Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sell Your Home

Revelations of a first-time home seller, by Tara Nicholle-Nelson, of Trulia:

1. Beware the endowment effect. Behavioral economics researchers have found that humans on the whole tend to overestimate the value of things they own, compared with the value the market will actually bear for those things. This creates a perpetual disconnect between what buyers will pay and what sellers expect to receive. It’s no different with our homes than it is with our cars and other belongings.
  • Well, there is one difference - if you overprice your home, it can ultimately cost you a lot of money in terms of:
  • buyers who never find your home online,
  • buyers who see your home online, but never come to see it, because it’s not as nice as other homes in their price range, and
  • low-ball offers that happen when your home has lagged on the market longer than it would have had it been correctly priced. 

That’s why we rely so heavily on the comparable sales data, which reflects the actual prices actual buyers recently paid for actual homes in the neighborhood.

When I was selling my own first home, not only did I rely on the data, I also had friends and colleagues who were real estate agents come in and check it out to give me their feedback on pricing. And because I was selling it myself, I was also able to glean the feedback from prospective buyers themselves as to what they thought about the home and its price. This sort of feedback is available to every home seller, in the form of CMAs and home price estimates that prospective listing agents will create for you, as well as the feedback your agent can collect from buyer’s brokers.

The challenge is to know the bias exists, to understand how critical it is to overcome it and then to commit wholeheartedly to overcoming it by paying attention to the data, listening to feedback and course-correcting as necessary.

2. You only need one offer. When I first put my first home on the market, I acted as cool as a cucumber, but was an emotional wreck on the inside. The days of crazy multiple offers were gone, but homes were still selling at a pretty brisk pace. A week went by, then another, and it became pretty clear that despite my great pricing and brilliant staging (!), I was likely not going to be inundated with a flood of offers anytime soon. Right around the fourth week on the market, though, I got a call from an agent who had shown the home independently – and they wanted to make an offer.

When your neighbors are getting dozens of offers, or when it seems like every town in the country is riddled with multiple offer scenarios and yours is not – here’s a helpful reality check: with every home sale transaction, there is ultimately only one buyer and one seller, in the final analysis. You don't need loads of offers or floods of buyers. You only need one.
Your job, as a seller, is to work with your agent to:
(a) understand everything you can about who your home’s eventual buyer is likely to be, and
(b) price and market it in a way that maximizes the chance that one buyer will actually see it and realize that it fits their wish list.

3. Don’t just market, message. Marketing is about preparing your property beautifully and describing it to its best advantage online and off, making sure there are abundant, good photos of the home on all the websites frequented by buyers in your area, that there are flyers in the drive-by box and that all the buyer’s brokers in your area are exposed to the property. Marketing is about holding Open Houses, if that’s the norm in your neck of the woods.

“Messaging,” on the other hand, is about making sure that these materials and your home’s online presence are flush with content – messages – about why your home is a great choice for the types of buyers who will likely be looking for it. For example, messaging might involve:
  • Detailing with some precision the convenient commutes optimized by your home’s ease of access to 3 freeways within a mile, by the fact that X subway station is at the end of the block, or by the fact that the place is located within 3 miles of the local university and 5 other major employers in your area.
  • Describing floor plan or layout advantages that might be rare in your area and would be attractive to an older buyer or an extended family, like the fact that your home has a level-in entry (no stairs to the front door) if that’s unusual in your area, or that it has a complete bedroom and bathroom suite downstairs (which someone who wants to move an aging parent in might appreciate).
  • Highlighting any major remodeling work that has been done, which is a selling point to a wide variety of buyers who strongly prefer to move right in.
  • Work with your agent as they write up the listing description for your home, and focus on saving characters by eliminating words like “charming” and “cozy” in exchange for creating more meaningful messages of this sort.
In the end, my first home was purchased by an adult brother-sister pair, who were attracted to the water views, the brand-new kitchen, the uber-convenient commute to very different parts of the Bay and – the deal-maker: the fact that each could have their own suite on their own floor: all of which was “messaged” in the listing and marketing materials.

4. You are not your house. Selling your home without going entirely nuts simply requires you to grow thicker skin. The endowment effect makes it likely that you’ll feel like you’re getting less than your home is worth, your agent and/or stager will likely come through and pull out half of the belongings you think are amazing and beautiful (yes – including your sequined butterfly mural) and you might even get incoming feedback from buyers and buyer’s brokers that is somewhat less than complimentary.

All this can feel like you’re taking a beating right where it really hurts, on the subject of the home that’s been good enough for you and yours for all this time – the home you’ve possibly invested much of your time, personal taste and money into.

So, walk into the home selling process with a thick skin - an unkind comment about your home is not a personal attack on you, no matter how much it might feel that way. Understand that every critique or dig you hear about your home is a step on the path to getting it sold so you can move forward with your life. In fact, some might even be made as negotiating ploys - and have very little to do with your home at all!

Again, this process of selling a home is largely a process of finding the buyer for whom your home is a right fit; you might find it helpful to think of those who dislike it as just getting you one prospective buyer closer to the one for whom it will be the perfect fit.

If it’s at all possible to show it vacant or to have it shown while you and your family are away from the home, that is ideal. Not only is it ideal for you and your emotions, it’s ideal for the buyers as well. Serious buyers like to be able to walk through a property and discuss it, visualize their life there, and start sorting through how they would make it their own, with only their agent and family present - without having to worry about how you’ll take their comments.
I had moved out of my first home into my next one before I put that place on the market, which also made it easier to do some of the property preparation projects - including a kitchen overhaul - before listing it. If you can’t or don’t want to do that, though, at the very least allow your agent to put a lockbox on the property and offer a simple way for buyer’s brokers to let you know when they plan to show the property.

At Open Houses for my first home, I heard buyers say it was too small, too fragmented a floor plan, lacked the deck it should have to take advantage of the views, lacked a backyard, was too green - and the list goes on. And those things were probably all true, from their individual perspectives. Turned out, some of the things they disliked were the very things that attracted the family that eventually bought the home.

5. Only worry about the levers you can pull. The three major levers that you, as a home seller, have the most power to pull are simple: price, preparation and marketing. You control the list price, you control how your home is primped and staged for sale, and you control the agent who is responsible for marketing and messaging your home to prospective buyers. So, focus your efforts on doing those three things wisely. Anything else has the potential to create panic and fear - and panic and fear are completely counterproductive to your efforts to make smart, logical decisions.

During the sale of my first home, while I was waiting for an offer, my mind went to some very dark places. I started to doubt everything: maybe the location was too off-the-grid, maybe the square footage wasn’t as ample as it had seemed to me, maybe the lack of a deck was really a deal-breaker, maybe I had wasted thousands of dollars on that kitchen remodel - maybe the whole town was just “out.”

As my mind spiraled in that direction, I had to force myself to get a grip with the knowledge that even if any of these absurdities were true, there was not a single thing I could do to change any of them. I couldn’t change the market. I couldn’t make buyers appear out of the woodwork. All I could do was price the place competitively, prepare it beautifully, market it thoroughly and place the right messages about it in the right places to the right buyers. So, that’s what I did. And you know what? It worked.

Friday, October 5, 2012

5 Surprising Buyer Turn Offs

1.  Pools. Twenty years ago, having a pool was seen as a luxurious amenity - almost a status symbol that you had made it, if your home had one. Fast forward a couple of decades, though, and many home buyers are turning down homes specifically because they have a pool.
There are a couple of core buyer subgroups who love pools: people who live in places where summers are super hot and people who really like to swim. But those buyers are vastly outranked in number by these other subgroups: 
  • people who know they won’t swim enough to use a pool, and think that maintaining one would just be a waste of their time, energy and money
  • people who would rather have a yard, and are looking for homes in areas where they either have a pool or a backyard - but not both, and
  • people who have young children and see a pool as a safety hazard.
If you happen to have a pool, your best bet is to market your home as best you can to those buyers who truly want one, and to mitigate the perceived negatives of pool ownership by being both pragmatic and creative:
  • ensuring the pool has a well-functioning fence and cover, 
  • staging the rest of the backyard in a way that maximizes the non-swimming activities a buyer will see as possible in the outdoor space, and/or 
  • offering to pre-pay for a year of the buyer’s pool maintenance as an incentive of the home sale transaction.
2.  Your stuff.  Yes - your taste is immaculate. But it’s your taste. What buyers are really looking for when they come to view a home is a palate on which they can envision easily applying their tastes. Accordingly, a primary goal of smart home preparation is depersonalization or neutralization, simply removing most or all of the personalized touches that make your home reflect you unless they are also neutral enough that any buyer, from any age group or cultural background can step in and put their mind’s eye to work at filling in what the place would look like if they lived there.
That said, it’s also entirely possible that your things might not be as attractive, nice or tidy in the eyes of a buyer as you perceive them to be. In the same vein, the tchotchkes, knickknacks and memorabilia that you see as cozy and warm are highly likely to be seen by buyers as dumpy clutter. I have personally been in homes with a number of buyers where the fact that the sellers still had so much stuff or such bad stuff throughout the home distracted the buyers from appreciating the property’s true potential, and what it might be like if they simply made some cosmetic edits and redecorated.
We've talked a lot over the years about the idea of simply pre-packing, staging by boxing up everything but the very most basic daily essentials and get them ready to move - some sellers find that to be a much more effective way to think about the project of decluttering.  Also, you can reset your own perspective on what you need to get rid of or move out to put your home on the market by visiting professionally staged Open Houses, hiring a stager just for an hourlong consult or even asking your agent to walk through your home and stick mini-Post It notes on things that need to be moved out before the listing goes live.
3.  Carpet.  Obviously, old, dirty, pet-impacted and bizarrely colored carpets (red?!) are not a draw for buyers. But this generation of home buyers takes the carpet conundrum even further, exhibiting a distaste for carpet - period. Concerns about the relative difficulty and expense of cleaning carpets, to the cost of replacing them when you want a decor change, to the tendency of carpets to hold pet hair, mites and other allergens that may impact family members with respiratory issues are, collectively causing carpet to fall out of favor with today’s home buyers. 
The majority of home buyers express a desire to have hardwood floors in their next home; other hard floor surfaces, from bamboo to tile to concrete to cork, are rapidly outpacing the popularity of carpets (though some buyers do still prefer the softness and warmth of carpets in their bedrooms). 
If you were thinking about replacing your carpets before you put your home on the market, consider replacing at least the living and dining areas with hard wood or a similar finish.  And if your home has carpet over hardwood, talk with your agent about exploring the idea of ripping it up - it might not be as expensive to repair or refinish as you think, and in many areas, buyers prefer even an imperfect hardwood floor over nice carpets.
4.  Gold bathroom fixtures.  Gold bathroom fixtures are part of a larger category of buyer turn-offs perhaps best described as things that are old, but not old enough to be vintage, retro, classic or historic. As a general rule, this includes household appliances, finishes and decor that dates from the ‘70s and ‘80s, give or take a decade, depending on where you’re at. For instance, the popularity of Mad Men has driven a massive amount of interest in all things mid-century modern, bringing the 50’s and 60’s decor and design aesthetics that just seemed plain and old when I was a child back into vogue - but somewhat more in urban than suburban taste zeitgeists.  
This means that those goldenrod refrigerators and wallpapers with marigold, orange and avocado floral patterns are decidedly passe. Similarly, gold bathroom and lighting fixtures, popular in the 80s and 90s are seen as dated by buyers, who much prefer sleeker, matte-er stainless, brushed chrome and even bronze or white finishes where metal finishes are necessary.  Is this just another trend? Yes.  But replacing gold bathroom finishes and recessed lighting can covers is relatively inexpensive to do; touch base with your stager or agent regarding whether they think these micro-home improvements will make much of a difference with buyers in your area and your home’s price range.
5.  Elaborate gardens and/or vast landscaping.  A huge backyard seems like it’d be a big draw.  So do the flower and botanical gardens that the seller obviously spent hour upon hour designing and tending to. But they also seem like a lot of work to today’s time-strapped and cash-conscious buyers. Not long ago, a buyer I know actually de-prioritized a home they otherwise loved, because it was surrounded by an enormous Japanese garden, bonsai's and all, that the buyer admired, but knew they could and would never be able to care for.  Same can go for elaborate, high-maintenance food gardens or even super-large front and backyards: some buyers simply know they don’t or won’t put the time, money and water into their care, so would rather not take them on.
Nothing about this should stop you from creating such an outdoor space if that is part and parcel of the lifestyle you want to live in your home. But it should be a factor you consider if you are concerned about reselling your home in the near future, and it might impact how you market your home if it has any of these sorts of features. If you have a miniature botanical garden at your home, why not find out if the local botanical garden or garden society has a newsletter you can place an ad in? If you have bees and chickens in the middle of Chicago or the heart of L.A., is there an urban farming club or blog that reaches that audience?  
Work with your agent to research where local buyers who would love your home’s unique or high-maintenance features, then market your home to them via publications, websites or organizations in which they already participate.  Once you understand that the average buyer might find these features to be less-than-desirable, it’s time to get creative about finding the buyer who will find them to be just what they've always wanted.

Source: Trulia

3 Ways to Turn Off a Seller

Top 3 Ways to Turn a Seller Off:  Buyers, if you want a home’s seller to play ball, best practice is to avoid these 3 pitfalls:

1. Unjustified, extreme lowball offers: It’s no secret that buyers have the upper hand in many markets right now. (To be clear, I said ‘many’ - not ‘every’ - your agent can help you understand what the dynamics are in your market.) But let’s be realistic, here. No seller can afford to give away their home at a price far below what it’s worth on today’s market. Lowballing a seller at a price far below the recent sales prices of similar homes in the neighborhood on the ‘let’s-take-a-stab’ plan, is highly likely to turn them off.  And that, in turn, will cause the seller to view your offer - and you - as disrespectful and wasteful of their time.

Not only will they turn down your offer, but they may not even bother with a counteroffer, rendering your efforts at securing that particular home dead in the water.

Buyers: Review the recent sale prices of similar homes in the neighborhood (aka “comps”) with your agent before you make your offer. Also, ask them to help you factor in other market data, like the average list price-to-sale price ratio and the average number of days neighborhood homes stay on the market. It’s all right to come in lower than asking, if the market data supports such an offer; just be sure your offer is based on reality - and not your fantastical hallucination about scoring the bargain of the millennium.

2. Buyer-side mortgage fails: Plenty of employed buyers with decent credit and cash in the bank have been turned down for a mortgage these past few years. That means buyers can’t assume (a) that they’ll be approved for the amount of loan they need to buy the house they want, or (b) that they’ll be approved for a loan at all. Your inability to get approved for a home loan can create all sorts of problems not just for you, but also for your home’s seller. The average seller’s  worst case scenario is that  they accept your offer only to find out a few weeks, or months, later that you can’t get the loan you need to close the deal.

Buyers: It’s not overkill to start working with a mortgage professional as far as six months or a year in advance of starting your house hunt to get pre-approved for a loan. Make sure you get a clear understanding of the amount you qualify for, then work with your real estate agent from there to determine the price range you should house hunt in. And whatever you do - don’t buy a new car, open new credit cards or even change your line of work before your escrow closes, unless you consult closely with your mortgage professional before you make that move.

Tip for Sellers: Work with your agent to vet buyers before you sign a contract. Factor in their down payment and earnest money deposit, and feel free to counteroffer these items, not just the offer price. It’s not overkill to have your agent contact the buyer’s mortgage broker to see how reliable the buyer’s pre-approval really is.

3. Bashing the seller’s home: Home bashing happens when buyers start bad-mouthing (aka “trash talking”) the place and/or the neighborhood in hopes of getting a lower asking price. Examples: pointing out all the foreclosures in the area, saying the house down the street just sold for much lower than the asking price on this house, saying you’ll need to rip out the entire kitchen before you even consider moving in - saying any of these things to a seller who happens to be at home during the showing or the inspection is probably one of the fastest ways to turn them all the way off.

Buyers: Bad-mouthing a house or neighborhood won’t work to get you a lower price. Instead, it only serves to irritate the seller and motivate them to come up with all sorts of reasons why they shouldn’t sell their home to you! Remember: homes hold incredible emotional experiences for owners. Make an offer you’re comfortable with and keep the negative comments to yourself.

If there are legitimate, factual reasons underlying your decision to make an offer at a price the seller might see as a lowball, ask your agent to respectfully communicate those facts to the seller’s agent.

Source: Trulia

3 Ways to Turn Off a Buyer

Top 3 Ways to Turn a Buyer Off:  If you’re a seller courting buyers, here are 3 faux-pas to avoid:

1. Hanging out when buyers are viewing your home: Buyers stalk properties online and off, checking obsessively for price reductions and the like.  But buyer-side home stalking is unobtrusive to sellers. On the other hand, buyers can feel personally stalked and stifled in their ability to fully explore or verbally process their impressions of a home when you, seller, hang out inside your home while it’s being shown.

As soon as a buyer sees you in the house, it instantly becomes much more difficult for them to:
(a) envision themselves living there (it’s your house, after all),
(b) be comfortable opening up drawers, closet doors, etc., and
(c) express their thoughts about how this house might be exactly what they’re looking for, if they can knock out that wall and get rid of those cukoo murals you so lovingly painted in your children’s rooms.

Sellers: If you want to sell your home, it’s best to not be around when buyers are looking. Give them some breathing space and a chance to truly walk around and consider what they like and/or dislike about your home without lurking and looming (and, let’s be real - eavesdropping) nearby.

2. Showing a messy house: Life gets hectic, and it’s easy for things like laundry, dishes and other house cleaning tasks to fall by the wayside. It’s also difficult to keep the home in which you and your 4 kids, 3 gerbils and 2 Labrador Retrievers live perfectly spotless for months at a time, while you’re waiting for an offer. But when you decide that you’re going to sell your home, it’s imperative that you make a pact and a plan with yourself and your family that the place will be in tip-top shape when buyers come knocking.

Remember: your home is competing with dozens of others, as well as with buyer’s HGTV-infused visions of what their next home should look like, so first impressions really count.

Sellers: Stuffing the closet is not the answer. (Buyers will be opening that closet door, after all.) Pack up your personals like you were moving (best case: you are), and put all but the essentials in storage, if needed. Get the carpets cleaned, do the dishes, make the beds, mow the lawn, dust, sweep and mop. Ask your agent to give you a gut check on whether your idea of clean is clean enough (better yet - ask them for the number of a house cleaner who you can engage to get the job done to showable standards).

This might all seem obvious, but agents and buyers alike are constantly amazed at the condition of some of the homes they walk into. Take my word for it; I’ll spare you the ‘ewww’-inducing stories.

3. Overpricing your home: Buyers already have lots to do before making the largest purchase of their lives. They have to wrangle their finances into order, jump hoops to qualify for a loan, collect the cash for down payment and closing costs, and invest sometimes hundreds of hours into market research and house hunting. With all of this already on their plates, the prospect of trying to negotiate down a crazily high asking price is just too much work (and too outside their comfort zones) for most buyers to deal with. The average buyer won’t even bother looking at your home if the asking price is clearly high and off base compared with other similar, nearby homes for sale; they’d rather sit tight and wait .

Sellers: Price to sell from the beginning. Work with your agent to determine a price that is supported by the data on how much nearby homes have recently sold for. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and anguish and get a lot more legitimate bites from serious, qualified buyers.

Source: Trulia