Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

How to Sell in a Buyer's Market

In many popular neighborhoods, starter homes continue to sell at a healthy pace. After all, such available properties are in extremely short supply in such areas. Still, there are signs that, relatively, buyer interest is now weaker in some expensive communities.

It’s all about supply and demand.

“The dismal number of listings in the affordable price range is squeezing prospective first-time buyers the most,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (www.realtor.org). But he notes there are many more homes available in pricier communities.

“In fancy neighborhoods, home prices have been escalating for so many months that some high-income people are delaying a purchase for the time being,” says Tom Early, a real estate broker and former president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (naeba.org).

Early says that while there are no magic bullets for sellers of homes in an unfavorable market, there are a few steps you can take to speed up the process.

Here are a few pointers for sellers:

-- Hire a professional “stager” for a minimal level of advice.

Staging is the art of transforming a property so potential buyers can visualize themselves living there. Properly done, staging accentuates a home’s attractive features and minimizes its drawbacks.

Working under a full-service contract, most stagers will provide an array of services. They’ll remove excess furniture and personal items and rearrange the remaining pieces. Often, they also supplement the owners’ furnishings with eye-catching accessories of their own.

Unfortunately, the cost of hiring a professional stager for a full contract menu of services can run $500 or more and exceed the amount many home sellers can afford, says Michelle Minch, the owner of a staging company called Moving Mountains Design (movingmountainsdesign.com).

But Minch says for a much lower price, perhaps around $100, budget-conscious sellers can obtain an abbreviated consultation and receive pointers they can execute themselves.

“For just an hour or so of consultation time, a good stager can tell you about furniture arrangement and also recommend mild, pleasing paint colors for your walls. You’ll get a road map for making your house move-in ready,” she says.

How can you find a competent stager who will work on an “a la carte” basis? Minch suggests you visit the website of the Real Estate Staging Association (realestatestagingassociation.com). Look for stagers in your area and be sure to check out their websites for examples of their work before you give them a call.

-- Hold a home-selling party with friends.

Sometimes, the owners of a property that’s lingered on the market will pressure their listing agents to conduct several public open houses. That way, they hope to increase their odds of selling promptly.

But traditional open houses rarely lead to a sale, says Lisa Atkinson, an agent affiliated with the Council of Residential Specialists (crs.com). That’s because these events typically attract few qualified home-buying prospects and are more likely to draw curiosity seekers. Most serious buyers see homes on an appointment basis, during a tour led by their agent, she says.

A better way to ignite renewed interest in your place is to throw a “home-selling party,” inviting your close friends and relatives. Such a party is more likely to lead to a sale. That’s because those close to you will be more motivated to promote the sale of your home than are strangers.

“In any case, the party can help revive your excitement about your home-selling goal,” Atkinson says.

-- Request that your listing agent spread the word about your property.

In extremely strong seller’s markets, well-priced properties practically sell themselves and listing agents have relatively fewer marketing duties. But in posh neighborhoods now, the well-honed marketing skills of an experienced listing agent are critically important.

One key marketing skill your listing agent can use is to “talk up” your place to other real estate agents who have home-buying clients of their own, Atkinson says.

“Strong agents will respond to your request to step up informal marketing of your place by spreading the word. They’ll make personal phone calls to other agents. They’ll also take flyers about your house to their professional meetings and hand them out. This way you should get more people over to visit your house,” she says.

“By alerting other agents to your property, your listing agent will enhance your chances of finding a buyer,” Atkinson says.

-- Take full advantage of blooming plants.

It’s nice to have fresh-cut flowers on display throughout your home’s interior. But if average market times in your neighborhood are quite long, the cost of keeping fresh flowers in your home can add up to a substantial sum.

One less expensive alternative is to display flowering, potted plants indoors and then, as the temperatures warm, to later install such blooms in your outdoor gardens, especially in the front of your house.

The color of bountiful, blooming plants is a great way to make any home more attractive, according to Minch, the staging company owner.

“Correct pricing is tremendously important. But every house that’s up for sale is an entrant in a beauty contest. And prettier is always better,” she says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at ellenjamesmartin@gmail.com.)