I sold the beach house today, or maybe it was yesterday.
After having been an agent, it was surreal to be at a closing as a principal again. A little history: In 2001 I went through a bad breakup, and my ex and I split the apartment that we co-owned. I took my original equity and bought a little studio in the city, and took my profits and bought a beach house. That "two-home" solution was perfect when I was single, and even when I was married and didn’t work constantly, but for our current lifestyle, hubby and I decided that we needed one bigger place in the city. So we listed the two-family house — which had two fairly messy tenants — in the spring, and just closed now in October.
This sale was in Nassau County on Long Island, which is a part of the country where the market has been soft. Volume in August, the last month for which I can find statistics, was off more than 20 percent from the previous year. And yet I sold! Here are my tips and tricks:
1) Hire a real estate agent that you like. Although my license technically holds for the whole state, I wasn’t going to sell in a county where I didn’t know people. So I looked for an agent, and the agent who had sold me the house seven years before had switched firms a couple of times, and I didn’t know where she was (do you see the mistake here?) So then, I hired my sponsoring broker’s mom. She got her foot in the door because of the relationship, but she got the listing because I also thought she’d be tenacious, and she was.
2) Price according to recent comps. Even before I talked to the real estate agent, I had a friend of mine pull comps from the county MLS so I could pore over them. (Even nonprofessional sellers are doing this more and more, so get used to it). While the city valued my house in the mid-$600s for assessment purposes — and my "Zillow Zestimate" was $636K — the house needed some renovation, and I thought looking at the latest comps that I would be lucky to get $590K. The agent recommended starting at $615K, and I chopped $10K off of that to spark buyer interest.
3) Stick with the marketing plan. Long Island has a strong MLS, but where my house was, there’s also lots of foot traffic in the summer. Cynthia’s strategy was to do a lot of weekend open houses, making a special effort to entice other agents in town. Having started at a reasonably priced $605K, the listing was popular. The open houses pulled in one potential buyer who couldn’t get financing — but more importantly, they made a nice show for our eventual buyers, who had been renting in town waiting for the right house. When they saw how popular ours was, it helped us on the pricing side. (We closed at $598K, 1.2 percent off list and $8,000 over my minimum.)
4) Be willing to say "no." I was luckier than some sellers — if I didn’t get my minimum, I knew I could just get rid of my renters and move into the house myself. Knowing that I had a decent alternative enabled me to chase away the vultures — and there were some — who offered $550K.
5) Keep the end in sight! We had a handshake with our buyers in July, and I optimistically had my lawyer set a contract date of "on or about Aug. 15," thinking I could spend the last two weeks of summer in the house. Well, no, because I had to evict the tenants. As we rolled past our hoped-for closing date, it took good communication between the parties to remember that we had made a good deal, and that we both stood to benefit from it — even though we had to wait two extra months to get there. As a gesture of goodwill, I left the buyers window air conditioners and ceiling fans — and at the closing table, I got an invite to come back to the house when they’re away next summer.
Not every buyer and seller is going to form that strong a relationship — but in these days of volatility, you can’t just make the match and walk away, either. One thing that my agent did that was great was to make the match — selling me on the idea of having cash and selling the buyers on the idea of having that particular house — and then to keep on selling, right through the closing. In high school speech class, they used to say: "Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em, then tell ’em, then tell ’em what you told ’em." My new motto is a variation of that: "I’m gonna sell ’em, and then I’m gonna sell ’em again."
Alison Rogers is a licensed salesperson and author of "Diary of a Real Estate Rookie."
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