When Dean Comber and his wife put their home in the western suburbs of Chicago up for sale last summer, they didn’t realize how much the market had changed in the two years since they’d purchased it.
“When we bought our house (in 2004), it was a seller’s market, and it was a multiple-offer situation where the house was on the market for two weeks,” Comber said. “We kind of envisioned that was the way it was going to be when we put our house on the market.”
After five months of showings through two agents without an offer, the couple took their home off the market and backed out of the purchase of another home that had been their motivation to sell.
“The word to describe this whole process was ‘nightmare,’ ” Comber later wrote. “We never knew all the intangibles that go into selling a home.”
The story — detailed on Comber’s blog, Homesellerexperience.com — appears to have a happy ending. After putting their home back on the market in March, the couple found a buyer, and hope to close that sale and the purchase of a new home on the same day, June 13.
Comber told Inman News that he started the blog to save other first-time home sellers the kind of grief he went through. An information technology director for a government entity, Comber, 29, said there’s plenty of advice available for first-time home buyers. But information geared toward first-time home sellers is harder to come by.
“Every real estate agent’s site has the same ’10 things to do’ as a home seller,” Comber said. “My goal was to help explain what to expect when things go bad, and how to re-engineer your process and not get frustrated with your agent.”
Although geared for home sellers, the blog can also give real estate professionals a glimpse at the aspects of the process that are particularly mystifying to inexperienced sellers.
“I think I was kind of ignorant about the industry,” Comber said. “I’d heard horror stories from friends and family, about how real estate people didn’t really do anything — they just put you on the MLS and took their commission when the whole thing was over.”
The couple’s bad experience the first time around taught them how important a real estate agent can be, he said, and that one of the keys to a successful sale is choosing the right agent.
Comber, who initially chose the agent representing the seller of the home he and his wife had set their sites on in the summer of 2006 to sell their home as well, advises first-time sellers to be more discriminating.
Interview at least three real estate agents from different brokerages, he said, and ask specific questions that pertain to your situation.
“In my opinion, you should ask questions that fit your needs and are precise per your home, sale price and expectations,” he advises on his blog. “Scenario-based questions are always the best way to put someone on the spot and to see if they can answer them.”
Ask how an agent would revamp the marketing strategy of a home that’s been on the market for three months without an offer, he said. Or how they’d market a house when another similar property is already for sale on the same block. Find out what they’d do if another house suddenly came on the market on the same block for $5,000 less.
The house went back on the market on March 21. This time around, Comber said he had a better understanding of the role real estate agents and the Internet play in marketing a property.
In a February post, “Home Selling and Technology,” Comber complained that his first listing agent’s Web site “looked like something from 1995. The agent was a one-person team and seriously lacked the ability to promote the home through other online resources.”
He was impressed that his second agent was able to market the home locally, regionally and nationally through Coldwell Banker’s Realtor network
“Still, it seemed as if there were more avenues that could have been utilized to promote our home besides the MLS, paper listings and the sign in front of our home,” Comber lamented.
When Comber suggested posting an ad on Craigslist, “The agent looked at me as if I was crazy and said, ‘Umm … What is that? Is that like an eBay thing?’ ” he recounts on his blog. “I didn’t think anything of it, as Craigslist still mystifies some people, but after looking at the enormous amounts of listings, I figured it could only help.”
Comber did end up posting an ad on Craigslist — with an unexpected result. He got a call from a prospective buyer who wanted to purchase the house without paying agent commissions.
“I was hoping to structure a deal with the potential buyer in which I would allow for a lower offer due to the removal of commission fees,” Comber wrote. “I figured since I did the work, why should I have to pay any commissions?”
After consulting first with his attorney and then his listing agent, Comber came to understand that his listing contract obligated him to pay full commission regardless of how a buyer is landed.
“In the end, I wasn’t trying to be greedy … I was just unaware of the full provisions in a listing contract,” Comber said.
One reason the property sold the second time it was listed was that the couple lowered their asking price.
As Comer related in a February blog post, both of the agents they interviewed suggested knocking $10,000 off their original asking price.
“The first agent we interviewed told us to list our house about $10,000 below what we had intended to list it at,” Comber wrote. “We were a little taken back, but we are not professional agents, so our ears were wide open. We both now understand that pricing a home is everything so reducing the price accordingly was an ultimatum. Not thrilled, but we just want to sell the home. We interviewed a second agent who amazingly said the exact same listing price.”
The Combers agreed to list their three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath townhouse for $267,000.
“For sellers, it’s hard to realize the market has changed that drastically in the last two years,” Comber told Inman News. “People look at old sales data, or rely on (inaccurate) appraisals. If you don’t price correctly, that’s a leading cause of not selling.”
Other advice the Combers took to heart on the second time around: a recommendation to pay for a home inspection, and invest in minor details such as painting, cleaning and staging the house. Comber writes about details as small as using seat covers for couches and chairs.
With everything they’d learned about the process, this time the Combers were less anxious.
After their home had been on the market 20 days without an offer, Comber wrote, he and his wife came to realize they had no reason to worry. They weren’t in a financial bind, trying to relocate to another city, or feeling cramped in their home.
“We simply just want to upgrade. With that in mind, we don’t really care how long it takes to sell our home. Keeping our home show-ready is a pain, but we’ve learned to adjust to this factor,” Comber wrote. “We’ve done our research, spoken to many professionals, and hit the Internet looking for answers that have all come to one conclusion: It takes the right person at the right time.”
In the process of selling his first home, Comber learned a lot about the work real estate agents perform to market a house. Part of the learning process took place on the ActiveRain Network, where he created a blog to get feedback from real estate professionals.
Although Comber thought that blog had reached the end of its useful life, he was so impressed by the response from ActiveRain members when he announced he was leaving that he’s considering returning to make the occasional post.
As for Homesellerexperience.com, Comber says he hopes others who find themselves in the same predicament — wondering why their house isn’t selling — will take the site over.