Editor’s note: Meet Tara-Nicholle Nelson at the upcoming Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco, which runs from Aug. 5-7, 2009. She will be available to meet with conference attendees from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 6, in the Palace Hotel’s Ralston Room. Click here to send Tara-Nicholle a message.

I travel a fair amount, and am always curious as to how standard real estate practices vary in other areas. On a recent trip to New York City, I was surprised by the number of buyers who said that it was the norm for buyers to simply work with whomever the listing agent was, and that even buyers who had their own agents had never been in the car with their agents!

While I know this is trending toward the norm in many areas, I’m a buyer’s broker and still do drive my clients around on buyers’ tours. Sure, it’s a high-touch service point, but more importantly, the time we spend in the car between stops is extremely valuable feedback time.

After a viewing, we hop in the wagon and instead of trying to figure out how to get to the next point, my clients spend the time debriefing me on what they saw as the good, the bad and the ugly points of the previous home.

I’ve spent literally thousands of hours in the car with buyers listening to their fresh impressions of thousands of homes. Later, in the course of preparing comparable analyses or writing offers for clients, I often learn how much below or above the asking price the various homes I’ve shown actually sold for.

I’ve done this often enough that I can view or even sometimes just drive by a home and tell you whether it will generate multiple offers, approximately how many, and even pretty accurately estimate how much it’ll sell for.

This sounds like a buyer-side skill, but in fact is a potential treasure trove of insight for sellers who are humble enough to process the information and apply it to their pricing and preparation decisions when they prepare to list their home. As I’ve ranted/raved about in recent columns, there are definitely lots of properties garnering multiple offers these days.

Sellers take note — here are the major characteristics I’ve seen over and over in homes that end up with multiple offers and, as a result, over-asking sales prices:

  • Professional, upscale staging. I don’t just mean your Realtor throwing her castoff ’70s corduroy burnt umber sofa in the living room to make it look habitable. (I’ve seen this, people, so don’t laugh! OK, maybe laugh a little.) Chic, professional staging not only suggests how buyers can make the most of the home’s areas and spaces, it also paints a picture of a clutterless, Pottery Barn-chic lifestyle and positions your home in buyer’s minds as the conduit to that lifestyle — even if the buyer’s reality is more likely to include grape juice stains and kiddie handprints on every stainless steel surface.
  • Well-planned, entertainment-friendly backyards. Properties with a sensibly located exit to a backyard deck or patio that is well-maintained and ready for summer entertaining seem to be especially enticing during the summer house hunting season.
  • Lovely, lush landscaping. Attractive landscaping — whether manicured or intentionally wild — gives a home an oasis feel. Every homebuyer wants to feel like their home is a self-contained sanctuary, even if the plant life around is potted or otherwise not work-intensive. …CONTINUED

  • Buttoned-up feel. Buyers gravitate toward homes that feel really well-maintained, so have a handyman or woman come through and patch, paint, fix drippy faucets and putty little nicks. Otherwise-nice homes that need lots of minor repairs (e.g., crooked drawers, chipped or peeling paint, scuffed walls, etc.) give a distracting impression of shabbiness, even if the home is actually in great fundamental shape.
  • Willing to consider FHA-financed offers. Lots of listings right now are either not in FHA-worthy condition or are being sold by folks who can’t or won’t consider FHA-financed offers. FHA-condition guidelines are not difficult to meet, though, and about 25 percent of all buyers and an even higher percentage of first-time and entry-level-price-range buyers are using FHA loans. Even if the highest offer is not FHA, more buyers equals more offers equals more money.
  • Low pricing for the house. If the price looks like a great deal when compared to the similarly priced competition, buyers will come. When buyers come, offers come — the more buyers, the more offers. And the more offers come in, the higher the sale price you’ll get.
  • Accessible for showing. Homes that are vacant and can be shown on no notice are buyer-broker favorites. Short notice also works. If there’s a tenant who needs 24 hours’ notice or if you, the seller, make it tough to show by hard-to-get appointments, you can pretty much forget about multiple offers.

Fortunately, there’s a legitimate shortcut for sellers who want to incorporate as many as possible of these elements into their approach to selling their home, but actually have a job or a life and recognize that they won’t or can’t do everything. When you interview listing agents, ask them to provide their recent listings’ list-price-to-sale-price ratio.

In other words, does their average listing sell for below or above the asking price, and by how much? What is their experience of obtaining multiple offers?

If you are selecting your listing agent at least in part based on their track record of obtaining multiple offers and over-asking sale prices, there is one catch: When they give you their advice on pricing and staging your home, listen. Their expertise is totally worthless if you don’t use it!

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 or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.


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