Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

How to Sell an Urban Home

After a young woman in her 20s landed a dream job with a finance firm in Los Angeles, she made the same choice as an increasing number of millennials: to live walking distance from her workplace in downtown.

This true story doesn’t surprise Jeff Speck, a city planner and author of “Walkable City.” That’s because property in redeveloping urban centers is increasingly popular.

“Seventy-seven percent of millennials say they want to live in America’s urban cores,” says Speck.

The increasing popularity of walkable city neighborhoods with many amenities is good news for those with a property to sell in one of those areas, says Geoff Anderson, the president and CEO of Smart Growth America, a nonprofit group promoting city living.

“The closer you are to amenities, the higher the prices for city property,” he says.

Do you have a property to sell, whether a condo apartment or a detached house, in a vital urban core? If so, these pointers could prove of value:

-- Stress the value of road access.

Granted, most homebuyers wouldn’t relish living near the noisy entrance to a major highway. But a location just a mile from that ramp could be a plus for those who work in suburban areas but want to live downtown, says James W. Hughes, a housing expert and dean of the Rutgers University’s school of planning and public policy.

If your city location leads directly to an important thoroughfare, without being too close, he says this point should be emphasized in your marketing materials. Also, if the home is a short walk to mass transit, you should stress this point as well.

Sid Davis, a long-time real estate broker and author of “A Survival Guide to Selling a Home,” says that the majority of buyers with young children still prefer green suburban living to an in-town setting. But he notes that recent immigrants are often less resistant to life on a bustling street than those who’ve always lived in America.

To encourage interest, Davis says your agent should attach a map to the flier prepared to promote your property, pinpointing your home as well as popular sites nearby, such as the local cafe, a public library or a city park. This map should emphasize the advantages of your location.

-- Underscore access to improving urban schools.

Is the community where you live served by quality schools, whether public, charter or private? And are many would-be purchasers people with young children?

If so, Davis says it would be a smart idea to promote the purchase of your home as a way to gain easy access to good schools for your kids.

“Assuming your price is realistic and your schools are well regarded, this could be a genuine plus for your sale. Remember that many young families with a preference for city living are working diligently to improve the quality of the urban schools their kids attend,” Davis says.

-- Explore the cost of fencing your urban yard.

Some urban roadways seem particularly risky for children and pets. These include avenues traveled by many commercial vehicles. If you own a detached house along this sort of roadway, Davis says you might wish to fence your yard in hopes of lessening the fears of potential buyers.

“Fences aren’t cheap, there’s a lot of labor involved in their installation. But the expense could be justified if it helps unload a hard-to-sell property,” he says.

Your listing agent should be able to advise you on whether the fencing of your yard would constitute a justifiable pre-sale expenditure. As one money-saving option, the agent might recommend that you fence your backyard only, creating a protected area where small children and pets could play.

If you decide to invest in a fence, the choices may seem daunting.

“When selecting your fencing, choose something in wood or vinyl. Stay away from one of those chain-link fences that looks like a military installation,” Davis says.

-- Consider a price cut if your home won’t sell otherwise.

Suppose you’re attempting to sell a home on the noisier side of an urban community. But while comparable homes in more tranquil parts of your urban community are selling swiftly, your place continues to languish unsold.

In this case, Davis says one of your few remaining options is to take a slight price cut below what’s being asked for comparable properties on calmer streets nearby.

“Many sellers in popular city centers don’t need a discount. But if you’re selling in a still-up-and-coming area with an unusually high volume of construction noise, you might need a small price cut to move that property,” he says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at