Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin


In an increasing number of neighborhoods, property is starting to move off the market more quickly than before, and prices are ascending. Yet in many areas, demand is strongest for detached, single-family houses, while condo sales still lag behind.

"Whether you face a great or not-so-great market for your condo depends on where you live," says Mark Nash, a real estate broker and author of "1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home." "In some places sellers must still compete with a lot of short sales and foreclosures at distress prices, so it's harder to get a condo sold."

Selling a condo can be a particularly daunting task if your apartment is a look-alike unit in a complex where many are on the market.

"If your building has 20 one-bedroom apartments available that are similar to yours, you have to differentiate yourself. Buyers will probably only look at three to five units, and your place has to be one of them," Nash says.

Condo sellers who face stiff competition have to think strategically, as do their listing agents. Here are a few pointers:

-- Hang a realistic price tag on your property.

Are you seeking to sell a unit in an area where many new condos have been constructed recently or are in the pipeline? If so, Nash says you'll want to be particularly careful not to set too high a price or your unit could languish unsold for a lengthy time.

"People look at headlines about rising values and think they can push their price. But if you try that with your condo, it will probably just sit there," Nash says.

Owners planning to sell in a complex where many units are on the market should do a careful review of what other apartments -- known as "comparables" or "comps" -- have gone for during the last three to six months.

"You have to walk in the buyer's shoes. The market is stronger, but people refuse to overpay," he says.

-- Make sure your property is visible to real estate agents around your area.

"As always, there are strong niche markets for condos throughout the country. These are markets where turnover is rare and sellers don't have to worry," says Dorcas Helfant, a real estate broker and former president of the National Association of Realtors.

To help get more showings for your condo, Helfant suggests you ask your listing agent to stage one or more "brokers' opens." These are open houses to which all real estate agents in the area are invited. To draw in attendees, they often feature food, entertainment or both.

"Nearly all serious buyers work with agents. If the other agents prescreen your condo and like it, chances are good they'll bring their buyers through, and this could result in a sale," she says.

-- Focus on the demographic group most likely to show interest in your condo.

"People trying to sell an apartment that's matchy-matchy with others in the building have to make sure all their marketing materials their agent produces are very professional looking," Nash says.

One way to create compelling materials is to identify your target audience. Besides the usual advertising materials and brochures, he recommends that your listing agent develop community "resource lists" with your target audience in mind. These can be used as a draw for potential buyers who come through.

For instance, young single buyers might like a lengthy list of restaurants in the area, along with ratings and reviews. Families with an infant or small child might appreciate a roster of nearby day care facilities and nursery schools. And empty nesters could be grateful for information on cultural and recreational venues and events.

-- Give your kitchen pizzazz.

If your condo is like many, you have a small, narrow "galley kitchen" that may look dated. To make such a kitchen more appealing, Nash says it could be worth the investment to spend a few thousand dollars on pre-sale upgrades and then mention these in your Multiple Listing Service entry.

"The listing will draw more people in if you cite popular features like granite countertops or stainless steel appliances," he says.

-- Ponder the possibility of offering incentives for buyers.

Perhaps it sounds crass, but buyers who have a choice of many look-alike condos in the same complex might pick your unit because you're adding a tangible incentive to sweeten the deal, Nash says.

For example, you might offer to pay a "hard cash" amount toward the buyers' closing costs or give them a new big-screen TV.

"Surprisingly, I've seen incentives work to get a condo sold. All other things being equal, the free stuff can motivate buyers to pick one place over another -- even in a building with lots of units for sale," he says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at