Picking a listing agent is a bit like picking a high school boyfriend. The one you like the most might not be the one who is good for you. (And once your home is listed, you might find yourself sitting by the phone on Saturday night wishing they would call, but I digress.) You need to employ a couple of critical strategies to find a Realtor to handle your precious property.
What have they sold lately? As a first step, you’ll want to look at their track record. As much as you might like them, the fact that a Realtor is your hairdresser’s play cousin does not qualify them to list your home. While picking a buyer’s broker is all about the interpersonal relationship you can build with your agent, picking a listing agent is all about that agent’s track record of successfully selling properties like yours — homes in the general price range, area and time frame that your sale will be. In fact, it is not a terrible idea to select a couple of your listing agent candidates from the names you frequently see on “For Sale” signs in your area. But prioritize the ones whose signs end up with a SOLD rider on them, more often than not! Beyond that, you should also get a referral or two from some folks you know who have recently sold their homes and loved their listing agents. Then sit down and talk with a few of the candidates.
One important note — if your deal will be a short sale, ask your listing agent prospects to break down their recent short sale successes. These deals take experience and skill to get your lenders’ green light.
Just the facts. With Realtors, as your parents felt with your teenage beaux, sweet talkers need not apply. What you want to hear and what you need to hear are two different things. So many Realtors use the strategy of inflating their opinion of your home’s value just to get the listings (with a plan to hammer you for a price reduction after your home languishes on the market for three or four months) that there’s a name for it: buying the listing. In contrast, a strong candidate for the position of your listing agent is a Realtor who has the guts to meet you at the listing interview, sometimes for the first time ever, and give you a reality-based opinion of what your home is worth, even if they know you won’t welcome the news.
So, how can you tell if you’re being sweet-talked into a listing? Before you meet with candidates, do your own real estate reality check and educate yourself about the recent sales of homes comparable to your home. Ask your candidates to justify their opinions as to your home’s value with comps, and ask what their listings’ list-price-to-sale-price ratio is. Agents whose listings sell consistently near the asking price are the agents who price their listings smartly up front.
What’s the marketing plan, man? Inquire as to what marketing strategies they have found work well with today’s buyer and look for a very Web-savvy broker. Over 90 percent of homebuyers start their house hunt on the Web, and you cannot afford to miss them.
Paging Ari Gold. As relentless and irritating as the cocky talent agent from “Entourage” may be, who doesn’t want someone like that to have our back when it really counts? If you manage to negotiate all sorts of discounts and concessions from your Realtor, be a little concerned. If they can’t out-negotiate you, how are they going to be your advocate in negotiations with your eventual buyer? Food for thought.
#7: Jumpstart your stalled listing by evolving your sales strategy.
You primped and spruced your house beyond recognition, analyzed every recent sale within a mile to come up with a price and interviewed four different Realtors before entrusting one with your listing. And after all that work, your house has been on the market 90 days with not one single offer! Every day that goes by just deepens your sense of ominous dread that you might never get an offer and the panicky feeling that you might be trapped. So what now?
Stay engaged. See, putting your home up for sale is not a set-it-and-forget-it type exercise — you cannot put it on autopilot. Your job is to stay actively engaged and listen to what the market is telling you. When you have had no offers for a long period of time, there’s really no need to ask buyers’ brokers for feedback. They are giving you their feedback loud and clear! The market is telling you that your home is priced too high, and it may take extraordinary measures to re-ignite the interest in your property.
Find your home’s pricing sweet spot. I’ve seen it time and time again — a property languishes on the market for months, then has a price reduction or two and voila! — they end up with multiple offers and get more than their asking price. To find your home’s sweet spot, start reducing the price, and I’m not talking about a few hundred dollars. You want your reduction to make a big splash, get some new attention and put every buyer in town on notice that you are serious about selling.
If you can bring your price just below a $25,000, $50,000 or $100,000 price point break, you’ll get your home into the searches of buyers in a totally new price range, folks who haven’t seen your place before. So, instead of going from $250,000 to $235,000, reduce the price to $224,999. Then you’ll expose your house to buyers who enter an upper price range limit of $225,000 in their web property searches — people who might never have seen your home before.
Put every Realtor in town on the case. Believe it or not, if your home is languishing on the market, your Realtor may be losing just as much sleep as you! If you want to create a veritable sales force of agents, though, light a fire under the local Realtor community by creating some incentives for them to show — and sell — your home. You can offer a higher than normal commission to galvanize folks. I’ve seen commissions as high as 5 percent for a low-priced home! Also, offering a few thousand bucks in a bonus to the buyer’s broker that closes the deal definitely makes a tough-to-sell home a more compelling listing for buyer’s reps to show.
#8: Get a real estate market reality check. (And kiss fantasyland goodbye.)
Walk a mile in the shoes of a prospective buyer for your home. They are out there. And they are well-educated. Today’s qualified homebuyers have every piece of data about home prices and sales trends in your neighborhood. They are willing to pay a fair price, but they know how to formulate a fair offer to a degree that previous generations of buyers have never had the ability to do. All the info is just a few keystrokes away! And they have an incredible level of house hunting stamina from having seen so many foreclosed homes with abandoned remodeling projects and ripped out plumbing.
Clueless is as clueless does. So, a buyer is doing their nightly obsessive scouring of the Web listings of homes for sale in their price range in your town, and your listing comes up. What will their first response be? Do they think it’s a serious prospect they should mull over? Do they instantly autodial their Realtor to set a first-thing-in-the-morning appointment to see your place? Or do they grab their sides as they roll on the floor in hysterical laughter, wondering what planet the seller is from to think someone would pay that for that place?
Long story short: Clueless is a very bad look for a home seller. It’s the easiest route to getting lowball offers or no offers at all. In a market like this, you might wish desperately that your home was worth more than it actually is. But check yourself — wishing it were so doesn’t make it so. If you’re selling now, you probably really want or need to, so get over yourself and get clued into the realities of your market if you want to get it sold.
When on the Web, do as Web buyers do. Before you ever list your home with a Realtor, spend some time on FrontDoor.com perusing MLS listings the way a prospective buyer would. Check out the other listings in your neighborhood, and do an honest mental comparison of their homes to yours. This will start to give you a reality check on prices and price ranges. Then visit a site like Cyberhomes.com and type in your address to get an estimated value. It will show you the actual sales prices from nearby similar homes that have closed escrow, so you can begin to appreciate the difference between list price and sales price in your area.
Experience the competition, live and in person. Once you are familiar with recent sales prices and you’ve hired a Realtor, get up close and personal with your competition. Stroll through a few open houses and see what your house is up against, in terms of condition and staging. Then ask your Realtor to analyze the competing listings on the basis of how many days the active, pending and recently sold MLS listings in your area have been on the market. That way, you’ll know up front which price points get quick buyer interest and about how long you should wait for an offer before you reduce your price.
Now, get real! Remember that the same buyers who come to see your place will have seen the other active listings too. So price or prep your place to be more attractive than the others. You will eliminate the clueless factor and get buyers to take you seriously when you get a real estate reality check, and let the data drive a fact-based pricing and property preparation strategy.
#9: Differentiate your home from the competition.
Between the short sale next door and the foreclosure down the street, it’s very tough to demand top dollar for your home when buyers have so many bargains to choose from.
Let’s get one thing straight — this is a competition. When a buyer sees your home, they are choosing between your house and the others on the market in their price range. The home they choose is the winner.
So, how can you spank your home’s competition, real estate-style?
Make your house the place to be. Short sales and foreclosures are notorious for skimping on the marketing. So go all out to get neighbors and buyers into your home and talking about it by having an Open House party that highlights the best lifestyle features of your property. If your home has ocean views, throw a twilight cocktail party. If it’s a great family home in the best school district in town, have hot dogs, a bounce house and face-painting. Be a little over-the-top, and have your Realtor invite the neighbors and the local buyers’ brokers.
Take your staging to the next level. When I show foreclosures to my clients, I generally keep a vat of hand sanitizer in the car and pass it around between properties; that’s just how filthy they can be. You can set your house totally apart from the bargain-basement priced competition by making sure it is only shown in immaculate condition. Bathrooms, kitchens, walls and floors should be pristine, and if you can swing new chic paint and flooring choices, that’s even better. Stage it with tasteful furnishings and decor that depict the uncluttered, space-maximizing life every buyer wishes they could live, even if it means you have to move out in the meantime!
Use incentives to buy some house hunter love. Any expensive lifestyle amenities that you can leave behind, especially house hunter faves like stainless steel appliances and fireplace-mounted plasma TVs, make good buyer incentives your Realtor can tout in your home’s marketing. I’ve even seen sellers offer to park a new Prius in the garage at closing, you know, so that the new buyer can save on gas to afford their new mortgage! (Do check with your Realtor regarding incentive strategies; some items might not be allowed by the buyer’s bank.)
Make your place easier to buy than a short sale or foreclosure. Every homebuyer on the market today knows that doing a deal with the bank can be, how shall we say, less than fun and less than fast. Okay, it can be slow and painful. So, your home’s marketing should let the world know that buying your place will be a smooth, easy deal. If you are in the position to offer any seller-financing or other creative deal structures, like a lease-purchase option, even better — you’ve just expanded the pool of folks who can qualify to buy your home!
#10: Know your power. Understand what you can do to get your home sold, fast and at top dollar.
So much of the drama of selling a home is the sense of helplessness. It can feel like you’re at the whim of the market, prospective buyers and even your local force of Realtors!
Not so — in fact, you have a huge amount of power to control the outcome of your home selling experience. You actually make the decisions that have the most impact on whether your home sells, how fast it sells and what price you get for it.
It’s all about the Benjamins. You and only you get to set the price, and the price is the single most important determinant of how fast and for how much your home sells. Now, look — you know good and darn well from your own shopping experience — both real estate and retail — that a bargain-priced product catches your eye much more quickly than a regular priced product. Everyone wants a deal, so if you want your home to sell quickly, either price it lower than the similar houses on the market or make sure it is tricked out in features that buyers care about to warrant a premium price. The more buyers you lure into your house, statistically-speaking, the higher the price you’ll get for it. If you price your home low, you’ll get more buyers in it and maybe even get multiple offers. Yep, it happens — even in this market, but it usually happens to great homes listed at low prices.
Conditional love. You get to choose what you are putting on the market: a contractor’s special, a cosmetic fixer or a Pottery Barn-chic casa in move-in condition. If your home is in really bad shape, it’s probably not cost- or time-effective to fix it for sale. But if it has one major issue that you can afford to fix, like replacing the roof or trading out the rotten windows with dual-paned, it might just be worth the effort. Talk to your Realtor first about how the repair might get you more money or help you get the place sold at all!
If your home has lots of little handyman projects that need to be fixed — a hinky bathroom exhaust fan that sounds like a lawnmower; scuff-marked walls; or grungy, old-school cabinet hardware — get them done! Homes that are almost “there” are the easiest ones to get some big upside out of a good sprucing up. But do interface with your Realtor on this, and coordinate your spruce up with her staging strategy.
To market, to market. You control how your home is marketed, because you pick your listing agent! Be smart and pick one with a strong marketing plan that has demonstrated success attracting buyers in your area. And don’t ever mentally check out of the marketing process. Until your home is sold, go online periodically and have a look-see at how your home is being presented to web-surfing house hunters. If you don’t like what you see, take it up with your Realtor. They aim to please and will usually work with you to tweak your home’s marketing pieces till they reflect your home in as good a light as possible without using pics of someone else’s house!
See, you have a lot more power over the sale of your home than you thought. Wield it wisely!