Help buyers see the potential of modest homes

Broker Notebook

Modest home image via Shutterstock.Modest home image via Shutterstock.

If you have worked long enough as a real estate agent to have sold a few houses, you have probably sold homes that are unusual or less than perfect. You know that there is a lot more to being a real estate agent than iPads and smartphones.

Most agents don’t just sell pretty houses. People come to us with a variety of interesting properties and situations that we need to make the most of.

We should not be making fun of our clients’ homes or their decorating choices. We should give suggestions to make the home more salable, and then work with what they give us.

I have learned to be very open-minded and creative when it comes to listing and selling houses. As an agent, sometimes I can persuade homeowners to make some changes to help sell their home. Sometimes I cannot.

Sometimes sellers can’t afford to make the changes I suggest, and other times they don’t want to. It’s my job to sell the house, but I don’t have much control over what I am selling.

Early on in my career I sold one of the ugliest houses I have ever seen, and it smelled bad, too.

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The experience taught me to look at houses differently. There was this powder-blue sculpted carpeting in every room, and floor-to-ceiling dark wood paneling. Every room had large religious pictures and statues on the walls.

People are proud of their homes. A client's home may not look like my dream house, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else.

The owners were very proud of their home, and they hated to have to sell it. But they had to move.

I made some suggestions for cleaning, and the sellers seemed pretty enthusiastic. But the house wasn’t very clean when I put it on the market.

I remember how surprised I was. I thought the sellers would be more like those I’d seen on TV — that they’d want to make everything perfect.

But I did my job, and I sold that house.

To get a better idea of what features to highlight, I asked the sellers what had made them want to buy it. They told me they loved the large lot and the walkout lower level. They were proud of their home and of the decor.

So my marketing photographs included several pictures of the oversized lot, even though it was surrounded by a chain link fence and landscaped with a single large tree.

When the house went on the market, I advertised it like it was the most beautiful house I had ever seen. It was a solid little house in a great location, with enough space for a nice garden. A patio could be put right outside the door of the walkout basement, and it would be a lovely place for entertaining.

The blue carpeting was not for everyone. I pulled up a little corner of the carpeting and instructed buyer’s agents to look beneath it to see the pristine oak floors.

I couldn’t be sure what was under the paneling, but I knew from experience that paneling can be removed or painted.

It took about 10 days longer than average to sell the home, but it did sell. The sellers were happy with what they got for it, even though they’d originally thought it was worth more than I told them they could probably get for it.

People are proud of their homes. A client’s home may not look like my dream house, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else.

Sometimes real estate isn’t pretty or good material for a reality TV show. As a salesperson, I am confident that there is a right buyer for every house I list, and when I market them I treat each seller with respect.

I recently witnessed real estate professionals making fun of a photograph that was taken inside someone’s home.

I found myself getting irritated that these real estate professionals would make fun of someone’s home publicly on the Internet. We are supposed to sell houses, not make fun of them.

The photograph was all right, compared to some of the photographs that real estate agents take, but the room in the photograph just wasn’t very appealing.

I smile when I look at some of the examples of great real estate photography. We almost always favor photographs taken in upscale homes with white walls, large rooms and a lot of light.

Pictures that are held up as examples of bad real estate photography are often adequate photos, but they depict small, poorly lit rooms with decor that isn’t very photogenic.

The smallest, least expensive homes are often the hardest to photograph.

It takes some skill and imagination to market and sell smallish, average-looking houses — and to photograph rooms with walls that are dark brown, deep plumb or bright gold. But most agents won’t hire a photographer.

I have seen so many homes that when I go in most homes, I feel as though I have been there before — and maybe I have.

I can drive through any neighborhood in town and point out homes that I have sold. Just when I think I have seen everything, someone shows me something new and different.

I have a unique home coming on the market soon, and the seller is excited about selling it and about my ideas on how I will sell it.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

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