A couple in their 50s inherited a stately all-stone colonial house in a Maryland suburb. Confident about their odds of selling well, they put the property on the market last June for $1.5 million.
“They were looking for a gold mine,” says Ashley Richardson, the agent they hired to market the property. But despite multiple price cuts, the house failed to attract a single offer until just this month. That’s when the 30-something parents of a toddler boy submitted a bid slightly under the current asking price.
Still, the rigid sellers are refusing to negotiate with their potential buyers. Not only are they seeking the full asking price, they’re also holding out for buyers willing to waive their right to a home inspection.
“Many sellers are stubborn these days. Due to changing market conditions, sellers need to give a little more, or they can miss out on the opportunities given them,” says Richardson, an agent who sells property through Long & Foster, a regional realty firm.
Jeb Smith, a real estate broker who’s listed homes in Orange County, California, for 20 years, says that given the rapid recent cooling of the housing market, it’s understandable if owners are confused on pricing.
“With all the craziness in the economy, the market is moving faster than sellers can get their heads around,” says Smith, of Coldwell Banker.
Another confusing factor is there are huge variations in property valuations -- even within the same neighborhood. Homes that are fully updated and meet contemporary taste standards -- what Smith calls “turnkey homes” -- are still commanding higher prices than those needing kitchen or bathroom renovations.
“Due to the pride of ownership, people always think their place is worth more than the one down the street that sold last year after a big bidding war. That’s just human nature,” Smith says.
Here are a few pointers for sellers:
-- Look into very recent sales in your area before setting your price.
Even before your home is listed and open for showings, your agent will likely recommend an asking price. But before accepting any pricing recommendation, all sellers, no matter how hurried, should do at least a nominal amount of research.
“Tell your agent to give you a list of nearby properties still under contract -- the more current the better. Then ask the agent to look into details about the properties that sold, including whether they had been updated,” says Richardson, who’s affiliated with the Residential Real Estate Council (crs.com). In addition, before setting your price, drive by the sold properties for comparison purposes.
Perhaps your drive-by tour will raise questions about whether your agent is suggesting too high or low an asking price. If so, request additional data in support of the recommended price. Then reach your own conclusion.
-- Choose a listing agent with experience.
“When you’re feeling overwhelmed about the details of your home sale, it can be wise to engage a take-charge real estate agent who’s worked through many transitional markets,” says Merrill Ottwein, a Coldwell Banker broker based in Illinois.
He recommends you find someone with considerable experience selling properties in the same community where you live.
Contacting the managing broker of a local real estate office is one way to identify a skillful agent. But make sure you find one with an impressive track record selling your type of property in your price range.
“It’s also smart to contact references who’ve previously worked with the agent to find out how well their transactions worked,” Ottwein says.
-- Don’t rule out a list price just one notch below prevailing market values.
Surprisingly, sellers on a tight deadline can often receive more for their property if they price it just a few percentage points below its apparent market value, Smith says.
“Given the internet, buyers are alert to fair market pricing. That’s why pricing slightly under market can generate lots of interest among buyers,” he says.
-- Hasten a home sale through delegation.
If you’re struggling to sell quickly -- perhaps due to a job transfer -- you may have no more than a few weeks to get your home ready for showings.
“In that case, you need a shortened preparation process that still covers all your home’s cosmetic needs and basic repairs,” Ottwein says.
One obvious way to reduce your prep time is to hire contractors for work you might normally do yourself.
“I know there are many cost-conscious people who are resistant to hiring others to do improvements they could do themselves, like painting or carpet cleaning. But if your time window is narrow, the odds are the work will go much faster if you bring contractors in,” Ottwein says.
What’s more, as he notes, sellers with properties that are sparkling clean and freshly painted generally recoup more at closing than they spend to hire contractors.
-- Develop a backup plan for your property’s sale.
Occasionally, even a home that’s well located and accurately priced will fail to sell quickly for reasons hard to determine.
To avoid panic in this situation, Ottwein encourages sellers to prepare a Plan B should the process take longer than expected and you have to go forward with a move anyway.
Maybe you’ll arrange for a trusted family member to take over responsibility for your home sale. Or perhaps you’ll want to buy time by putting your property up for rent for a few months.
“Under the best of circumstances, selling a home is stressful. But having a backup plan will help you manage your stress load,” Ottwein says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at email@example.com.)