Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

How to Sell a High-End Property

The house looked like a castle -- a French provincial on a large yard in a cushy gated development. But its owners were exhausted by their long commutes and wished to move closer to their jobs.

Unfortunately, it took them more than a year and two price cuts to finally sell their mansionlike property. This didn’t surprise their listing agent, Ashley Richardson, who often represents the owners of such high-end homes.

“The luxury market is always a limited market. That’s because there are relatively fewer buyers with enough income to support payments on an upper-tier house,” says Richardson, who’s affiliated with the Council of Residential Specialists (

Other factors are also contributing to the situation. “In some big costly markets, there’s been a lot of new construction in the premium segment,” says Ralph McLaughlin, the chief economist for Trulia (, the online real estate service for buyers, sellers and renters.

He advises those with a luxury home to sell to make sure they locate a listing agent with in-depth knowledge of their local turf -- someone who has the capacity to price accurately and in accord with neighborhood market conditions.

“The last thing any homeowner should do is price too high. An overpriced house can linger on the market for a long time, making people wonder if there’s something wrong with it,” McLaughlin says.

Here are a few other pointers for luxury home sellers:

-- Don’t let hubris affect your pricing decisions.

If you're proud of your house and the luxury features it offers, you may be tempted to set your asking price higher than most of the homes in your immediate vicinity.

But Dorcas Helfant, a veteran real estate broker-owner, warns against doing so, lest you scare away price-conscious home shoppers.

“Your first step is to determine the current market value of homes with the same floor plan in your neighborhood. Then go no higher than the top of that price range,” says Helfant, a former president of the National Association of Realtors (

-- Select a listing agent skillful in creating strong visuals.

“Anyone who owns a home in model condition should be doubly sure it looks good in all its online advertising and marketing materials,” Helfant says.

As Helfant relates, a growing number of agents have become skillful users of digital photography and can now produce the kinds of pictures sellers need to appeal to prospects.

“Before buyers tour houses, they’ll go online and maybe also go to their agent’s real estate office to pre-screen photos of available listings on a wall-mounted monitor. If your house doesn’t show well in pictures, many buyers will simply decline to go see it,” Helfant says.

Before photos are taken, she says all sellers, including the owners of premium properties, should be attentive to the clutter in their rooms.

“Everything shows in photos. So you’ll want to remove every bit of clutter, including those decorative magnets on the refrigerator and the dish towels hanging over the oven,” Helfant says.

-- Consider a community-wide open-house event.

Many real estate agents downplay the value to sellers of open houses, saying they rarely attract serious buyers. But Helfant says there’s a way to maximize the impact of a public open house conducted for your premium property: encourage other sellers in the neighborhood to hold open houses ON the same day, thereby increasing your potential draw.

She suggests you ask your listing agent to call the other agents representing all the available listings in your neighborhood and try to coordinate your open houses.

“With more traffic, you have a better chance of drawing in serious buyers,” Helfant says.

According to Helfant, a neighborhood-wide open house event can be especially helpful to the sellers of a premium property, which will stand out in comparison with other available homes.

-- Remain steadfast on your selling plans.

Understandably, the owners of homes in showcase condition often have mixed feelings about letting go of a property they’ve babied through the years of their tenure. This is especially likely in hot neighborhoods where sellers figure they can afford to delay.

But before letting emotion cause you to back off from your selling schedule, it’s important to look at the big picture of your personal and financial plans to see if it would be in your interest to postpone your sale.

Tom Early, a past president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (, says owners who plan to sell and then make a move-up purchase to a still costlier property may wish to accelerate their timing to avoid the potential for higher mortgage rates.

“We’ve been slumbering for a while with very comfortably low mortgage rates. But with a new administration in Washington ... you can never be sure what will happen with the economy and how that could translate to higher rates,” Early says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at