Selling A Home: Marketing Your Home

You can ask any price you want for your house. But your house won't sell until you find a buyer who agrees that it's worth the price you're willing to accept. Smart sellers know that although only one person sets a price, two people -- a seller and a buyer -- make a sale.

Adverse factors outside your control (such as a glut of houses on the market, high mortgage interest rates, or dismal consumer confidence) may negatively affect your sale price. Even so, you don't have to passively let the real estate gods crush you -- quite the contrary. Here are proven ideas you can use to create demand for your house no matter how poor prevailing market conditions are.

You can pick a price for your house in a hundred different ways, but in the final analysis, however, they're all variations of the pricing methods we discuss in the following sections.

Four phase pricing: prevalent but ineffective
The consequences of pulling an asking price out of the air are unacceptable for a smart seller. More likely, you may overprice your house, which results in an exhaustingly slow marketing process that ultimately lowers your sale price. Houses marketed by unrealistic sellers usually go through the four distinct pricing phases prior to sale.

Pleasure-pleasure-panic pricing: fast, top-dollar sales
You can sell your house quickly and get the highest possible price by using this method. The secret of success is to establish a very realistic asking price for your house when you first place it on the market. The correct way to establish an asking price is to analyze houses comparable to yours in size, age, condition, and location -- both houses that are currently on the market and those that have sold within the past six months.

Quantum pricing: an effective technique
Buyers use price limits, called quantums, to simplify house hunting. Pricing quantums are initially expressed in nice, round, easy-to-work-with numbers, such as $100,000 and $50,000, and then fine-tuned to $25,000 and $10,000 quantums. Here's a technique. Follow these steps to use price quantums to hone your initial asking price to razor sharp, pleasure-pleasure-panic perfection.

Using Pricing Incentives
In strong real estate markets with many ready, willing, and able buyers clamoring to purchase good houses, property priced near its market value typically sells quickly. But when the tables are turned, and sellers far outnumber buyers, even pleasure-pleasure-panic pricing may not do the trick. If that's the case, you'll probably have to offer buyers additional enticements to make a deal. In a buyers' market, the key to success is using incentives that help put a sale together rather than fancy gimmicks that besmirch your property and make it harder to sell.

Deal-making incentives
In a really rotten market, you can sweeten the deal by offering buyers money in the form of special financial concessions. One or more of the following incentives may be the key to putting a deal together:

Credits: One effective financial inducement is offering to pay a portion of your buyer's nonrecurring closing costs for such expenses as loan origination fees, title insurance, and property inspections. You may also graciously offer to pay for some or all of the repairs found by the property inspections. These payments are usually made as a credit from sellers to buyers.

Seller financing: On the plus side, financing some or all of the buyer's mortgage may get you a higher sale price, a faster sale, an attractive return on your money, and possibly a deferment on a portion of your capital gains tax. Doing seller financing, however, ties up money you may need for the down payment on your new home. Worse yet, if the buyer defaults on your loan, you must foreclose on the mortgage to protect your money.

Overpricing Issues

If nothing is physically wrong with the property, most of the time the inability to sell is due to overpricing camouflaged by denial. A more accurate statement of the situation, for most would-be house sellers, is "We are unwilling to accept the price the market tells us our house is currently worth." These homeowners can sell. They simply won't sell. As long as you choose not to take the amount that buyers will pay for your house, it will continue to languish unsold on the market.

Advertising That Works

Certain types of advertising are extremely effective. Others, while popular, are big wastes of time and money. The key to selling your house for top dollar -- even in a dismal market -- is simple: Implement a broad-based campaign to generate spirited buyer competition for your property. Advertising is not a cure-all. Glitzy advertising won't sell a house that's in terrible condition, poorly marketed, and overpriced, to boot. The following sections describe the most effective types of advertising:

For Sale sign: This is without a doubt, the single most effective way to tell folks looking for a home in your area that your property is on the market. Real estate brokers know that sign calls (people calling to get more information about a house after they see the For Sale sign) are far more likely to result in a sale than ad calls (people calling about property they read about in an ad). When ad callers find out the location of the property, the style of the house or some other basic fact they would have already known if they actually saw the property from the street, they more often than not reject it. Sign callers, on the other hand, obviously like the neighborhood and at least the property's exterior; they have a higher probability of being serious buyers.

Multiple Listing Service (MLS): The (MLS) is operated by local real estate brokers who all pool their listings so that information about property listed by any MLS member is immediately available to all participating members. Brokers and agents enter new listings into the computerized database as soon as the listing contract is signed. Price changes and sales are also same-day entries. In most places, nonmembers (that is, the public) can't put property into an MLS. An MLS listing gives your property wide exposure to a potent pool of market-educated buyers currently working with all other MLS members.

Listing statement: This data sheet, also called a property statement, is given to people who tour your property on Sunday open houses or people who are shown through your house by appointment. Listing statements are very effective point-of-purchase ads containing more information than you can put into a newspaper ad or an MLS listing. This sheet offers you a chance to wax poetic about the special features of your property.

Hot buttons: People don't buy houses. They buy hot buttons and the house tags along. Hot buttons vary from one house to the next. Gourmet kitchens, luxurious bathrooms, sensuous bedrooms, working fireplaces, panoramic views, and lovely gardens are turn-ons. So are huge, walk-in closets -- no one ever has enough closet space. In densely populated metropolitan areas, garages can sell houses.

Online services: In addition to the computerized multiple listing service, leading brokers now have Internet Web sites that they use to advertise their listings. This allows them to show multiple photographs, virtual tours and to help buyers more efficiently find properties. With more than half of all buyers beginning their research on the Internet, this is increasingly an important advertising medium for your house.

Word of mouth: This advice sounds so darn primitive coming right after computers, but networking is an extremely effective form of targeted advertising. Tell people you know -- friends, business associates, folks who go to your church, club members, and especially your neighbors that your house is for sale. Make a point of inviting your friends and neighbors to your first open house. Who knows? One of them may have a pal who would love to buy your house.

Open Houses

If you hire a broker to sell your house, one of the first things your listing agent does after you've signed the listing contract is tell the local brokerage community about your property. One extremely effective way to get the word out is to schedule a brokers' open -- a special open house exclusively for local real estate agents.

Agents generally work with at least four or five serious buyers at any given time. A brokers' open is amazingly targeted marketing. No guarantees, of course, but don't be surprised if the first brokers' open leads to a sale. After all, having 50 agents tour your house is the equivalent of showing it to 200 or 250 motivated buyers.

Although your house obviously won't appeal to every one of the agents' buyers, you can bet it'll press hot buttons for a few of them. Well-priced, attractive property almost always generates immediate showing requests. With the advent of cell phones, agents don't even have to wait until they get back to the office to call their clients about your property.

Most areas designate one particular day each week as Brokers' Tour Day during which agents and brokers tour newly listed properties. If many new listings enter the market the week of your first brokers' open, some agents won't see your property due to scheduling conflicts with brokers' opens on other houses. Whatever the reason, the way around scheduling conflicts is to be sure that your listing agent schedules at least two brokers' opens.

Weekend open houses
We start by noting that folks usually think of public open houses as Sunday open houses. That idea is prevalent because most houses are held open on Sundays. However, no law says that you can't hold a Saturday open house every now and then to scoop up people who can't come to a Sunday open house. Nonetheless, we refer to all public open houses from now on as Sunday open houses for simplicity's sake.

Compared to brokers' opens, you have lower odds of making a sale directly by holding a Sunday open house. But if you're trying to sell your house without an agent, you won't have access to brokers' opens.

After you open your house to the world at large, not everyone who walks through the front door is a legitimate buyer. You get Lookie Lou's trying to pick up some decorating hints and curious neighbors who always wanted to know how your house looks on the inside. Unfortunately, other than an address, open house signs don't contain a wealth of specific information to help qualify prospective buyers.

In a perfect world, nobody steals. Unfortunately, the world isn't perfect. Leaving small, easily portable valuables lying around during open houses is an open invitation to thieves. Figure out a place to put them so they are out of harm's way.

Showing Your House
No one will buy your property sight unseen. Luscious listing statements, appealing ads, and inviting photographs of your house's interior and exterior fan the flames of buyer curiosity. To satisfy the inquisitiveness that you arouse, you must let prospective buyers wander through your house.

If you list your house with a real estate agent, showings are an inconvenience rather than a problem because a good agent handles the actual buyer and broker showings for you. Your job is simple -- make sure that the property is staged to show well and make yourself scarce while the property is being shown.

Preshowing preparations
If you don't know exactly how to generate property curb appeal and subtly stage your house, we cover a few final things you must do to maximize the showing process. For example:

Make showing your property easy for agents: The easier your house is to show, the more often agents will show it, and, most likely, the more you'll get for it, and the faster it'll sell. Instead of personally doling out your key, either give the listing agent a key if your house is only shown by appointment or have your agent put a house key in a lockbox that agents open by using a special lockbox key or lectronically-coded lockbox card. From an agent's perspective, nothing is more embarrassing or frustrating than trying to explain to an antsy buyer the reason they can't unlock the front door. Before you give the listing agent keys to your house, make sure that they actually unlock the door.

Make yourself scarce during showings: Leave the property while your listing agent shows it. Some buyers are too polite to say so, but having you hovering over them as they tour your house is very inhibiting. Serious buyers want to look into all your closets and cabinets, look under all your sinks and washbowls, and explore every nook and cranny of the house -- but they won't if you're hanging around.

By the same token, as long as you're around, buyers won't make derogatory comments. Sometimes, the most important information you get from a showing is the reason why someone doesn't like the property. Correcting a problem or overcoming an objection starts by finding out about the problem or objection. Your agent should follow up every showing by calling the buyer's agent to find out whether the buyer intends to make an offer and, if not, why.

Lockboxes versus shown-by-appointment arrangements
Depending on the location of your property, you may have to use a lockbox. If, for example, your property is 50 miles from the nearest town or located in a scenic but remote area, you may not have a viable alternative to a lockbox.

From the standpoint of making your property easy to show, lockboxes are great. Newer, electronic lockboxes contain a computer chip that maintains a record of which agent's card was used to open the box as well as the date and time the property was shown. Some lockboxes also have a lock-out feature that limits key access to certain hours so you can have some privacy every now and then. Super sophisticated lockboxes can even be programmed with a call-before-showing code that forces agents to call the listing agent to get an additional code to enter the property.

But, the most sophisticated lockbox in the world still has drawbacks. Lockboxes can't straighten up your house before a showing, or tell you which agent let Duke, the wonder cat, out of the house, or point a finger at the agent who forgot to lock your front door after a showing, or, most important of all, help sell your house to buyers.

Appraiser's Inspection

You may think that you've been put out of your misery after you accept an offer to purchase your property. "Goody," you say, "No more showings at all hours of the day and night. I can have my life back." Not quite. One extremely important showing remains: the inspection an appraiser makes as a condition of your buyer's loan approval.

This final showing to the appraiser is critically important. If the buyer's loan isn't approved because the appraiser thinks that your property isn't worth the amount the buyer is willing to pay for it, your deal falls through, and you're back in the fishbowl again.

Take these steps to prevent an appraiser from undervaluing your house:
Shower the appraiser with attention and comps. Your agent may or may not be present during the appraiser's property inspection to "sell" your house one last time. If required, your agent can give the appraiser an updated copy of the comparable market analysis originally used to establish your asking price. The appraiser can use the comparable sales data to justify the sale price.

Spiff your house up one more time. Appraisers are supposedly above being influenced by a house's appearance. Theoretically, appraisers won't get a bad impression if your property looks lived in. Sure. No matter what appraisers say, they are human. Perfectly staging your house one last time almost certainly makes a favorable impression on the appraiser. And if you're going for a record sale price in your neighborhood, every little bit helps.

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