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How To Move Your House In A Tough Market

If you’re planning to put your home on the market, it’s not your manners that need polishing. Try your silver, among other improvements. Now, more than ever, getting a signed contract in hand is all about price and quality.

Here's a few tips to selling your house in a tough market.

Price Is A Science

8072 Damico Drive, El Dorado Hills, CA 95672 — this was purchased several years ago for $905 and is on the market at $395K, short sale.
Elizabeth Weintraub, Lyon Real Estate
8072 Damico Drive, El Dorado Hills, CA 95672 — this was purchased several years ago for $905 and is on the market at $395K, short sale.

“The biggest mistake sellers make today is that they don’t price their homes correctly,” says Elizabeth Weintraub, a broker with Lyon’s Real Estate in downtown Sacramento. “If a house sits on the market, people start to wonder, ‘what’s wrong with that property. How come it’s not selling?’”

She says pricing is an art and a science, and also depends on the local market. In Sacramento, for example, home sellers are competing directly with foreclosures and short sales (when a seller owes more on a property than it is worth and the bank agrees to accept less than the amount of the mortgage).

“In the past, if there was a home that was sold as a foreclosure on your street, it was an isolated circumstance. Now, because of the high number of foreclosures and short sales, they are the comparable sales,” Weintraub says. “If your price is not competitive with these numbers, it might not get shown at all.”

Her pricing method: look at pending sales. These will become the comparable sales. Even though they don’t say the exact sale price, you can make an educated guess or find out from the listing agent.

Weintraub also says that if you put your house on the market and it doesn’t sell after 90 days, take it off the market and list it again at another time. “You don’t want it to become stale.”

Mary Ann Grabel of Greenwich Fine Properties in Greenwich, Connecticut, agrees. “It’s all about price,” Grabel says. “People who really want or need to sell are willing to take less than what they paid two or three years ago.”

Condition, Not Conditions

Tom Apligian, whose Re/Max office in Plano, Texas serves the Dallas suburbs, says that “while kitchens and bathrooms still sell houses, what used to work in the past doesn’t anymore.”

“Going back four or five years, we used to do a decorating allowance,” Apligian says, referring to the money that sellers would offer buyers to cover new carpet or other decorative items. Now, he says, this sends up a red flag that a house is run down.

“If you think a buyer wants to take your four or five thousand dollars to decorate a house that’s been neglected or needs updating, you’re wrong,” says Apligian.

“People are always working, and the last thing they want to do when they come home is pick up a paint brush,” he says.

500 N Street, Unit 1204, Sacramento, CA 95814 (short sale) Condo in downtown Sacramento. Listed at $245,000.
Elizabeth Weintraub, Lyon Real Estate
500 N Street, Unit 1204, Sacramento, CA 95814 (short sale) Condo in downtown Sacramento. Listed at $245,000.

Apligian also believes that the reason for this is not just the economy; lifestyles and expectations have changed, and a fresh coat of paint is good, but not enough.

“Part of the reason is that you have all these decorating programs on TV,” says Apligian. “People want to walk in and say ‘wow!’ The “wow” factor is very important today.”

If you can’t renovate your entire kitchen, Apligian says, “Granite now costs $25 a foot. Put in a granite counter top, and updated appliances—new stove, oven, microwave, dishwasher. In the bathroom, change the toilet or the vanity.”

Grabel says, “almost every listing is extensively landscaped and sellers are paying to have their homes staged if they are not fully furnished or furnished in a certain manner, so it's less personal, and more of a blank canvas.”

“Sellers are doing whatever they can do to put their house in the best light possible, especially in the very competitive price ranges. People are looking for things in pristine condition,” she says.

Apligian’s other staging tips: appeal to the senses with soft music, vanilla aroma, the color yellow and natural light.

Re/Max Dallas Suburbs

Less is More

One of the best things to hit the industry, says Apligian, is the pod—a mobile storage unit that is dropped off in front of your house.

“You're moving, right? Let’s start the move now,” Apligian says, “let’s get half the stuff out of your house into a pod. Empty that closet. Get all the crud off the kitchen counter. The toaster oven, the coffee pot. I don’t care if you use it every day. Get it out,” Apligian says.

On the other hand, one of the most sensitive subjects for sellers, Apligian says, is pets. He says that he frequently has to tells his clients nicely, “sorry, but Fido has to go.”

“If you have a pet, one out of ten buyers won’t even step foot in your house,” he says. It is much easier to sell a house if your dog can board with friends so there is no smell, noise, or allergy problems.

“When you are selling your house, it’s no longer a home, it’s a house. There’s a difference,” he says.

'Wow' House Priced to Sell

In April of this year, Andreas and Keri Wetterwald, decided to sell their three-bedroom, 1700-square foot Tudor, located across from a private lake in White Plains, N.Y.

Re/Max Dallas Suburbs

“We were under contract in two weeks,” Andreas Wetterwald said.

In the seven years that he and his family lived there, they did approximately $80,000 worth of improvements, including renovating the kitchen, refinishing the hardwood floors, putting in new windows throughout the house and installing a new enclosed patio with French doors.

“Three months before we listed the house, we also rented storage units and cleared out a lot of things that were not being used," adds Keri Wetterwald. "Our house looked bigger and not crowded.”

When it came time to put the house on the market, they felt comfortable that their house was in good shape. “We didn’t want to play games,” he says, “we wanted it to sell.”

To arrive at the listing price of $579,000, the Wetterwald’s consulted with their Realtor. They also did some homework on their own. They found that two houses on their street were also for sale—one priced higher and the other lower. After a couple of low offers, the Wetterwald’s got their asking price.

Andreas Wetterwald believes his house sold quickly because of its price and condition. But, he says, there was also that minor detail about the house being across the street from a lake. Isn’t there another rule in real estate, something about location, location, location?