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.
Sellers generally think their homes are perfect as is. And even if they’re not perfect, they’re “special” and should sell at a premium.
Buyers think anything that doesn’t conform to their mental picture of the “perfect house” should, of course, be “repaired” by the seller or the price reduced significantly in lieu of “repairs.”
There’s really only one way to avoid the inevitable clash of these viewpoints. You have to convince the seller it is to their benefit to correct structural defects as well as doing cosmetic touch ups — preferably in advance.
Unfortunately, the time and cost of prepping a house for market often makes this an uphill battle. But there are three moments in a transaction where your chances of success soar.
1. Right after the pre-listing walkthrough
This is the optimum moment to convince sellers to get pre-sale inspections and fix structural problems before sellers do cosmetic touch-ups. Economics are on your side. (Tearing out newly painted walls to fix a plumbing leak and then repainting the walls is expensive!)
And market realities are on your side. Buyers expect the homes they buy to be near perfect, so they can panic (and run) when structural or systems issues are discovered. Sales fail for all kinds of reasons — most of them uncontrollable by sellers. But troubling inspection reports are a totally avoidable failure point.
Plus, good reports are marketing gold!
2. Before finalizing the list price
Updated “perfect” houses sell for more than notably imperfect ones do. And they sell faster. Higher prices and faster sales tend to be high on sellers’ wish lists. So, when you’re discussing a potential listing’s price range with your sellers, you can position price points as a function of condition — because they absolutely are.
It’s always worth asking what problems sellers know they have (and ensuring they list them on seller disclosure forms). But, even if sellers are clueless, agents generally have a sixth sense about how likely any given home is to deliver unwelcome inspection surprises.
The more likely you suspect unseen issues will be, the harder you may want to push for pre-sale inspections and repairs. Even if you can’t persuade sellers to take preemptive action, discussing condition issues in depth helps sellers set more realistic listing prices for their properties, which increases the odds of a faster sale.
3. When the post-inspection request for repairs arrives
Although you should absolutely take your best shot at getting repairs addressed in advance, you might not succeed. Maybe your seller has had a long list of upgrades done before calling you.
Maybe your seller is broke. Or maybe your seller is just stubborn. Regardless, once an offer comes in, you need to discuss with your sellers what the inspection contingency period means for them (Hint: agonized waiting.)
Sellers will need to keep everything decluttered and sparkling clean. And sellers should make it super easy for inspectors to find and get to the property’s structural components, attic and crawl space access points, and the HVAC, water heater, electrical, and other systems. The seller, agents or both should be present for all inspections in case inspectors have questions (like where the electrical panel is).
Regardless of how tidy and accessible it is, however, no home is perfect. So, forewarn sellers that every inspection report will be a litany of imperfections.
When the reports come in, if your seller wouldn’t do pre-listing inspections and repairs, you’d better pray that the buyer’s agent is able to keep his or her clients focused on important issues and not small stuff. Your job, meanwhile, is to keep your seller calm when the nearly inevitable request for repairs (RFR) arrives.
If, as intended, the RFR asks seller to address serious structural or systems issues discovered by the inspectors, you have to have prepared the seller for that possibility.
Most sellers understand that such issues will have to be remedied before a sale — if not to this buyer, then to the next one — because the inspection findings will have to be disclosed to any future buyer. And the price will have to be adjusted, a credit given for repairs or remedial work completed before the property will sell.
If, on the other hand, the buyer’s RFR demands a price reduction of some random number to cover a bunch of nitpicky, punch list-type items, those tend to make sellers mad. Let them be as mad as they need to be while you figure out how to address the itemized “issues” as inexpensively as possible — if at all. Then, do what you must to save the deal.
Of all the negotiating agents do, guiding sellers to make repairs is among the times when we really earn our keep. In a recent Zillow survey of selling stress points, addressing repairs was among the highest-stress aspects of the selling process. What most sellers don’t realize is this is a major stressor for agents and buyers, too. Everyone hates waiting for inspections to be done and reports to come in just as much as sellers do.
So, it’s worth a little extra effort to mitigate that stressor however you can. Everyone involved will thank you.
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.