Selling House - What Turns a Buyer Off?

Updated on August 14, 2012
D.B. asks from Eastlake, CO
31 answers

We are selling our house & have our first showing tonight with a buyer the realtor claims to be 'very, very interested.' (yah, not getting my hopes up too much. been there, done that, and even if a person is interested i've had about everything go bad in a real estate transaction i think possible. sigh.)

Anyway, my question for today is "What turns off a buyer?" What do you look for when you view a house, what turns you sour, and what has you running for the backdoor?

We've only looked at one replacement property so far, and I realize I am a horrible judge of this stuff. I will buy anything, it seems. Whereas my husband is too persnickity, I can only see the good & potential in stuff. And I don't think we balance out to be even close to 'the normal' buyer. We have twice bought a place we thought to be perfect for us, only to end up gutting it and redoing it all. And then found out that after all the work, we are still missing features 'a, b, & c' that we really desire in a house.

Thanks ladies!

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So What Happened?

Thanks for the quick responses and advice! I think we are fairly ready, but I have one or two closets that will get 'decluttered' during lunch today, as well as remembering to send DS outback with the pooper scooper :) Our yard is one of the biggest selling points we have, and though these are 'dog' people looking at the property, i'm sure they don't want to take home the 'experience' our dogs tonight!

Featured Answers


answers from Burlington on

Along with all the great suggestions you've gotten, here's one more thing to consider: removing anything religious or political. (Magnets on fridge, icons on the wall, etc.)

If the potential buyers are of a different persuasion, it can taint the entire property for them (whether they consciously know it or not).

Good luck!

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

It's gotta be clean, clean, CLEAN!
Closets & cupboards should not be STUFFED full...they should show that there is room for more.
Streamlined & neat!
Did I mention Clean?

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

I can't speak from a professional point of view, but I remember some things when we were looking to buy:

-the maintenance of the entryway. I remember the real estate agent (who was awesome!) warning us that if the seller hadn't even bothered to keep up the front door of the house, it was a pretty good predictor that the rest of the house wouldn't, either. In this particular example, he was right.

-Obvious pets debris. I like animals, I really do. But we looked at one house that had been empty for a month, and still smelled like cats and even had tufts of hair lying about. Which my husband is allergic to. Houses where folks frequently clean up after their pets, he's fine, but we couldn't imagine how long it would take to make that house liveable for him.

Those are the things that come to my mind.

Good luck!

4 moms found this helpful

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answers from Indianapolis on

Hi! First, good luck selling your house. What turned me off when looking at houses first, was the smell. I was able to tell if an owner had pets inside. Also, when they mentioned not to open certain room for the pets were there. I would instantly scratched it off the list. I would not buy a house that can not see "completely"'. Another was the kitchen, it really had to be clutter free, same for the bathroom. And last, the backyard, we have lived in houses with big and little backyard. At the end, I could just "feel" it. Just keep it clean and smelling good and keep your hopes up. Good lick!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

My husband and I have bought two houses. We probably looked at over 125 during the course of shopping for the first and then second house.

Here is my list.

1. Bad smells (food smell, basement, pets -especially cats, cigarettes). Our neighbors are trying to see right now. Their house looks great, they put a ton of work into it, but I went to the open house, and it smells like cigarettes. They've had over a hundred people through the house, it's still for sale.

2. Wet basement or weird stains on walls in the basement. We had one house we wanted to bid on, but there was a window that looked like it had leaked water in (and there were some drainage issues in the yard). That was a deal breaker for us. I don't want to have a water issue in the basement.

3. Cleanliness is huge for me. I cleaned EVERY surface before we put our first home on the market. Then the stager came and she moved furniture around and asked me "is your house always this clean?" Ha! No. But for selling a home, I think that should be a question people should be asking.

4. Your front door is really important. It's the first impression. Make sure it's clean (wipe off all the foot marks at the base), sweep your front step, wash your welcome mat, etc. It should make the entrance to your home feel welcoming and warm.

5. Take your pets with you. I'm not interested in seeing them.

6. Clean your cabinets so they look tidy and spacious. When I am interested in a home, I open every single closet, kitchen cabinet, bathroom cabinet so I can see how clean, big, functional they are.

7. If you haven't already, use a stager to help you rearrange your furniture. It really does make a difference.

Good luck!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

I don't know what everyone else said but here's what I think:

1. The owners being home when you go to see it.
2. Unavailability to see the house. As a buyer, you want to go when you want to go, so making it VERY easy for your realtor to get in at a moment's notice is KEY.
3. Pets in the house. And I have 2 dogs that I love! But I don't know your dogs or cats or whatever - so please take them with you to your mom's house or wherever you go when the home is being shown!
4. Dirt.
5. Clutter
6. Broken things
7. Weird things. So you love inflatable dolls? Good for you. But collect them up and hide them.
8. Smells
9. Overgrown or unkempt lawn
10. Obnoxious realtor. Make sure yours is cool.

Try doing a major thorough cleaning, decluttering, and staging of every room in your house. I have even heard of things like baking an apple pie before buyers are coming so the house smells amazing. Make sure the yard and front look FANTASTIC. Make sure the kitchen and bathroom are perfect.

Good luck!

Good luck!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Clutter! Keep it clean, no super personal items or no items that are really personal taste wise. The less stuff you have on counters, in closets, in cupboards, the bigger it looks too. The other turn off was it being really outdated esp if all areas are outdated. If yours is, there are some inexpensive ways to perk it up. In my old place, I painted the bathroom cabinets and put a modern vinyl tile in that made a world of difference and nobody noticed the clamshell sink designs that much then.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Louisville on

These things are a turn off for us:

1. Water damage or evidence of water damage. My husband will not even consider a house that has signs of water problems. It is one of his major pet peeves.

2. Closely related to the water damage, the smell of and definitely visible evidence of mold. You'd be surprised how many houses we looked at that had huge, stinky spots of mold. These were not listed as homes needing "TLC" and a few of them have people actively living in them. Yuck!

3. Pet damage/dirtiness. We have indoor cats, so I understand if you've got animals living in your home. But if there's that one room that smells like it gets regularly marked, no thanks. The other biggie is where it's obvious that the people's dogs have chewed or scratched up doors, doorways, cabinets, hardware, insulation in the garage, etc..

4. In homes where the people are still living there, I don't mind them having their own decor and furniture, and even a little normal clutter (i.e. bills on the table or what have you). But we looked at quite a few homes where you just have to think they must not have wanted to make any kind of good impression because of the absolute mess. One home, for instance, apparently had an adult child living in the basement. You'd have thought a vagrant had moved in without their knowledge. There was nothing but a dirty bare mattress on the floor, piles of clothing that looked filthy, beer bottles and cigarette butts. It was disgusting.

5. Obvious home fix-it projects either half-way or poorly done. If you are Do-it-yourselfers, I'm all for it as long as you do a good job, which includes finishing the job. But if you have tried to do something (the big ones we've seen are mistakes with tiling and pergo flooring) and it didn't turn out so well or you didn't have time to get that finishing touch on it, try to see it from the eyes of a potential buyer and call in a professional to repair it. When I see something like that, my thought is: "If there's something this obvious, what else is wrong that I can't see?"

6. This one is out of your control if it's an issue in your home, but homes with quirky building features irk me. I like for the layout of a home to make sense. Unique is fine, but weird features that look like the builders threw something together are a turn off. As an example, one of our previous homes had a bonus room. It was a brand new home that we bought while it was under construction. The builders made a mistake with the blue print that involved moving the stairs in the garage, which in turn changed the floor of the bonus room. It ended up having this bizarre ten foot long, four foot high, raised platform topped with plywood which my husband asked them to cover with some of the leftover linoleum from either the kitchen or bathroom. We never could figure out a logical use for the space since the ceiling was sloped there, and since it was sitting right next to the stairs (great for kids to be sitting four feet above a flight of stairs). We ended up having to spend a good bit of money to have it converted to a sort of attic space with some built in bookshelves before we could sell it.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Omaha on

We moved a little more than a year ago. The market was very slowly starting to come back in our area, but we still managed to sell our house in 21 days. Here are some things we did:
de-cluttered hard. If it hadn't been used in 3 years it was either given to Goodwill or put in the trash pile.
We hired a cleaning company-The Maids-they were awesome. They deep cleaned the two main living areas of our house. It just gave our house an overall 5 star hotel feeling. You wanted to be in there because it felt super clean and like new. It also made it much easier to keep the house tidy for spontaneous showings.
Over the last months, couple of years leading up to selling our house we updated and repaired things in the home with current paint and carpet colors that were tasteful and neutral to appeal to a wide market.
We staged our home with accessories that provided pops of color like cute centerpieces, place mats, throw pillows, greenery and fresh cut flowers. It made the home seem really cozy. I also baked a dozen cookies (ready made dough) if there was enough time before potential buyers came. I set these out for them and it also made the house smell really good.
Our realtor is a rock star. We chose her for her presence in the community. Listing with her we knew our house would be shown on the MLS website, home show, magazines, newspapers, flyers and open houses. Our home got a lot of exposure that way. Also be prepared to set your home price competitively. We pretty much lost all the equity we had in our home when we sold it, but the upside is we pretty much made it back in the home we purchased, so it kind of all balances out in the wash.
Finally, we planted a St. Joseph statue in the backyard. We aren't Catholic, but really believe in this tradition as every house we have ever sold has done so within 4-6 weeks.
Good luck!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

Bake cookies before they come.

Haven't seen your house, so have no idea what would turn buyers off besides the norm (cleanliness, odors, locked doors). But I do know an old trick - back a batch of cookies just before they arrive.

You can set them out for your buyers to nibble on, or put them in the fridge, or throw them away. The smell of baking cookies is highly nostalgic for most of us, and as the nose is closest to the brain and will be one of the first senses affected - it's a good bet to help influence your buyers.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

My highest turn-offs -

1) Water damage / mold problems

2) Pet damages

3) Damp and musty basements

4) Smells!! If there are smelly areas that are unavoidable, please stock up on Febreeze.

5) Dirty toilets/kitchen sinks

6) Unfinished repair / DIY works

Things that clearly don't impress me, but which I can clean / fix / ignore -

1) Clutter.
2) Paints and colors and decor
3) Creaking doors / windows
4) un-maintained yard
5) Closets jammed with stuff
6) Old carpets / wrong tiles
7) Outdated cabinetry / vanities, etc

I usually see the space and potential, and I find it very easy to re-imagine the space with my stuff, but a majority of people may not be as easy to accommodate. If you've taken care of the most important no-nos, you can then get down to tackling the second nice-to-have list. :)

Good luck!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Even though buyers are not supposed to look at your decor...paint, room arangement etc they do! Get rid of the clutter, pack up everything personal (pictures, nic-nacks, etc) empty trash cans and pay attention to the SMELL of your house. If your house smells bad (cigarette/cigar smoke, cat litter, dog pee, diaper pail, trash) people can't get past that. Clean carpets and a nutral "hotel" look give people a chance to see themselves in the space. Hope that helps! Best wishes.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

I hate going into a house and forgetting to look at the house because I get distracted by all their stuff. I hate smelling dirty shoes in the closets or dirty clothes in the laundry room.

I also will stop at the door if the house has a lot of air fresheners. I get blinding migraines from scents. They cause me pain. If you must spray something to mask odors then I suggest the odor causing thing, or person, get banished to a storage building or the garage during this time.

My friend that tried for nearly a year to sell her house in Stillwater could not figure out why it was not selling. Her cats were her babies and she had built up an immunity to their litter box smell.

I finally told her that I would think of all the costs of sanitizing the house and deep cleaning to just get rid of the smells. She put her kitties litter box in the garage with the door cracked open for a few weeks and her house sold quickly.

My sister redecorated her house in preparation to sell it. She put up a new border in the bathroom, kitchen, and hallways. The Realtor came in to get the house ready and told her she needed to remove all the borders and repaint the house to neutral colors. My sister told her she had spent hundreds of dollars redecorating already. When the Realtor found out where she had spent the money she told her that is was wasted money, she needed to paint the red wall in the kitchen to a neutral color, she needed to do some other stuff as well instead.

I do disagree with Realtors that will tell the home owner to paint the walls ANYTHING except a beige or super neutral color. One friend had a Realtor tell her to repaint her one dark green wall in the kitchen to a rust color. She thought it was warmer and more attractive. The tiles on the floor had a faint green streak in them and the back splash had an occasional tile that had a tiny bit of green in it too. Nearly every person that came in said they thought having that wall a green color would be so much better.

She didn't repaint it but they did end up having to come down on their price to make adjustments for repainting.

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answers from Philadelphia on

Clutter is a huge turnoff to me. A realtor once told me when we were selling our house to make it look like a sample home. We manage to do it by renting a storage garage and getting 50% of our stuff out. My closets were virtually empty. I put the stuff I couldn't live without in bureau drawers. I cleaned out the pantry and shed and made our small house look spacious.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

clutter- I hated when there were junk/paper piles no matter how neatly stacked.

decor-it matters a lot. It is really hard to see past what others have done. I hated a house full of knick knacks and thotckes (sp?) Most people do not know how to do this correctly and it comes of junky. It should make 'sense' to work. I esp hated the little country touches that a lot of people have. And photos of their kids-esp school photos. Photos should be black and white and tastefully framed.

Crappy rugs are a huge turnoff as well as too much ceramic. If you have ceramic you can cut the coldness of it by an area rug.

Wallpaper that is outdated and especially borders. Wall paper is in now but more on the damask take than mauve flowers KWIM?

So my advice is if you haven't already, take down most of your decorations and knicknaks. Check out the HGTV rooms where they use simple decor that is neutral and works. A bowl of fresh lemons, mirrors, modern glass candlesticks in odd numer grouping (no even groupoing in decorating)
A few houseplants are nice to fill areas that look blank. A huge fern on a pedestal in an empty corner for example.

Ask your agent for a candid assesment of your house and what you should to assuring her that nothing will hurt your feelings. Maybe her firm has someone available to help you stage-I would ask.

Lastly-make sure it doesn't smell!

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answers from Washington DC on

the first thing i look for (having been house-hunting with my son for months now) is anything wet. if your house is good and dry, that's a great start.
other red flags for me are ripply roofs, tons of bugs in the window sills, cracks in floors or uneven door frames that indicate foundation issues, gross stained tubs, mouse droppings, and bad odors.
obviously being clean and uncluttered is a plus. an educated buyer will not be fazed by dust bunnies or fingerprints around doorknobs or any other quick fixes like that, but some first time home buyers might be.
good luck!

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answers from Appleton on

Redoing the house. I looked at a house in California and the owner had installed new carpet and floor tile and repainted the whole thing. It was neutral but totally his taste. White ceramic floor tile in a house with a pool. Ceramic tile is very slippery when wet ---- bad choice and brand new. If I had bought the house I would have ripped it out.

I would rather see a clean well kept house but let me do the improvements in my taste.

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answers from Boca Raton on

The 2 big no-no's for me are pet odors and CLUTTER!

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answers from Cleveland on

We just purchased a home, and looked at about 30......
With that said, obviously there are some things you cant change, location, size, layout etc.
But I can say some things that turned us off were:
Clutter. Get rid of it period. It is hard to imagine living in a house through someone else's knick knacks, tons of plants, shelves, furniture etc
Smelly basements, and again cluttered basements. Also if they are dark.
Horrible wall paper!
Once house we looked at was nice in terms of size, location etc. But there was gawdy wallpaper EVERYWHERE. Strip it and paint the roooms a nuetral color. No one wants to deal with stripping 8 rooms of loud dated wallpaper just to get rid of a blinding headache lol
CLEAN your house. Really clean it! Again for us, some places were dirty, and that was all I focused on. One house we LOVED on-line. But we got there and I was totally turned off! The carpets were dingy and had stains everywhere, the bathrooms were filthy, the blinds were torn and tattered, the walls were even dirty! It showed much better in pictures then in person.
Good luck!!

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answers from Chicago on

1st impressions are everything, so I agree, no clutter and the yard/landscaping should look nice (grass is cut, trees and bushes trimmed, no weeds). I've heard that having a vanilla candle burning or the smell of something just baked is appealing to buyers.

I have moved a lot in my late teen/adult years. I have an ongoing list that I keep to remind myself what I hated and loved about each place. It helps when looking for a new place because I can be reminded of the things I can't live without, and also the stuff that I really can't live with.

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answers from Chicago on

The yard sold me. It seriously was the most important thing after the basics (number of bedrooms, bath).

Wallpaper or other very particular decorations that are hard to change.

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answers from Dallas on

Clean - by clean - I look for baseboards wiped clean, no cobwebs, minimal clutter and not a lot of furniture or kids toys laying around.

Structure issues- yellow spots/stains on ceiling, cracks in drywall or foundation, doors that don't close properly, any pulling or leaking.

good luck!!

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answers from Kansas City on

Great responses! We will list our house in March and I'm taking note! A friend did mention that they got a storage unit and moved a bunch of stuff into it before the listed. They said it was totally worth every penny!

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answers from Los Angeles on

Clutter is the biggest turnoff and the easiest thing for a seller to fix. Get rid of all the extra clutter and junk. Don't have too much hanging on the walls and take down as much personal stuff as you can (photos, trophies, etc). Keep things clean and streamlined. The less personal stuff you have, the more than I can imagine their own stuff in the house.

That's really the only thing you can fix now, so don't worry about anything else.

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answers from Bloomington on

Turn offs for us:

*Smell- We won't even consider if there is a smell of cigarette, animal, or mildew.
*Cleanliness- I can look over bad design if the house is actually clean. I notice dirt on doors, counters (esp. in the bathroom), and entrance ways.
*I can usually look past clutter and poorly organized rooms, but many people can't. If it looks like you have a hard time making your stuff fit, others will too.
*The same goes for your storage areas. Highlight them. Show them off as a great place to keep extra stuff. Steamline them if necessary. It may be worth finally installing some shelving in your garage, basement, and closets.
*The yard is also important to us. We have young kids and want a flat area for the swingset, pool, or other outdoor games. Highlight your yard if possible, especially if your house is ideal for young families.
*Unfinished projects. My question would be..."Is this a person who does it themself? Are they really good at it? What else did they touch/fix?"
*Outdated electrical. Must be current wiring/circuit breaker on 200 amp.
*Lastly - Safety for young children. If you house is ideal for young families, highlight the safety in the home.....install a gate or fence around things that are potential problem.
*Location - which you don't have control on. But, if you seem like you are way out, you could put a nice typed list of places that deliver to you on your fridge. Maybe even have a list of local services and telephone numbers on your though it was your list to use or for a babysitter (food places). :)

Good luck!!!!

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answers from Lakeland on

I think the worst things are bad odors, dirty homes and mean pets. I have looked at so many houses and there have been times when we got to the front door and I turned and walked away.

The second would be wallpaper and extremely outdated carpet.

There are no perfect houses, even if you had one built there will always be something that you still want.

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answers from Madison on

we were more worried about the structure when we bought our house...I can clean! in fact no matter what before I move in I will clean it myself but obviously it is nice to have a clean house to look at.

anyhow, newer windows, doors, roof, siding, furnace, water heater..etc to me that is what is important.


we were more worried about the structure when we bought our house...I can clean! in fact no matter what before I move in I will clean it myself but obviously it is nice to have a clean house to look at.

anyhow, newer windows, doors, roof, siding, furnace, water heater..etc to me that is what is important.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on


The first thing I notice is curb appeal. Ours was "under construction or rehabilitation" (it had been a rental property) when we bought it - so I wasn't expecting "wow" in the front because of the work being done.

If I see broken shutters, dirty windows, grass not mowed, bushes not pruned? sorry - won't even get out of the car.

inside? I would like to see the rooms...not a ton of furniture but not empty either...I would like to see it CLEAN...and smell good...

we walked into a house that Indians had wreaked of curry - I love curry - mind you - but you could SMELL it on the walls - compared to cigarette smoke - it was stuck as they had lived in the home for 10+ years. they had TRIED the baking cookies trick - couldn't cover it up...if I see a lot of candles burning or a lot of the room fragrances....I wonder what it will smell like AFTER they move out.

The things that are conveying (washer/dryer, appliances) need to be clean. I know we mention CLEAN - but it's important to many of us.

I personally don't care if your family pictures are up. I know others do. But for me? I can look past that.

When I'm looking at a house - i look for what I need (at least 5 bedrooms or 4 with an office/library), two-car garage, 3 bathrooms, location - location - location - I'm funky in that I ONLY want a home at the END of a cul-de-sac...for many reasons...but if a home is NOT a cul-de-sac, I won't look at it. big or even galley-style kitchen with counter space...

Showcase your home - if you have energy efficient appliances and AC/heater - leave some copies of the bills on the counter so they can see what it has cost to heat/cool the house. You don't need to show your account number or name - but that is important to some people....knowing how much it will cost to heat/cool - it helps if you state - we keep our thermostat set at 73 or whatever you do.

If you have great views of the backyard or something else - pull those drapes/curtains back...blinds up!! Let people SEE the view!!

Closets??? If they are jammed with clothes? It tells me that there isn't enough space.

Cabinets? jammed with stuff? again - not enough space...

So de-clutter....use all the same hangers - I know - it's a VISUAL affect. but continuity....for those who are visual - it makes a difference.

Fresh paint goes a long way - neutral colors -

if you have carpeting - get it cleaned. (darn - there's CLEAN again!)

fix damaged screens or doors...some people look for the access to attic make sure the attic is "straightened" not clean - but straightened up.

good luck!! hope your home sells fast!!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

I haven't read your many responses... but we just sold our house on the very first day to the first buyer. We got a storage unit and put all excess furniture and junk in there. We had a stager so she helped us really pare down what we have. We have minimal art on the walls, nothing on the counters, each room has one purpose (no office/family room combo), etc. We got new fresh cream towels for one bathroom and white for the other. We took clothes out of closets so they didn't look so full. The stager also told us that updating cabinet and door knobs and light fixtures are good investments (we had already done it..but it is an easy way to update). If you have anything brass you might want to consider changing it out. I got all new cabinet knobs on amazon for sooo much cheaper than a home store.

We've been looking at houses now too and clutter, grime and smell are huge turn offs. I seriously can't believe some people show their houses in the condition they are in. If someone can't take the time to wash down a dirty wall, I wonder how well they maintained the place.

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answers from Los Angeles on


-dirty homes so clean up & repair anything necessary

-not being able to see a room's true use. So stage your home to not only
look nice but functional. (For example, take the treadmill out of the
living room, move the storage bins out of the dining room etc).

-curb appeal. Do what you can to spruce up your front door, front yard
etc. Some potted shrubs flanking the door, replace old bark if you have
that, put new house numbers up etc.

-repair anything broken, paint, replace (rock, bark etc) & stage your home.
That really helps.

Good luck!

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answers from Minneapolis on

I pay a lot of attention to the exterior of the home. The grass should be green and cut short, with bushes and trees trimmed, and nice looking landscaping. Some flowers add a nice touch. I like a nice looking mailbox too. I also look at the neighbors yards. There is nothing worse than taking great care of your own yard, and then have to look at a nasty yard next door. I also look for cigarette butts. I won't even go in if I see them. The other big thing is smells, but I think that has been well covered in the responses.

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