Q: I need to get my home sold — now. It‘s in great condition, but it has been sitting on the market for months. I‘ve reduced the price to where my Realtor thinks it should be. Do you have any out-of-the-box suggestions for moving my house?
A: Welcome to the wonderful world of real estate in 2008. You are not alone — sellers across the country are struggling to figure out what they can proactively do to unload their homes. I’m assuming that you’ve surfed the Web and followed all the typical suggestions about sprucing up curb appeal, making sure your place smells nice, and so forth. If you haven’t, do that first. I’ll also assume that you know how long homes take to sell in your area — if you don’t, ask your Realtor for the average number of days a home like yours stays on the market. Without this information there’s no way to know if your home is actually lagging on the market or if it is taking the normal amount of time in your area to sell.
The majority of my personal real estate clients are buyers; these days, I’m showing upwards of 50 houses a week. From my personal experience actually standing inside a huge number of homes with a huge number of buyers and working with them all the way through the home-buying process, I have seen which strategies work and which ones don’t — and I’m happy to share some strategies you might not have heard before. To position your home better for sale, though, you first should reposition your understanding of the nature of your task.
When you embark upon the adventure of selling your home, you took on the temporary job as a marketer/salesperson. Your Realtor recommends and executes much of the marketing strategy, but there are a number of core decisions involved in getting your home sold, of which you are the sole arbiter. For example, pricing is the single most impactful determinant of whether or not your home sells, and how quickly. You are the ultimate pricing decision-maker.
As the chief marketer/sales decision-maker of your home, you must do as professional marketers do, and get inside the minds of those to whom you are marketing: home buyers. What are their wants, needs, priorities and concerns? What are the ways you can position your home to resolve or address these issues? Because your home is probably your single largest and most important asset, it is easy to get wrapped up in what you need to get out of the sale. In this market, though, when buyers are hesitant and tons of low-priced foreclosures and short sales are your competition, you must go above and beyond to address the needs of prospective buyers if you want to make your home stand out from the crowd and get sold.
A primary concern among today’s buyers is that they may not be able to get financing. In fact, I find that buyers often erroneously disqualify themselves; they think that obtaining a mortgage will be more difficult than it actually is. As a marketer, your job is to position your home to overcome buyers’ perceived obstacles to buying your home, including financing concerns. I often see articles advising sellers to simply finance the homes for buyers to resolve this issue; however, most sellers who have an urgent need to sell are simply not able to do so because their mortgage loans must be paid off upon sale, or there is no equity in their home, or they need the cash from the sale to move into their next home. While seller financing may be unrealistic, there are other ways you can facilitate financing for buyers considering your home.
Another thing buyers today respond strongly to is a home with a strong emotional pull. These days, so much of the news about real estate and the average buyer’s experience of the home-buying process is centered around finances, market considerations and negotiating that I find even the most hard-core, business-focused buyer who has pledged to never fall in love with a house will find all hesitation fall away and overcome her own objections to buying if she has a strong reason to love a particular home.
Finally, in order to get your home sold, you must successfully reach not only buyers, but also buyer’s brokers. In the olden days (e.g., 2005), the California Association of Realtors used to say that more than 80 percent of qualified home buyers were represented by buyer’s brokers and agents. As the market has grown more complex to navigate, financing has grown tougher to secure, and buyers have grown more apprehensive, I would hazard a guess that the percentage of buyers who are using Realtors has increased.
Here are my three suggestions of solutions to get your home sold without further ado, by addressing buyers’ concerns about financing, helping them feel an emotional pull to your home, and making it more attractive to buyer’s brokers:
1. Show buyers how to finance your home and guide them to down-payment assistance. Buyers with decent qualifications who just don’t have a lot of money for a down payment can often finance a home with no money down — even on today’s mortgage crunched market — by pairing a government loan, such as an FHA loan, with a down-payment assistance program. Some down-payment assistance programs are specific to first-time home buyers; others, like Nehemiah and AmeriDream will give any buyer 1-6 percent of the purchase price for his or her down payment so long as you, the seller, agree to match that gift in a grant to the organization (the grant comes out of your proceeds at escrow; you don’t have to write them a check or anything.)
Market your home as a participating home in Nehemiah or AmeriDream, and make sure that your property fliers include the contact information of a mortgage broker who is familiar with these and other down-payment assistance programs. The fliers should also include some 95 percent and 100 percent financing scenarios, including interest rates, payments and any assumptions on which the scenarios were based. Your Realtor can help you ensure that the sales price you agree to accounts for the grant you will need to make to the down-payment assistance program, if any.
2. Help buyers fall in love with your house. I’ve seen buyer’s respond very well to love letters and care packages left out by sellers. Write a letter, explaining how and why you fell in love with the house; tell stories of how your family lived well in it; and tell buyers about the neighborhood amenities and events that you walk to or participate in. If you have favorite neighborhood vendors, list their contact information and include notes about 80-year-old Zelda who runs the dry cleaner on the corner, and insider tips, like where you can find secret parking spaces for the farmers’ market on Saturday. And buyers love to see a care package that includes marked-up menus from the neighborhood restaurants and take-outs, old utility bills to give them a ballpark estimate, and appliance manuals — it makes them feel like their lives will be just that little bit easier when they move in.
If you’re a tech type, considering doing a love letter in YouTube video form, too, and adding that link to your home’s Web site and online marketing.
3. Make it easy and advantageous for buyer’s brokers to show and sell your house. As a buyer’s broker, for every 50 houses I show, I pass up hundreds more. Many of the homes on the market now are either bank-owned properties or are otherwise vacant. Vacant homes are very easy for me to show — no appointments necessary, and my clients don’t have to visualize the place around funky furniture or bite their tongue when verbally processing what they are seeing. If at all possible vacate your house, or ask for no more than a voicemail message notification of showing. If there are 10 homes similar to yours and yours requires an appointment to show, and especially if that appointment is tough to make, chances are that yours will just not get shown and, accordingly, will not get sold. Similarly, complicated instructions about what to do with your pets (e.g., leave the gray cat in, the black dog out, and the purple ferret in the fridge) make me less likely to show your home unless it is uniquely suited to my clients’ needs.
If you find your home not being shown as much as you’d like, also consider offering a buyer’s broker incentive. Properties that offer 4 percent commissions or significant bonuses for being sold by a certain date do attract more buyer-broker interest.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook," and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online.
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