Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

How to Sell an 'As-Is' House

A couple in their late 50s, a teacher married to an accountant, experienced a double whammy medically. To survive financially, there was only one solution: sell their sky-blue bungalow in a hurry and then move to a modest apartment.

But selling the property brought challenges. Though located in a neighborhood coveted by first-time buyers, the house had fallen into disrepair. Due to their high medical expenses, the couple couldn’t afford the extensive renovations the bungalow required.

How did the couple cope? They engaged the services of a savvy real estate agent who drew up a list of top priorities to make the most of their “as is” sale. These involved cosmetic fixes, such as interior painting and new carpet, where the return on investment is typically high. The result was a successful sale with multiple offers.

“Sellers with meager resources have an absolute need to set priorities. Ideally, they’ll use a checklist from a smart agent to stretch their dollars in meaningful ways,” says Mark Nash, a real estate analyst and author of “1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home.”

The good news for sellers under pressure is that these days it’s relatively easy to sell a “fixer-upper,” especially if it’s a starter home. That’s because there’s still a severe shortage of homes available for first-time buyers in prime areas.

What’s more, there’s no expectation the supply-demand problem will be resolved anytime soon, according to Daren Blomquist, a senior vice president at Attom Data Solutions, which tracks real estate markets throughout the country.

Because of price increases and a scarcity of available homes, he contends that now is an excellent time to sell in most areas, even for properties that must be sold in as-is condition and under a short deadline.

“It’s truly a great time for sellers, even if your property is distressed,” Blomquist says.

Here are a few pointers for those who must sell under pressure:

-- Rely on low-cost improvements you can do yourself.

“It’s unbelievable the bad reaction people have to a house that’s messy, one with empty pizza boxes on the coffee table and clothes lying around everywhere,” says John Rygiol, a longtime real estate agent.

Through his years selling real estate, Rygiol has observed buyers’ reactions when they visit a clutter-ridden home.

“Those who can’t do the work themselves should locate people in their community to assist,” he says.

Claire Prager, a veteran real estate broker affiliated with the Council of Residential Specialists (, advises medically challenged sellers to search for volunteers by looking on the internet for a support group, such as a cancer survivor network, or a nearby faith-based organization.

As you embark on a cleaning and de-cluttering blitz, she recommends you focus first on removing excess furniture and personal items that make it hard for those viewing your place to picture themselves living there.

“I’m talking about all those photos and notes attached to your refrigerator with magnets and all those many family mementos. Get all these items packed up and put away in a storage area, such as your garage,” Prager says.

-- Seek a listing agent with staging skills.

The quest by sellers to get the most from a sale has spawned a new industry of “home stagers.” These are people hired to rearrange and supplement furnishings to make for-sale properties seem more appealing.

Nash says stagers typically charge at least $300 for a minor redo. But if you lack the funds to pay a stager, he suggests you look for a listing agent willing and able to provide such services without charging you a fee to do so.

“An increasing number of agents are trained in the art of staging, and some are getting very good at it,” he says.

How can you be sure that agents who claim expertise in staging will do a good job? Nash recommends you ask them to email you “before” and “after” photos of properties they’ve staged. Examine these pictures before signing a listing agreement with any agent.

-- Head into the market at the right price point.

Although it’s now a strong seller’s market, Rygiol says sellers are still better off pricing from the outset at the precise current market value of their property, or a notch below to attract bidders.

“Go around your neighborhood and look at For Sale signs as indications of the strongest and most successful agents in your area. Then call three of these top agents and ask them to come over and recommend a totally realistic selling price,” Rygiol says.

He says you shouldn’t necessarily select as your listing agent the one who suggests the highest list price of the three -- perhaps as a form of flattery. Rather, listen intently to their advice on how your as-is property should go on the market.

“Tell your agent you want to sell in 90 days or less, and ask what price and marketing plan will get that job done,” Rygiol says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at