Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Selling Tips for Trying Times

The COVID crisis continues to plague the planet. There’s unrest in U.S. streets. Wildfires rage in the West. And all over the nation, the presidential election has nerves frayed.

Yet homebuyers seem as eager as ever to move forward with a purchase, making it a nearly golden season for those who wish to sell.

“Strangely, politics and bad climate events never seem to have much impact on housing markets, unless these elements are present in your immediate area,” says Tom Early, a longtime real estate broker.

More powerful motivators for home buying include demographic trends -- such as new household formations among the millennial population cohort -- and mortgage rates.

“Herds of young buyers are trying to grab the unbelievably low mortgage rates now available,” says Early, a past president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (

Despite economic turmoil and relatively high rates of joblessness, sellers are currently in an excellent position, says Danielle Hale, the chief economist for, the national home listing service.

“Buyer demand is putting sellers in the driver’s seat,” says Hale, noting that available properties remain in short supply and prices are strong.

Yet for all the positives facing sellers, many who intend to move this year feel stressed at the idea of selling during the pandemic.

“People who’ve been socially isolated for months are hunkered down in their homes, often with young kids and grown children under the same roof. That greatly complicates their selling plans and gives people panic attacks,” Early says.

Kathy Zimmermann, a broker-owner with the Re/Max realty chain, says anxiety levels are highest among sellers who face tight time limits because they’re moving for a job transfer or have already committed to buying another property. Also, those facing divorce can become particularly frazzled if a house they expected to sell quickly sits unsold longer than anticipated.

“If it’s a divorce involving a court-ordered sale, there’s usually a strict deadline,” says Zimmermann, who’s affiliated with the Residential Real Estate Council (

Anxious home sellers often lose sleep due to their worries and sometimes bother their listing agent early in the morning after a restless night, says Zimmermann, who’s received calls and texts from worried clients as early as 5:30 a.m.

But Dorcas Helfant, a former president of the National Association of Realtors (, says the fault for a slow-moving house often rests not with the listing agent but the owners themselves if they insist on an above-market price.

“Ask too much and potential buyers will be repelled by what they perceive as your greed,” Helfant says.

Here are a few pointers for sellers:

-- Realize that avaricious sellers often net less than they deserve.

Accurate pricing is tricky, especially in neighborhoods undergoing pricing gains, perhaps due to tight inventory. In such areas, a review of recent sales --known as “comparables” -- may not yield obvious answers.

Still, cautious pricing is all the more important at the current time, given that numerous buyers are well aware of pricing trends due to extensive internet sleuthing.

“Many people won’t waste their time trying to negotiate with someone asking too much,” Zimmermann says.

-- Face the fact that hassling your listing agent can backfire.

Zimmermann says anxious sellers can hurt themselves if they make unreasonable demands on their agent. For example, she tells how one of her clients emailed or called her at least two to three times per day, requesting a detailed update on everyone who’d expressed interest in his house and their reactions.

“He became a very high-maintenance client,” she says.

Putting a lot of pressure on your agent might seem like a helpful strategy. But it can easily hurt your sale if the agent resents your persistent inquiries. Some agents even drop clients who try to cope with their anxieties through excessive demands.

“It’s not unusual to hear about agents terminating listing agreements if the homeowners fail to cooperate,” Zimmermann says.

-- Direct your nervous energy into a cleaning blitz.

Sid Davis, a longtime broker and the author of "A Survival Guide for Buying a Home," says he’s noticed a steep decline in the cleanliness of properties offered for sale. All too often, he says, owners with busy schedules lack the time to keep a home as clean as did past generations. But the reality is that nowadays buyers are more eager than ever to acquire a spotless property to gain a “fresh start” in their lives.

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

“During the pandemic, it’s doubly hard for families with lots of people stuck at home to keep their homes exquisitely clean. But remember that most serious buyers still insist on an in-person tour before committing to a house, and slobs are punished,” Davis says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at