Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Tips for Rushed Sellers

In an average real estate market, people who must sell in a hurry due to a personal crisis may be compelled to accept a sacrificial price to unload quickly. But that’s not the case this year, at least not for those planning to sell an entry-level home.

A severe shortage of available properties in the starter home segment has created nearly ideal conditions for sellers in most areas, says Elizabeth Mendenhall, president of the National Association of Realtors (realtor.org).

“First-time buyers continue to make up an underperforming share of the market because there are simply not enough homes for sale in their price range,” says Mendenhall, the CEO of a Missouri realty firm.

Although current demand for homes is at an extremely high level, those who must sell in a hurry should still delay as long as possible to minimize stress, says Marcia Naomi Berger, a psychotherapist and author based in California.

“Moving is traumatic for everybody, so give yourself the maximum time possible,” says Berger, an expert in marriage and family issues.

Here are a few pointers for sellers in a hurry:

-- Locate an experienced listing agent to represent you.

“People often feel their lives are out of control when going through a personal crisis ... At times like that, a very competent and compassionate real estate agent can help enormously,” says Ashley Richardson, a seasoned agent.

She recommends you find someone with substantial experience selling properties in your immediate area.

“What you’re also looking for is an agent with a track record for recommending list prices that are neither too high nor too modest for current market conditions,” Richardson says.

Calling the managing broker of a local real estate office is one way to identify a sharp agent, though be sure to indicate you’re looking for one with substantial experience selling your type of housing in your price bracket.

“Asking a broker could be a good starting point. You might also wish to call references. But remember that agents won’t give you the names of people who didn’t like working with them,” Richardson says.

-- Review recent sales in your area prior to pricing your home.

Prior to accepting any pricing recommendation from an agent, all sellers, no matter how hurried, should do at least a nominal amount of research.

“What you should do is ask your agent to give you a list of nearby properties that have sold within the last year within your ZIP code -- along with the final amount they brought at closing. Then drive by these homes, noting how they compare with your own. This process should take no more than one hour,” Richardson says.

If your drive-by tour raises questions in your mind about the price suggested by your listing agent, request a justification.

“Final selling decisions, such as pricing, should always be reserved for the owners,” says Richardson, who’s affiliated with the Residential Real Estate Council (crs.com).

-- Attempt to compress the timetable to prep your home for sale.

Typical homeowners spend more than a month or two preparing their property for market. They clean, cull through belongings, prune their greenery and paint wherever needed.

But if you’re selling your home during a crisis phase of your life, chances are you have no more than a couple of weeks to get the home in showing condition.

“What’s important is to have a selling plan that’s compressed yet still covers all the basics,” Richardson says.

One obvious way to cut back on your home prep time is to hire contractors for work you might normally do yourself.

“Not everyone is willing to pay others to do work they could do themselves, particularly if they’re going through a financial crunch. But if time is short and skilled people are readily available in your area, chances are the work will go much faster if you hire help,” Richardson says.

Moreover, as she points out, home sellers with properties that are sparkling clean and freshly painted typically recoup more at closing than they invested in paid services.

“What’s important to know is that time is money if you must move promptly and can’t afford your house sitting on the market,” says.

-- Create a contingency plan for your property’s sale.

Sometimes, even a home that’s in good condition and correctly priced will fail to sell quickly for reasons hard to determine.

To avert panic in this situation, Richardson suggests anyone attempting to sell in the midst of a life-changing situation should develop a “Plan B” for coping if the process takes longer than expected.

Maybe you’ll arrange for a trusted relative to take over responsibility for your home sale. Or perhaps you’ll want to buy time by putting your property up for rent for six months.

Arranging for a contingency plan helps keep you focused on the positives in your situation.

“No matter the strength of the market, having a default plan can help calm your nerves and let you sleep at night,” Richardson says.

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