Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Tips for Selling a High-End Property

After her husband died three years ago, an engineer vowed to hang on to the lakeside house the couple had custom-built two decades earlier. But since then, the costs in money and energy for upkeep have mounted -- giving the widow a compelling reason to sell, and sell quickly.

There’s much to reassure the woman. Property values in her area have risen sharply, and lakeside homes are especially coveted. Still, the widow is nervous about the current market. That’s because the gradual rise of mortgage rates -- coupled with lagging income growth -- mean fewer prospects can now afford a place like hers.

Skylar Olsen, a senior economist for Zillow, which tracks real estate throughout the country, understands the anxieties of the woman in this true story. But as long as demand for property in prime areas continues to outstrip supply and the overall economy stays strong, she says the engineer’s prospects are excellent.

“For people who are downsizing, I don’t see any reason to be in a crazy rush to sell,” Olsen says.

Even so, she says all sellers of high-end properties need to be especially careful to create a reasonable pricing strategy.

“In the current market, if you price right, multiple bids are likely. But if you overprice, people will think you’re a little delusional, and that won’t work out well for you in the end,” she says.

Here are a few pointers for sellers:

-- Understand that those who ask too much often get too little.

Kathy Zimmermann, the broker-owner of a Re/Max real estate office, says accurate pricing can be complicated in a neighborhood like the engineer’s, where properties vary widely in style and size.

“Buyers aren’t going to waste their time trying to negotiate with someone asking way too much,” she says.

Accurate pricing is complicated, especially in areas where property valuations are in flux. In such neighborhoods, an examination of recent sales for similar homes -- known as “comps” -- may not give you obvious answers about how much to ask.

But accurate pricing is all the more important at a time when buyers are increasingly fearful they’ll overpay.

-- Realize that open houses don’t always guarantee results.

Many sellers of high-end homes that show well think of open houses as a panacea for any marketing woes they face.

But real estate specialists, such as Dorcas Helfant, a former president of the National Association of Realtors (, says public open houses provide little utility to owners trying to gain momentum toward a sale.

She says open houses rarely attract serious, well-qualified purchasers. Many who attend open houses are neighbors or people seeking decorating ideas for their own homes, while others are mere wannabe buyers.

Rather than pressing your agent to hold more open houses, Helfant says you should consider asking for an “office caravan” to gain pointers on making your property more saleable. During such an event, many members of the sales force at the listing agent’s office come over to critique the home and offer suggestions for upgrades.

“The more eyes you put on the house, the better,” she says.

-- Use your nervous energy to power a cleaning campaign.

Zimmermann, a veteran in the real estate field, says that in recent years she’s observed a gradual decline in the cleanliness of properties shown for sale. All too often, she says, dual-income couples with busy schedules lack the time to keep a home as clean as their parents’ generation did.

Ironically, contemporary buyers hanker more than ever to own a spotless, well-kept place where they can get a fresh start.

Anxious owners who fear their homes won’t sell would do well to channel some of their nervous energy into an old-fashioned cleaning blitz that covers every inch of their place.

Showing a home in sparkling condition can give you a competitive edge over less tidy people trying to sell in the same neighborhood.

“Anyone who puts an immaculate house on the market should come out ahead,” Zimmermann says.

-- Resist the urge to pressure your listing agent.

Putting a lot of pressure on your listing agent may seem to help, but it can easily backfire if the agent begins to resent your persistent inquiries. Some agents may even drop clients who deal with their frustration by making excessive demands in an overly aggressive way.

“It’s not unusual to hear about agents terminating listing agreements if the homeowners fail to cooperate. You’re entitled to regular updates, but pestering your agent makes no sense,” Zimmermann says.

-- Fear not that your house will languish unsold.

Sellers who become caught in a web of worry only make it tougher to achieve a winning result from their sale.

“For sellers, the overall picture of the market is still an incredibly positive one. Yes, market conditions are changing and mortgage rates are rising -- which reduces buying power. But I still counsel my clients to stay calm and avoid needless fretting so they don’t sabotage their sale or suffer needless angst,” Helfant says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at