Many sellers have not sold a home in a while, if ever, and the process is a bit different today than it was a decade ago. We use these 10 steps to put our sellers at ease in what could be a very stressful transaction.
Nicole Solari is a top-producing broker-owner in Northern California whose regular bimonthly column, which covers real estate marketing, selling strategies and working with clients, publishes on Tuesdays.
Because we strive to provide “concierge-level real estate services” to all clients, we believe hyper-attention to every detail is key to making our clients’ experiences as stress-free and rewarding as possible.
Selling a home is especially stressful because the sellers are expected to keep the home show-ready at all times so that buyers can stop by for showings, often while still trying to live there and possibly purchase their next home. Plus many sellers haven’t sold a home in years, if ever, and things have changed a lot in the past decade when it comes to listing a home.
With all those stresses in mind, we try to spell out every detail for our sellers and prepare them for every possible situation. You can do the same by following these 10 steps.
1. Tell sellers what to expect
Most sellers haven’t sold a property in a while, if ever, so they truly don’t know what to expect. In addition, their decision to sell is a rational one based, primarily, on financial and life goals.
What they often don’t realize is how emotionally attached to “their home” they truly are. Combining an unknown process with a looming emotional goodbye can make even the sanest people crazy. And, crazy is a really not good place to start a transaction.
So, during pre-listing meetings, we try to ensure our sellers understand exactly what to anticipate from the beginning to the end of the preparation and selling process, including the emotional parts — like depersonalizing and staging their home to appeal to people who are not them.
We create a written outline and go over each step of our sales program with them. We talk about preparing the property for sale, including the benefit of having pre-sale inspections and which repairs/upgrades will be necessary and which won’t make financial sense.
We review preliminary comps and the probable sales price range. We discuss general pricing strategy and how the synergy of location, condition and price plays out. We describe likely buyers of their property and the target buyers’ preferences.
We outline how we tailor our marketing so “their buyers” see the property and how it can best be positioned to appeal to them.
Once we take the listing, we describe the timeline for broker tours, open houses and the showing period. And work to counsel them on how they can handle each of these stages of the process to maximize the buyer experience and minimize their own stress.
Despite our best efforts to head them off, emotional outbursts just will occur from time to time. So, we anticipate and train ourselves to handle the occasional meltdown with empathy and calm.
Acknowledging that emotional strain is always the part of the process that seems to help everyone involved, including us.
2. Emphasize that proper pricing is everything
Most sellers want their property to sell fast and for the most money. Price is the No. 1 factor in whether that happens. Property pricing must, of course, always be a mutual decision between agent and seller.
However, this is no time to let your desire to make your seller happy override your knowledge — and what the comps are shouting — about what the right price range for a property is. Pricing isn’t an exact science, and every agent has a preferred strategy for various properties and market conditions.
But you do your seller no service if you let them dictate a price you know to be too high (or too low, for that matter, but that almost never happens).
We’ve all had clients who insist on “testing the market” even after we’ve forewarned them that overpricing a property will likely cause it to be on market longer and to sell for less than if it were priced correctly from the start.
If you cannot talk sellers out of “testing” everyone’s patience, try to negotiate a short period after which the price will dropped by a specific amount and the timing of a second and third price adjustment, if needed.
Make the time between adjustment periods brief and automatic. Finally, if the sellers won’t listen to any form of reason, seriously consider walking away before you commit significant resources to what you know will be a problem listing.
You’ll be doing the sellers and yourself a favor by calmly explaining that you and they simply “aren’t the right fit” and offering to refer them to another seller’s agent (whom you can forewarn).
3. Make sure the property looks its best
The No. 2 contributor to a quick sale is the property’s visual appeal and underlying condition.
Today’s sellers might remember a time when they looked at properties to buy and expected to paint, recarpet and make other decorative improvements to any homes they were considering for purchase.
Today’s buyers have different expectations.
Most have not been brought up helping mom and dad paint the living room or do other DIY projects. So, they have no clue where to start, how long updates might take or how much anything costs.
And, most likely, these buyers have demanding jobs that leave little time for even thinking about home improvement projects. So, they expect to buy move-in ready properties.
The prep work to achieve move-in condition can take weeks or even months. If sellers cannot or will not take care of needed repairs and upgrades — inside and out — it’s your job to let them know the price will have to be lowered significantly to attract a buyer.
Having estimates needed for repairs on hand is also useful.
4. Use professional photography in listings
Today’s “curb appeal” starts with the internet. That’s where more than half of buyers first see a property. So, your listing had better look like it could be “the one” to your target buyer online, or it will never even make their must-see list.
That means property photos need to be of the highest quality, they should emphasize the home’s assets to the max, and they must illustrate how the home flows.
Professional real estate photographers — like savvy stagers — are worth their weight in gold. Cultivate these resources, bend over backward to make their lives easier, reward them, and you’ll look like a hero to your clients when your listing goes into contract quickly and at full (or over) asking price.
You’ll also benefit from having excellent photographs when you start to produce your marketing flyers/brochures, ads, open house marketing and listing/just sold posts on social media and on your own and property websites.
When the property sells, you can provide a disc or album of the photographs to the seller, so they can easily remember their beloved home looking its absolute best. And you can send out gorgeous just sold postcards.
5. Ensure the property is easy — and ready — to show at all times
Here is a marketing maxim worth taking to heart: Make it easy for buyers to do what you want them to do. Translating that to real estate means making it easy for agents to show your listings by ensuring:
- Sellers set reasonable showing times/conditions.
- They leave (and take their pets with them) before every showing.
- Staging is always as it appears in the photos. You can provide sellers photos of how rooms are supposed to look so they can swiftly restore their home to showroom condition before they bug out.
- Lights are turned on before all showings, and the flyer rack is replenished.
Also think about the comfort and ease of the buyers’ agents who have to get their clients in and out of that property smoothly. Make sure lockboxes are visible and accessible! All our agents — especially the women — hate having clients stand by while they bend over (in heels) to fiddle with a hard-to-reach lockbox wedged onto a low pipe behind shrubbery that snags their clothes and hair.
Ultimately, they may emerge victorious, key in hand. But they look like they’ve been in a cat fight! Not an auspicious start.
And, please, please, please, don’t merely forewarn agents about a “tricky lock” in the confidential remarks. Have a locksmith repair, rekey or replace the front door lock, so the lock opens easily.
6. Create a multi-channel marketing plan
Complacent agents post a listing on the MLS and let it auto-populate other national websites (including all their competitors’ sites) and call it a day.
Next-level agents create property websites and/or feature new listings on their own websites. They utilize popular social media such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest along with mass emails to target agents and prospective buyers.
Depending on your town’s habits, you might also need to run ads in print media — if only to ensure your open house is featured on the Sunday tour guide in the hometown and/or regional newspapers.
7. Negotiate sales contracts with extreme care
Ideally, after all this work, you will have multiple offers to present, and your client can select the one that’s best overall (and, hopefully, put the next best in back-up position).
Clients tend to go immediately for the highest offer. To best represent them, it’s up to us, as sellers’ agents, to point out the pros and cons of every offer. A pre-qualification letter from an online or out-of-town lender, for example, might be riskier than one from a local lender with a proven track record of closing deals.
A buyer offering flexibility on closing dates might work better for your seller than one demanding a quick close. Or, a buyer offering an all-cash, no contingency deal might offer less but turn out to be the surest one to close quickly.
Charting every offer’s good and bad points can be very useful in multiple-offer situations, as it facilitates side-by-side comparisons. In addition, being on good terms with buyers’ agents allows for quick conversations before or after offers are drafted so that both sides know where there is flexibility and where there’s not.
Negotiating with the best interests of their seller in mind but seeking a win-win resolution of any conflicts creates an ideal outcome. This maxim applies, as well, to negotiating any requests for repairs (or repair-related price consideration).
8. Make sure buyers are pre-approved by a reputable lender and able to perform
Be in touch with the escrow officer to ensure the buyers’ earnest money check is deposited on time, and ask the office to verify that it has cleared the bank. Be sure to get a verification of funds to close from the lender or separately.
Track contractual benchmarks and the lending progress relentlessly. Because buyers have the right to select the title company/escrow officer in California, our agents make it a point to be on the best possible terms with all local escrow officers. A good escrow officer is invaluable in helping ensure every due date is met and that the loan is on track.
So, if you haven’t met every escrow officer in town yet, make doing so your New Year’s resolution.
9. Attend inspections and appraisals, whenever possible
You have the right, as the seller’s representative, to be present for inspections. You don’t, however, have the right to try to influence an inspector. So be present to listen — not talk, except to ask for a clarification — when the inspector shares the results of a pest, roof, chimney or home inspection.
Should the seller receive a request for repairs, you will be able to guide your seller’s response more effectively if you know exactly how the inspector described every flaw. (And we all know no home is flawless.)
The tolerance of appraisers for the presence of any agent varies from appraiser to appraiser and town to town.
At minimum, make sure you have prominently placed a list of all upgrades and improvements to the property — both visible and unseen — along with your pricing comps where the appraiser cannot avoid seeing them.
And, whenever possible, take that packet with you when you get an opportunity to let the appraiser in and stand by in case he or she has questions.
10. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Sellers hate ugly surprises as much as agents do. So, remind them of what to expect throughout the process. Report all showings and buyer’s agent feedback, the attendance and comments at open houses, when the next showings and open houses are scheduled, and so on.
Be forthright if something is turning off every buyer who sees the property, and address that in any way possible.
Once the property is in contract, prepare a timeline with contractual benchmarks and update sellers regularly on whether those benchmarks are being reached. Communicate with the escrow officer regularly, and keep your clients posted on those conversations.
Monitor the progress of the loan and provide sellers feedback on that. Check in regularly by phone, text and email to see how they’re doing. And seize opportunities to meet with them in person to gauge how they’re holding up and what you can do to make the process smoother.
Sometimes, the only way to get information is face-to-face. Make sure you know where sellers are mentally and emotionally at all times. And you’ll be able to head off most problems before they become deal-breakers.
Finally, accept that there is, unfortunately, no way to make a sale absolutely stress free. But strive to do that in every way you can, and your clients will be singing your praises long after the sale closes.
Nicole Solari is owner and managing broker of The Solari Group in Solano and Napa Counties in Northern California. Nicole runs one of the highest producing brokerages in all of Northern California.