Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Selling Tips in a Cooling Market

There was a period lasting until a few months ago when there was sweat on the brows of many millennial homebuyers seeking their first property. Buying a first house was a competitive sport -- often involving multiple offers and escalation clauses -- because inventory was in such short supply, particularly in the starter home category.

But much has changed in a very short period of time. Granted, there are still too few starter homes available in popular neighborhoods, and prices are definitely not plummeting. Yet many aspiring homeowners from the millennial generation -- born between 1981 and 1996 -- are in much less of a rush than before, according to Steve Israel, a longtime broker who heads his own realty firm.

Israel works solely with buyers and takes no sellers’ listings. In doing so, he’s constantly assessing the moods and attitudes of his purchasing clients. And that puts him in a position to give homeowners advice on selling tactics.

“If I were a seller, I’d be much more nervous about going into this upcoming spring market than if I’d been selling last year,” he says.

What’s causing the slight diminution of buyer enthusiasm? According to Israel, wannabe buyers are feeling unsure about the strength of the U.S. economy and also worry they’ll face rising mortgage rates.

Israel says sellers seeking to appeal to millennial buyers must make sure they present their property in a way that brings comfort to young purchasers, who favor light, bright and clutter-free living.

“It’s always a downer if a house isn’t cleaned up or painted or has dirty floors and carpets. It’s also a negative if your front door and entryway are in bad shape,” says Israel, who’s affiliated with the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (naeba.org).

Moreover, he stresses that millennials -- who now represent about 36 percent of the buyer population -- are uncomfortable about the idea of acquiring a place that needs substantial repairs and fix-ups.

“They’re not lazy, but they grew up at a time when they were heavily scheduled by their parents and didn’t have chores around the house. They’re incredibly price-conscious, but lack confidence in their ability to do even cosmetic home improvements,” Israel says.

Here are a few pointers for sellers aiming for the millennial market:

-- Think about hiring a professional “stager” to help make your place show-worthy.

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 negatives.

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’ll remove excess furniture and personal items and rearrange the remaining pieces. Often, they also supplement the owners’ furnishings with alluring accessories of their own.

Unfortunately, the cost of hiring a professional stager for a full menu of services can exceed $500 or more, 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, 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 to work on an “a la carte” basis? Minch suggests you visit the website of the Real Estate Staging Association, realestatestagingassociation.com. Look for stagers in your area and make sure to check their websites for examples of their work before you give them a call.

-- Invite friends and family members to a home-selling fest.

Lisa Atkinson, a real estate agent affiliated with the Residential Real Estate Council (crs.com), says traditional open houses rarely lead to a sale. Most serious buyers see homes on an appointment basis -- during a tour led by their agent, she says.

A better way to ignite renewed interest in your place is to throw a “home-selling party,” inviting your close friends and relatives. Such a party is more likely to lead ultimately to a sale. That’s because those close to you will be more motivated to promote the sale of your home than are strangers.

“In any case, the party can help revive your excitement about your home-selling goal,” Atkinson says.

-- Ask your listing agent to promote your sale by contacting other local pros.

Until a few months back, well-priced properties in coveted neighborhoods practically sold themselves, and listing agents had relatively fewer marketing responsibilities. But in the current market, buyers are gradually gaining power. These days, the well-honed marketing skills of an experienced listing agent are as important as ever.

One key marketing skill your listing agent can use is to “talk up” 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 sort 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.

“By alerting other agents to your property, your listing agent will enhance your chances of finding a buyer,” Atkinson says.

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