For Sale: A Realtor’s Manifesto

19 Mar

Rules for selling, written from my position as a former realtor:

First, let’s agree: your home is an asset and this is a transaction. Nothing more.

Your memories of this home do not make it special. Unlike you, a buyer will never utter the phrase, “If these walls could talk…” They will only ask, “Were these walls professionally painted?” (So please, do have them painted by a professional. Don’t try to do it yourself. You can’t hold a straight line, even if you think you can.)

Open houses are generally bullshit. Agents do them to make you feel better and to find new potential clients for themselves, but statistically open houses rarely sell a home. Stop riding your agent’s ass to host one, unless you live in a pedestrian neighborhood and are offering a home that would attract unrepresented first-time home buyers. Otherwise, it’s an exercise in futility.

De-clutter your house. I’m a complete organizational/minimalist freak, yet when it came time to prep my place I was still able to fill a storage unit. Best $150 I ever spent. Best tip ever: eliminate anything that you wouldn’t expect to see in a Crate & Barrel catalog photo. (And yes, that also includes the closets and drawers.)

Recaulk your tub, clean your oven and wipe out your fridge. Your entire place may glow, but if you have a dark spot of mildew on your tub caulking, burnt in grime on your oven window, or milk circles in your fridge, you’re sending a subliminal signal to buyers that you don’t take proper care of things, and they’ll be more inclined to scrutinize the more expensive items (like furnaces and windows).

And I know you don’t need to hear this, but while we’re covering the basics, you’d be surprised how many people screw these up:

  • Put your dirty dishes in the dishwasher – not in an overflowing sink.
  • Make your bed, put your clothes away, and put your dog outside if it normally relies on “piddle pads” to make it through the day.
  • Be sure to flush your toilets when leaving for work in the morning.
  • Put your sex toys away properly. (I once showed an efficiency and when we pulled down the Murphy Bed to check it out, a vibrator flopped onto the floor.)

Remember: you have forgotten all the things you originally disliked about your home. No one likes to admit they’ve settled, so instead you’ve come to terms with the bits that irritated you. You’ve found ways to compensate for your small coat closet, the unfinished basement and the 1980s jacuzzi tub that is in a shape that can only be described as awkward. But remember: it took you years to develop the immunity; to a potential buyer these flaws will be apparent and you must price to compensate.

Speaking of price, let’s get a few things straight:

  1. Shame on you for getting attached to a theoretical number that your home might have been worth at the top of the market. The market has plummeted and qualified buyers now call the shots.
  2. Price realistically out of the gate. You stand to get the most traffic through your home and the best offer when it is a new listing. The longer it sits, the more it starts to smell and attract vultures, looking for a deal. Better to come on strong and negotiate from a position of strength.
  3. Buyers do not care how much you owe on a place. They care how much it is worth. If you price based on your needs, you can assume you’ve priced too high.
  4. When it comes time for price drops, make them count. Dropping the price 1% won’t attract much attention, and you’ll likely have to do that numerous times to get in a range that draws new buyers. Better to get dramatic and do a 5% chop once.
  5. The market will tell you the truth. It’s simple: if you price appropriately, your place will sell; if you don’t, it won’t.
  6. On the off chance that you’re lucky enough to find a buyer born yesterday who will pay your aggressive asking price, don’t get too excited – appraisers no longer just rubberstamp sales prices. Since banks hosed themselves for writing tons of bad loans on inflated home prices, they’ve tightened loan standards and lean on appraisers for truly defensible appraisals of home values. (What that means to you: you can receive an offer for $1m, but if an appraiser values your home at $500k, the bank will not lend a dime beyond that amount so you either must accept the appraised value as your sales price or find a new foolish buyer who doesn’t need a loan.)

And finally, an agent can only do so much. During the listing process, your agent should: help create a pricing strategy (and you should listen), create brochures, place your property on the MLS, put a lockbox on your property, follow-up with showing agents for feedback. I believe that the real job of an agent is to help you navigate the process from the time you receive an offer to the time you go to settlement, not to sell your house – your price will effectively sell your house.

OK. Rant/manifesto done. I needed to get that off my chest. Now that I’m selling my place, let’s see if I can take my own advice.

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