Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Selling a Luxury Home in a Tough Market

If you’re selling a starter home this spring, you’re likely in luck. Due to a worsening inventory situation for this segment of the market, you might even have rival bidders competing to buy your place.

But a new report on inventory levels for homes across America includes some cautionary notes for sellers of luxury homes, where the picture is very different. According to the report, the supply-demand ratio is gradually moving in favor of buyers for upper-end properties.

The report comes from Cheryl Young, a senior economist for Trulia, which tracks housing trends nationwide. It shows that within the last year, starter home inventory has dropped 14.2 percent while premium home inventory has increased nearly as much.

Also negatively affecting luxury home sellers this spring are the implications of gradually rising mortgage rates and the new federal tax law, which limits the deductibility of home loan interest payments.

Given the recent buoyancy of the overall housing market, Young acknowledges it can be embarrassing for the sellers of any home to have it languish on the market. To avoid that situation, she strongly advises all sellers -- and especially those seeking to market a high-end home -- to choose a knowledgeable listing agent who can recommend correct pricing from the outset.

Here are a few other pointers for luxury home sellers:

-- Consider hiring a professional home “stager.”

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.

Many real estate agents are convinced that hiring a talented stager can increase the odds of selling a property promptly. Working under a full-service contract, most stagers will provide an array of services. They 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.

Regrettably, the cost of hiring a professional stager can run $500 or more and exceed the amount many sellers can afford, says Michelle Minch, the owner of a staging company called Moving Mountains Design.

But Minch says cash-constrained sellers don’t necessarily need the full range of services available through a stager. For a much lower price -- perhaps around $100 to $200 -- they can obtain an abbreviated consultation and receive pointers they can execute themselves.

“Tell the stager you just want the 10 top tips for making your house look better. 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,” 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, Look for stagers in your area and be sure to review their websites for examples of their work before you contact them.

-- Consider holding a “home selling” fest 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.

But Lisa Atkinson, a veteran real estate agent, says traditional open houses rarely lead to a sale. 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.

A better way to ignite renewed interest in your place is to throw a “home-selling party,” inviting your close friends and relatives, who would be motivated to promote the sale of your home.

-- Request that your listing agent “talk up” your place.

In all types of markets, the skills of seasoned listing agents are valuable. One key skill involves promoting your place to other real estate agents who have home-buying clients of their own.

“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 fliers about your house to their professional meetings and hand them out,” Atkinson says.

Your listing agent may have done this kind of one-on-one marketing for your property when it was first listed. But if your house has been sitting unsold for longer than you’d like, it might be time to ask your agent to do another round of this informal promotion.

-- Take maximum advantage of springtime blooms.

It’s nice to have fresh-cut flowers on display throughout your home’s interior. But if average market times in your community are quite long, the cost of keeping fresh flowers in your home could mount up.

One less-expensive alternative -- that’s especially easy during the spring -- is to display flowering, potted plants indoors and to install such blooms in your outdoor gardens, particularly around the front of your house.

The color of bountiful, blooming plants is a great way to make any home more attractive, Minch says.

“When you put your house on the market, you’re entering into a beauty contest. Price is terribly important. But beyond price, prettier is always better,” she says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at