experts: real estate column Tuesday, September 16, 2008

26 Ways To Make Your Home Sell Faster

When selling a home (or anything else for that matter), the marketing effort must be coordinated on all fronts.

By Ozzie Jurock

"Innovation is the creation of the new or the re-arranging of the old in a new way." -Mike Vance, Dean, Disney University

When selling a home (or anything else for that matter), the marketing effort must be coordinated on all fronts. It also must be superior to the competition. This is especially true in a buyers' market where the homes sitting on the market seemingly outnumber the potential home buyers. In such an environment, you must lift your home out from this crowd and highlight it in the best way possible. You must out-think the competition.

So, the market is off by 50 per cent. So what. It's still four times larger than it was in 1982. The key is to get your property placed into the 50 per cent which sells now.

All good marketing efforts begin life as a sound, basic plan and then evolves to fit the particular property and situation. Cut from whole cloth and then tailor-made, such a plan will incorporate innovative new ideas and "rearrange" old ones.

Here then, are a few of these ideas:

  1. Select a Quality Realtor: Based on my travels around the world and as president of both Royal LePage and NRS National real estate companies, I believe British Columbia and Alberta are home to some of the most qualified, professional realtors in North America today. But there are also some who are little more than "order takers" who literally can't properly write out a contract, much less have the hard-won knowledge needed to position your home in the most appropriate and effective way for your particular market. So how do you find such an experienced, market aggressive realtor?

    Ask around. Check with friends or trusted associates and get some names. Experienced names. When selling in today's market, you need to be in the hands of a practicing "doctor" and not someone eager to practice on you.

    Focus on the three best referrals, ask each of these realtors to come out, have them put together a marketing evaluation and then give you his/her specific action plan as to what he/she will do to sell your home. Make sure it's in writing. (If the realtor is "too busy" to physically come and view your home...well, you've just eliminated one name from your list.) Remember: realtors come in a couple of basic flavors. While there are always exceptions, in general a "low-key" yet thorough realtor is best when it comes to helping you buy a home; his or her pragmatic knowledge will help keep your feet firmly on the ground. When selling a home however, look for a high-energy, dynamic realtor whose enthusiasm might be "infectious" enough to enthuse a potential buyer.

    The market evaluation should compare your home with at least three currently active competitive listings, three recent competitive sales and three competitive and now inactive listings which didn't sell. Drive over and check out these benchmark properties yourself to ensure the realtor has put your home in the right "ballpark". If you disagree, find out the reasoning as to why the realtor has so placed your home. The reasons could be good ones indeed. (Or vice versa.)

    Once you've vetted all three choices, go with the realtor whose combination of experience, proven performance and action-plan for your home is the most impressive. But be careful not to confuse impressive with unattainable.

    Ensure your home is listed on the Multiple Listing Service. The more exposure, the better.

    List your home with the chosen realtor for 60 days. If the realtor suggests you list with him or her for a longer period, tell him or her you will renew if, in your opinion, all the realtor's written promises have meanwhile been adhered to and met all the previously agreed upon elements of the action plan. If not, tough luck. Find another realtor.

    Underline to the realtor that you wish to be kept informed of the sales progress at least once a week during the entire listing period. Every time the home is shown to prospective buyers, ensure the realtor informs you in advance and also gives you a feedback as to the viewer's reaction to the home. On the other hand, don't overdo it. Be courteous and be careful not to nag the realtor. When dealing with a professional, be professional.

    If the realtor has failed to keep his or her promises during the listing period, cancel the listing.

  2. Price Your Home Right: Yes, we all need and want the best price, as in the highest price, for our abode. But be realistic. It might do wonders for the ego and daydreams, but a high price tag does little if it doesn't come accompanied with a sale. If anything, it has kept your home effectively out of the market. Once you and your realtor have agreed upon an asking price based upon the aforementioned market evaluation, bring in a reality check. Stand in front of your home and ask yourself: "If I were a buyer, would I pay that price for this place?" Again, don't try and fool yourself. (Fantasy is wonderful, but it won't work with others.) Based on your understanding of the competition, is the pricing realistic? This is particularly important in a market where prices are falling. If you must sell, price yourself at the bottom of the scale. Remember: If you are selling and buying at the same time as in trading up, the buyer's market which demands you sell 10 per cent less also allows you to turn around and buy for 10 per cent less. If you sell your $200,000 home for $180,000 for a $20,000 "loss", you just as likely to buy the $300,000 home for $270,000 for a $30,000 reduction. You're actually better off by $10,000.

    Further to the competition, have your realtor show you through the three aforementioned rival listings and other near-comparables priced both above and below your own home. In one evening, you can view five homes to get a better idea of exactly what you and your realtor are up against. Forewarned is forearmed. If your home is priced right, it will sell. But don't fall into the trap of "following the market down" by pricing your home above the realistic ceiling and then be forced to keep adjusting downward as the market sinks.

  3. Create a "Benefit and Feature" Sheet For Your Home: Reach back in time and remember why you bought the home in the first place. What caught your eye, what appealed to you? Write these reasons down; more often than not, new buyers will also be attracted to these same features. List every good point, every benefit, your property and your neighborhood enjoys. Don't be afraid of putting everything down, even if it stretches out to two or three pages. Today, people want information. Lots of it. Think about the basics and spell them out. A good agent will know the answers already, but nonetheless, these basic features should be highlighted in your feature sheet. Put down ALL the good points, such as: quiet street; a safe and clean neighborhood; well-maintained sidewalks; close to public transportation; close to recreational amenities (list them); close to schools (list them: private, parochial, what levels etc.). Spell out all the conveniences which make your location different. Don't assume a potential buyer is telepathic. Spell it out. Even such things as proximity to hospitals, police station and the firehall are important to people and just might make the difference to tip the scales in favor of your home. Check the zoning. (Your realtor will and should have done this anyway, but it doesn't hurt to be certain.) Has the zoning been changed or will it be changed in the near future? Sometimes a zoning switch-over to "the highest and best use" will and can markedly affect the asking price and lot value. (For example, single-family to high-rise multiple.)

  4. Create a "Pick-Up" Box: Augment the realtor's "For Sale" sign with a open-topped container filled with the above mentioned feature sheets. If a potential buyer happens to walk or drive by, this information could spur him/her into picking up the phone.

  5. Place Your Home on the MLS: If a home is to sell, it must have maximum exposure. The Multiple Listing Service will give it that exposure. As well, ensure your home is put on the Agents Open or MLS Agents Tour so as to educate other realtors as to the home's potential. But two months is all you need to get on.

  6. Circulate the Information: The special feature sheet should be circulated both at your "open houses" and also to all the "competing" real-estate offices in your area. Ninety per cent of all sales are done on a co-operative basis; the property isn't sold by your listing salesperson but instead has been "shopped" by the listing realtor to another realtor's client. Which means your salesperson should be well-connected in your local area and should cooperate well with other salespeople of different companies.

  7. Buy Some Extra Enthusiasm: Human beings almost always act in their own self-interest first. Take advantage of this to promote some extra interest in your own property. Offer something special to encourage realtors to bring in those offers. Depending upon how hard it is to sell your home (higher price, tough area, unique features that appeal to few, future potential versus today's reality), offer extra commission to the realtor who brings in the sale...but only if he or she brings it in at the full asking price. As most offers are invariably lower, it's unlikely you'll actually end up paying the extra commission, but it does work as an incentive.

  8. Too Much of a Good Thing? If you own and are trying to sell many units in a single building, put only one or two of the units on the MLS at the regular commission. Lists the others as exclusive and offer the difference in commission to the selling agent only. Again, appeal to the self-interest, the "what's in it for me?".

  9. Advertise: Consider a cost-effective advertising campaign and review such a plan with your realtor. How big an advertisement? Placed where? How often? Review the ad itself with the realtor and test-market it past a few unbiased friends, associates and so forth. Keep your ego out of it.

  10. Let Nothing Escape the Net: Insist that the realtor presents to you all and any offers that come in, no matter how low or seemingly impossible. If someone is willing to write an offer, be considerate enough to see it. Besides, it gives you a better idea of just how the market is reacting to your property.

  11. First Impressions Do Count: Fix up your home but do it with "resale" in mind: take care of the eye-catching areas and don't waste the effort (and money) on the rest. The first thing a potential buyers sees is the front porch or entrance. Fix that wobbly front step or squeaky door. Repaint the front door, bathrooms and kitchen. Use off-white or general neutral colors only. If the rug is frayed or stained, consider removing them and going with hardwood floors (assuming you've got them and they're in reasonable shape). Again, don't spend a fortune on the remodeling; you won't get your money back. Again, sell the "idea" of the place's renovation potential but don't waste the effort to carry it through and do the actual doing. Let the new owners do it. But with that said, there are certain largish renovations which may add more cost-effective resale value than others. For instance, a tiled backsplash and new cupboard doors in the kitchen. A spiced-up bathroom is another possibility. Studies show that kitchens and bathrooms garner the most attention from would-be buyers. A heat-efficient gas fireplace is another possibility, assuming it can be installed without major structural changes to the house. Forget rec rooms and/or swimming pools. Aside from the cost considerations, most rec rooms have little appeal (read: low ceilings and little light) while swimming pools are costly to maintain and are worrisome to families with small children. Rather than a swimming pool, put the energy into improving the yard or garden area. It's amazing what a bit of weeding and a few shrubs will do.

  12. A Clean, Bright Place is a Happy Face: Clean up the basement areas. Ditto for the stairwells and closets. If you've got too much junk and other indispensable basement stuff piled up, have it stored off-site during the selling period. (Depending upon the amount of stuff being cached, the average storage place costs about $80 dollars per month and can make several thousand dollars difference in your favor on the offer.) Turn up the lights, clean the windows and open the blinds; few people like to live in a dark cave. Especially a cluttered cave. Tidy up the place and clean it until it gleams

    12a. If you have an expensive home and want to bring on special sales action (and are willing to pay for it), consider

    * A Voice Ad on a 1-800 Number for the Public: Put together by either yourself or your realtor, it lets the public hear about your home's unique features in a non-threatening environment. Tie the aforementioned print ad into the 1-800 number. If the listener wants more information, the 1-800 number should also provide the listing agent's or office's telephone number. Or rather than having a machine field the initial queries, hire someone to do exactly that. It makes it all much more human and approachable.

    ** A 1-800 Number/Answering Machine for the Professionals: Periodically upgraded, it allows competing sales agents to call in for details on the special benefit, commission-bonus arrangement on the home. Make it time-sensitive to spur that needed action as in making the bonus offer good only if they sell it that month.

    *** A simple new telephone number with a simple answering machine. Put the telephone number in all your ads, on your sign. The answering-machine ad let's you list all of the features of your home before stating the price. In turn, offer people who leave their name and number a reason to do so. You'll mail them interior shots of your place or arrange a private showing or something similar. It helps to state the date of the next open house to encourage the shy types to drop by. Again, you're trying to build traffic and interest. The total cost to you is really next to nothing: a telephone line and an answering machine.

  13. Spread the Word: Hand out the feature sheet and unique offer/special commission information to everyone you know, including your secretaries, part-time staff and whomever. You never know who the information will get passed on to next.

  14. Persistence Versus the Big Pay Off: Rather than blowing off money for large weekend ads in a single newspaper, run a smaller two-line daily ad in all relevant newspapers. Don't forget the community papers. Quite often, local papers offer a special "province-wide" deal for very little extra cost if you place an ad in 50 (or whatever) co-operating newspapers. This is very effective for out-of-town properties. Be on the look out for new "vehicles" and different ways to advertise your home. For the out-of-town possibilities, try Cottage Magazine, B.C. Outdoors or other cost-effective special interest publications.

  15. When Running Larger Ads... If the ads aren't generating any calls, check the headline. If the headline cannot clearly and concisely state the benefits of the home, that ad won't garner any calls. People want to read about what's important to them; ensure the headline fulfills that need exactly. Avoid single-line headlines. Instead, use two-line or three-line headlines or variations of them repeated a couple of times. When done properly, repetition works. Remember too, positive headlines outpull negative ones. The body copy or message must reinforce and expand upon the headline. Again, put yourself in the mind of the buyer and appeal to the intrinsic self-interest.

  16. Don't be Afraid to be Different: Agents regularly send out "I Just Listed" flyers to other homes in the neighborhood in the hope of engendering new business. Fine, but check out the flyer and make sure he or she lists the special features and special incentives of your home and not just the standard ubiquitous "vanilla-flavored" preprinted card. Add your special offer to it...if there is one. For example "we will include the stove, fridge and riding lawnmower". Be different. Again, you never know who ends up reading this detailed information. And again, nothing succeeds like success.

  17. Test and Re-test Everything: If your home isn't garnering any showings, offers or action, either your advertising, pricing or realtor has something wrong with it or him/her. Reconsider the problem, fix it and then stay on top of it at all time.

  18. Take a Real Interest in the Buyer: Cheer them up by offering a "buy down" on the mortgage. (For example, the actual cost to you to buy down a $100,000 mortgage by two per cent is less than $2,000.) Don't worry about the cost. Instead, work it into the asking price. This allows your realtor to brandish a strong headline trumpeting the abode's special (assumable on approved credit) low mortgage interest rate while costing you nothing extra..

  19. Take a Real Piece Out of the Paper: Offer to pay the legal costs of the sales transaction and (in British Columbia) the one-per cent Property Transfer Tax (PTT). Again, this allows your realtor to promote the deal as something special. Again, consider building the cost into your asking price.

  20. Be with it. Use craigslist.com ... or insist that your realtor uses craigslist.com to market your property. It is the most used bulletin board in the world. Two of our Action Group members used craigslist.com to market four condos they owned in Calgary and had not sold in two months. Craigslist.com found buyers in 48 hours. Also be on any local Internet board available. Most are free. People today surf! It also might attract that foreign buyer.

  21. You'd Think They'd Do It Anyway ... But Make Sure They Really Will: If you work for a large multi-branched company (and you have the pull), have the feature sheet distributed to every twig in the network. If your realtor works for a similarly large concern, ditto. If your spouse, friends, or other helpful types are similarly employed, ditto again.

  22. Is There a Doctor For the House? If your place is relatively old and comes with older appliances, consider offering a fixed-term home warranty program. It's inexpensive to set up and puts the buyer's mind at ease.

  23. Foreign Buyers Need Special Information: If your property appeals to overseas buyers, ensure your agent understands how to deal with questions of feng-shui. (Literally "wind and water", it's the Asian philosophy in which a building's exterior and interior elements, site placement and orientation, landscaping and so forth can and will deeply affect the building's "luck".) The agent should be able to identify - and take advantage of - benefits readily apparent to a feng-shui aware buyer. Benefits, such as the number "8" in a street address, a high vista and an interior which doesn't have a clear line of sight from front door to back. (Any good luck or fortune will flow right out the door.) Conversely, the agent should be aware of any potential problems. For instance, the number "4" is to be avoided (it sounds disturbingly like the word "death") and a home placed on the top of a T-junction is to be shunned. (Any bad luck in the neighborhood will come howling right up the street and into the house.) Don't smile. After all, here in North America there's many a condo tower marketed and somehow built without having the 'benefit' of a 13th floor. Further to foreign buyers, remember to use your corporate contacts as per Tip Number 21.


  24. Declutter and then declutter again. Depersonalize and neutralize. The first items that should go in those packing boxes: family photos, collections and just about anything else that says "you." Show the home from its best possible side. Have people see how they would feel if they owned the home. Developers have show suites and show homes for a reason.

  25. Sell the sizzle. Rather than building a suite in the basement, paint the (clean) basement floor and paint the lines of where a bath, an extra bedroom could potentially go. Let the buyer's imagination do the rest. Add lights along the walkway, put big brass house numbers up and a brass mail box on your door. Kick up the curb appeal. Garden gnomes are a no-no. Front landscaping is what the buyer sees first.

  26. Stage your home! Have a professional come in and help. Stand in the doorway to find each room's focal point, and use furniture placement to highlight that. The back of your sofa shouldn't block the view of the fireplace, for example. Remove any extraneous pieces of furniture. "Re-position" them into another room ... or into storage altogether. A wingback chair that's crowding the family room might help create a nice reading nook in the master bedroom.

FINAL THOUGHTS

There are a number of reasons why homes don't sell: overpriced, poor location, poor condition, intense competition as many similar homes similarly priced are all fighting for attention. Homes that do sell are those that are tended diligently by the professional realtor, are priced right (as in just below the competition) and have something unique about them that attracts the buyer's attention in the first place.

Always remember: This is YOUR house we're discussing.

You have the right to demand an attentive, professional, upbeat realtor, a person who creates a solid, comprehensive action plan (in writing) and does so in a measurable way (number of showings, numbers of interested buyers, etc.). A good realtor keeps you informed all the way. A poor realtor won't. Be a leader. Spell out your expectations to yourself and your realtor. But be realistic. Look around you and ask for the best possible result...but don't demand the impossible. Remember; your realtor and his company will earn about $13,500 in commissions on the average ($800,000) single-family sale in Greater Vancouver. A quality realtor will earn his/her commission in a professional way and for serviced rendered. As a vendor, you have every right to expect this quality service. You also have the right to expect that this professional will sell your home as quickly as possible, for the best price in the given market and with the minimum amount of inconvenience.

Be focused. Insist that your realtor be equally as focused. There is no such thing as accidental success. It's always earned and always comes with a price.

"You have to be very careful if you don't know where you are going because you might get there."
- Yogi Berra

About the Writer
Ozzie Jurock is the president of Jurock.com, Editor of Jurock.com's Real Estate Insider.




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