Q: My husband and I are baby boomers and have just downsized by purchasing a home at a good price in a 55+ community.
Our current home is 20 years old, has four bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, and is on a half-acre lot in a fairly upscale suburban bedroom community. The house has been on the market since the beginning of June and it is listed with a discount, though full service, Realtor. We’re paying a 3.5 percent commission.
We have had over 60 showings and besides some negative comments about two rooms with wallpaper, the local Realtors have said the house shows “good” to “excellent.” We have been on a few people’s “short” lists, but we’ve had no offers.
Other similar homes nearby listed in the same price range have sold. My question is whether we should take the house off the market now (and remove wallpaper while it’s off the market) and then relist in the spring to avoid the listing getting “stale” or if it’s better to just leave it on the market through the remainder of fall and the winter.
Any suggestions or advice you can offer would be appreciated. Thanks for your help.
A: Your house has been on the market for only a few months and you’ve had 60 showings. I’d say that you’re doing a lot of things right, but ultimately you must not be as competitive either price-wise or competition-wise with the other homes that are selling in your neighborhood.
I don’t think you should take your home off the market at this point. Instead, I think you and your spouse should undertake an immediate investigation to find out what is different between your home and the other ones that have sold in your neighborhood. The answer can only boil down to a few possibilities: price, condition, location, commission.
Price. Where you price your home usually depends partly on the location of the property and partly on its condition. To establish the true market value of your property, it’s essential to compare your home to all others that are on the market in the neighborhood. You need to make sure your listing price is right on the mark under the current housing market conditions.
If you haven’t already done so, your real estate agent should make appointments for you to see the other homes in the neighborhood that are on the market. You should walk through them and take copious notes and perhaps even photographs. The photos will help you remember which house you liked along the way, so be sure to start each set of photos with a shot of the exterior of the house with the house number on it. Pick up a listing sheet, so you know the listing price and you have a better ability to determine if your listing price is in the ball park or not.
Next, take out a piece of paper and figure out exactly how your house is similar and different from these properties. Is there something that jumps out at you? For example, does your home have 4 bedrooms and every other house on the market has 3 bedrooms? Are you slightly overpriced for the size lot or location?
You and your agent should discuss how your home compares to these and the others that sold and try to figure out what isn’t appealing to buyers. Then, figure out how to change it.
Condition. When you say you’ve had 60 showings in the past few months, that’s a healthy number. I know a whole bunch of sellers who would kill to get that kind of traffic.
But you’re not getting an offer. You’ve said that local real estate agents have provided you with feedback that the condition of the property ranges from good to excellent. You should go back to those agents who said it was good (if you kept track) and ask them more specifically what their buyers didn’t like about the house.
You suspect that the wallpaper is turning off buyers and their agents. If that’s true, it’s an easy fix. While I think that houses should reflect the personality of their owners while they live there, when it comes to selling a house, the reverse is true: You want to create an environment that reflects the personality of the optimal buyer. That’s what developers do with model homes: they create spaces that appeal to the maximum number of buyers.
I’d rip out the wallpaper and paint the rooms. I don’t know what your décor is like, but I’d recommend finding a neutral color that will work well with the furnishings you have. When prospective buyers come to your home, you want them to focus on the home and not your furnishings or decorations. If your home is cluttered or feels crowded, your home may be in great shape but buyers may get turned off by its appearance or how cluttered it feels.
A final thought: you might want to hire a stager to come in and help you give your home the final polish. A great stager will help make your home look like a designer showpiece. It is well worth the money you’ll pay (and the stager might help you select the right color for your walls).
Remember, buyers today don’t want to do anything when they move into a house. Their (possibly unrealistic) expectation is that the house they buy will be able to double for a movie set location.
Location, Location, Location. Unfortunately, location is one thing you really can’t change about your house at this point. For some sellers out there, where their house is located (across from a dump, behind a commercial building, next to a large apartment building or next to a 10-lane super-highway) will be a huge negative. While that doesn’t sound like your immediate problem, you should think about whether you live in the best location for your neighborhood, or if you have a location issue that you need to deal with. Your agent should be able to help with this as well. In real estate, location, location, location still counts for quite a bit.
If your location is not as good as other locations, you need to make sure the street appearance of your home is as good as it can possibly be. Make sure the yard and the landscaping around the home look great. If your bushes or trees near the home need to be pruned, you should take care of that now. If the lawn or other landscaping is overgrown, take care to make the home look as good as it can possibly look when prospective buyers come to view the home.
Commission. If you can get a real estate agent to give you an “off the record moment,” you’ll find out that commission matters a little, but isn’t everything.
Over the years, agents have told me that if a property is within the size, scope and price of what their buyers are interested in, and if that property has a generous commission split or a cash bonus, they will try to make sure their buyers see that property.
They can’t force the buyer to buy that property. But, they can make sure they see it.
When you’re working with a discount agent, you have to know how the commission is being split. In your case, you’re paying 3.5 percent commission. I hope that means 2.5 to 3 percent of the sales price is going to the buyer’s agent and just a half to one percent is going to your discount agent.
Sometimes, discount agents try to split a 3.5 percent commission down the middle with the buyer’s agent. That’s not a great idea. Again, given the traffic you’re getting, I’m hoping this isn’t a problem for you, but you should check to be sure.
If you conduct a thorough investigation in these areas, I’m certain that you and your agent will figure out what you need to tweak, and will get your house sold soon.