10 Tips for Selling in a Buyer’s Market
● Don’t try to wait it out. “I don’t see a major turnaround for at least 18 months,” says Nancy Kalodner, owner and principal broker at Benchmark Real Estate in Otis, MA. “It’s not like day trading. You don’t sell a house because it’s gone up 30%. You sell because your needs have changed. If that happens in a seller’s market, great. But if the market isn’t so good, that doesn’t change the scenario; you still need to sell.”
● Price it right. “A prospective seller asked me what I thought his property was worth and I said, $450, thinking we’d end up at $440 or so,” says Jean Price, owner and principal broker at Arthur Lee of Red Rock in Columbia Co.. “He then listed it with another broker for $549. That was a year and a half ago. Now they’re asking $399,000. Not only is his property worth less today than it was when he first listed it, he’s had the expense of carrying it all this time—mortgage, taxes, plowing, heat.”
● Beware the broker who, when asked, “What’s it worth?” replies, “What are you hoping to get?” Your hopes and dreams have no bearing on market value. If you interview a number of brokers, and one gives you a figure well above the rest, think twice. Telling you what you want to hear may wrest your listing away from the competition, but it won’t sell your house. “Now we take a little more time to get to the right number,” says Steve Pener of Dooley Real Estate in Kent, CT. “Buyers now do their shopping on-line. They don’t call us asking, ‘We’re looking for three bedrooms, ten acres; what do you have?’ They call us once they’ve found what they want. If the price is off, we can’t even get them to look.”
● But what about a trial balloon? Starting with a higher-than-probable price can’t hurt, can it? In fact, it can. As Julia Crowley of Paula Redmond Real Estate in Dutchess County, describes the situation, “He’ll say, ‘I don’t care what everything else is going for, I am going to get big money for this. Someone from the city is going to fall in love with it and be willing to pay just about anything.’ ” This seller is deluding himself. Brokers and agents only show overpriced properties to emphasize the value in properly priced ones. Meanwhile, buyers in his real price range are off looking at less expensive stuff.
● Don’t grab defeat from the waiting arms of victory. A Hillsdale, NY property that went on the market over a year ago found a buyer last May. Once a price had been agreed upon, however, the ambivalent seller threw in a proviso that closing could not take place until fall. The buyer balked. The seller refused to budge, so the buyer walked. Nine months later, the house remains unsold.
● Pre-inspect. Even though the game is presently weighted in their favor, buyers in a falling market are especially skittish. To shield them from nasty surprises, have an expert look for red-flag situations that can be attended to prior to listing. “If the radon needs to be remediated, do it before a buyer’s engineer discovers it,” advises John Harney, owner and principal broker of John Harney Associates in Litchfield County. “As C.S. Lewis wrote, ‘Make the way soft underfoot and gently sloping.’ ” [Note: Lewis was describing the path to hell; Harney, to closing—opposite directions, to be sure.]
● Don’t expect buyers (or appraisers) to be visionaries—to see past your property’s actual condition to what it could be with “a little work.” Count on being rewarded only for that portion of its potential that has been realized. That said, a little “staging” never hurt. Sally Spillane, a Salisbury, CT stager, moving facilitator, (and, incidentally, in this context, host of WKZE’s Sunday morning gardening show) says, “You’ve got to open things up and make room for other people’s dreams. Don’t wait until you move to have that yard sale; have it now.” Eyesore #1, according to Spillane: plastic toys. “Get a big box,” she says, “and throw the toys in there whenever the house is being shown.”
● Don’t waste your dough. Buyers who do have vision are likely to bristle at being asked to pay for brand new work they deem unworthy. If you are not widely regarded as having an exceptional eye, perhaps you should get the advice of someone who does before you, say, put in a new kitchen in the hope that it will hasten a sale. Nearly everyone thinks his own taste is at least adequate; real estate professionals know otherwise, but dare not say so [speculators, are you listening?]. If you want to sell your house at a good price, don’t bank on your taste unless the evidence in your favor is strong. And even if you do have the knack, according to Spillane, you could be wasting your money: “Maybe your buyer doesn’t want a marble bath.”
● Can a seller’s taste be too good? Apparently so. “We had a Queen Anne Victorian with quarter-sawn oak paneling and stained glass windows,” says Mary Mullane, an agent with Gary diMauro‘s Hudson office. “The owners had Eastlake furniture and great artwork—tons of it—that was perfect for the house.” Perhaps, too perfect. “Everyone who saw the place said the same thing: ‘It’s fabulous, but we don’t have stuff like this.’” Though furnished houses generally sell more readily, the agency encouraged the owners to empty the place. It sold right away.
● Did we mention, don’t be greedy? It bears repeating. During the boom, when a substantial annual appreciation on property was virtually guaranteed, it didn’t matter what the buyer paid; value was certain to catch up and ultimately surpass any crazy price. Not any more. But one thing hasn’t changed: people still want to buy houses. “We recently listed a property,” says Dooley’s Steve Pener. “The owner trusted us and worked with us on price, and the place sold in a week.”
Next: 10 Tips for Buying Well Now