you move in. Also indicate the name of the destination room on the box.  Purchased boxes have an area where you can tick off information. Or you can simply write the room name on the box.  Close the tops of the boxes by matching opposite sides (rather than layering one flap over another). Professional movers say that taping up a box this way makes for a stronger box.  Tape across the bottom a few times and then put tape on either side of the central seam.

Searching for a home

Nowadays you can easily search for your own home online and provide your realtor with listings.  Realtors will share their experience with you about the reality of some neighbourhoods and potential problems that come with each listing. They will know about the quality of the land, issues to do with nearby roads and the existence of problem properties nearby, for example.  Do encourage your realtor to give you his or her own recommendations for homes.  Be very clear about your “must haves and must nots” with your realtor so they aren’t wasting time looking for the wrong type of property.  If your realtor is an area specialist, they will be a treasure trove of information about issues that affect the house.  Remember that once you have signed a contract with a realtor, you should provide your realtor’s card when you visit any house on your own.

Don’t forget to trust your first instincts. You can usually have a feel for whether you like a home in the first 15 seconds when you walk through the front door.  When you are viewing a number of homes and have babies/young children with you, consider going into the home one at a time.  Let your partner/friend/family member go in first, and then ask them if it’s worth seeing the home.  If they know your taste and feel that it’s really far from what you like, you can stay in the car and move on to your next location.

If you are looking at homes that will require renovations, consider bringing your renovation tradesperson with you during a follow-up viewing.

Brush up on feng shui.

Even if you don’t believe in the Chinese concept of feng shui related to auspicious and inauspicious property details, there is a good chance that potential future buyers of your Lower Mainland  home will care.  Your realtor will know about feng shui principles, but you also need to educate yourself.  Here are some of the major pitfalls. Avoid homes that are at the base of a T-junction road or sitting in the middle of a cul-de-sac.  After all you don’t want Mr. Bad Luck to rush down the road and into your house. This is why you will find that homes in these positions  have bent pathways, bushes obscuring the front door and red garage doors.   They can take longer to sell and are priced at a cheaper rate. You don’t want a street light that is too close to the home.  Also the shape of the lot is important as some types of  triangular shapes indicate that wealth is coming in while others indicate that wealth is leaving.  The same can be said of the elevation of the home compared to the entry roads at the front and rear of the home. You don’t want a staircase to shoot directly up from the front door, or directly down from the front door into the basement.  You also want to be aware of house numbers that are auspicious and others that aren’t auspicious.  Focus on the main feng shui concerns but avoid getting caught up in lesser known issues that do not concern most  people.

Home viewing

When you are viewing a home don’t be overly impressed by staging. (Ironic, since you put effort into staging when you sold.)  Also don’t be overly impressed by superficial renovation details such as wall paint colours.  You want to be inspecting the bones of the home, focussing on construction details, when viewing a home.  Are the floors level?  What type of flooring is in place?  How old is the roof, exterior paint job, furnace, and hot water tank, for example.  Are the windows double pane? These can be big ticket items if they need repairs or replacing.  Be aware of techniques that can be used to mask annoying outside noise such as a noisy Skytrain. (For example, having a TV or radio on.) Are the kitchen and bathrooms in good condition? Do you see a long list of potential upgrades and repair items as you go through the home. Buyers will often calculate these costs out and subtract them from the asking price.  If you do place an offer, you will want to use an inspector with a solid reputation and the right certification. Nowadays they prepare electronic reports that include photographs taken as they walk through the home.  This report can be very informative and is a useful document should you buy the home.

If you go back for a second viewing, bring a friend or family member who has a good eye for housing construction details.  If you are serious about buying the home and want to do renovation work, you can invite the contractor that you plan to use to view the home with you.  If you have children, be aware of the quality of public schools (elementary and high school) in your area.   The Fraser Institute reports can be a starting point when looking at schools; however, word of mouth reviews are always the best. While cross border school and French Immersion are options, space is not always guaranteed in these programmes. Ideally you want to be able to use the public school system if you choose to do so.

The process of selling a home, finding a new home and moving can be disruptive for young children.  In the midst of this often exhausting process, children need to be fed, cared for and provided opportunities to get on with their daily lives.  Moving can feel like an additional life layered on to your existing one.  Fortunately it is a relatively short term experience.  Finding talented, experienced and respected real estate and moving professionals plays a critical role when you are playing the real estate shuffle game and caring for young children.

What do you think about this topic? Please leave a comment using the comment function below or by visiting our Facebook page. We would love to hear from you!


Here are some Lower Mainland service providers that can help with your sale and move

Clair Rockel (Realtor specializing in Vancouver homes)

Raymond Chan (Realtor who works all over the Lower Mainland, with particular expertise in Vancouver and Richmond.)

Ryan Hawk (Realtor who specializes in selling west-side homes, but knows the Fraser Valley market and can sell there too)

Mike Stewart (Realtor specializing in Vancouver and downtown condos.)

Hamilton Black (Staging company offering great ideas and competitive rates)

Yaletown Mini Storage (Downtown storage facility)

AMJ Campbell (Popular and experienced movers who can move your items, pack your effects and store your boxes, if necessary)

Aspen Cleaners (Carpet shampooing and cleaning providing environmentally friendly cleaning solutions)

Ketler Construction (Renovations, construction and remodeling)


Buy Your Home Smarter With Feng Shui

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