Love to Learn from What Didn’t Work

By mark-slade February 27, 2012

I doubled my business in the last year, which in what we all know has been a challenging market indicates that I must be doing something right. However, even after selling almost all of my listings in 2011, even finding the buyers for 50% of these homes, the one that I didn’t sell prompts me to evaluate what I could do better.
If you are interviewing more than one agent, you will probably see much of the same elements in their presentations. We will all tell you that the internet is the way to go and promise to be internet marketing experts, etc. But, are all agents the same?” Simply put… NO. I take great pride in my work. I strive to provide the Best customer service possible. It starts with Buyers and Sellers and being able to know there is a difference and that they do have a choice! Making the best choice possible is no accident. Selling your home Quickly and at the Best price possible, also is no accident, it is a function of know what to do and when to do it.

1. PRICING THE HOME CORRECTLY: One of the most important things that can help you sell your home is pricing it right. Successful Listings need to be priced at or slight under market value (which often entices multiple offers and yields final sale prices over asking price). Let me set the record straight, “I hired you to get me the most for my house and you are telling me to go out lower than the price my neighbor just sold my home for? YES, YES and YES. When a home looks like a deal, it’s simply amazing how many more showings you will get; the more showings you have, the greater the likelihood of getting at least one, if not multiple offers, and offers mean you get to accomplish your mission of selling your home and usually for a good price. Still don’t believe me, in Short Hills, Millburn, Maplewood and South Orange, over 33% of the homes sold for more than List Price in 2011. The simple truth is over-priced listings are one of the only segments of the market that are not selling and if they do, they are taking several times as long to sell and usually for much less than List Price. A great agent will study the recent sales, show you what is on the market and use trends and comparables to place an approximate value on your property all the while explaining the market to you. The home I didn’t sell, what happened? Well, when I originally valued it, using Advanced Comparable Market Metrics (I have specialized training for this), I came up with a value that I felt was appropriate. The home owners insisted on a price that was 101.5% of my top of range quote. The problem wasn’t the fractionally higher price, it was that we didn’t list the home at the time I prepared the analysis and the market took about an additional 4% dip let alone one more eventual surprise.
Two weeks before the agreed upon listing date, a home down the block, with a renovated kitchen and basement–in contrast to a 20-year-old kitchen and an unfinished basement–had just closed for $22,500 less than my seller’s chosen Listing Price. I advised that we should go out at a price +/- $5,000 from the price of the newly closed home. My clients rejected my newly adjusted market analysis, a fact that would come back to haunt both them and me as the home finally would then take almost 11 months and go under contract at a price that was about $65,000 lower than the price my clients first advised me to list their home.
While seller’s (and I was one just 3 years ago) hate to give up $, the key to success is to provide data in the form of statistics and listing pictures of nearby comparable sold homes to help educate seller’s on the competitive landscape. When possible, I would prefer to take them to see some area Open Houses after I have signed with them and before we launch to make sure we see the same things with the same eyes.
2. CHOOSING THE RIGHT LISTING AGENT: As a home owner in this market you need every advantage you can to get your home sold. It starts with choosing the right agent.
a. Using a Full time agent whose sole job is to sell homes. Being able to get a hold of them, return your phone calls and emails quickly is a requirement.
b. Using a Full service agent who will guide you through each step of the selling process. Ability to provide you with referrals that include attorneys, mortgage loan officers, home inspectors, etc., will help to see the deal go through as desired. Discount brokers often equal discount services.
c. Using a Full service agent who will tell it like it is and provide feedback gathered from a combination of agents and their clients, as well as buyers I will bring to see your home.
d. Using a Local agent who knows your neighborhood and is readily available when you need them is a must. Out of town agents can leave you high and dry in your time of need.
e. Using a successful Listing Agent can give you the advantages you need when selling your home. This means pricing information, staging recommendations, etc. Not all agents are created equal. Choose only the best.

3. GETTING A BUYER TO SEE YOUR LISTING: Before anyone can view your home, they have to know it is for sale. Using an agent with an extensive marketing and web listing program is the best start to get your home the exposure it needs and deserves. Some agents whose sole marketing plan is placing a sign in your yard and placing the home in MLS is not a sound marketing plan. In this market, besting the competition is key. Broker Open Houses, Public Open Houses, Social Media, QR codes, Virtual Tours, Movies, Blogging, etc, are now essentials to maximizing exposure for your home.
4. GETTING YOUR HOME READY FOR A BUYER TO SEE IT: A listing agent can guide a buyer to your front door, but they can’t make them go inside. You need to prepare your house for sale. ( I love to place a QR code on the sign so as to allow today’s generation of tech savvy buyers to get a glimpse of the indoors before driving off.)
a. THE EXTERIOR: Your lawn should be mowed, bushes trimmed, debris, toys or belongings picked up and removed from the yard. In the winter shovel your walk and driveway, sand and or salt and knock those icicles off your roof. Make sure your screen/storm door is in working order, it is the first thing they will touch and a storm door with a missing handle or off its hinges will drive buyers away.
b. THE INTERIOR: Remove anything from your house you are not using, often called “de-cluttering”. Clear off the counters, bureaus and floors. Make sure walls are free of marks or holes. Freshly painted walls in a neutral color are always a plus. Make sure all faucets and toilets run properly, no drips, no leaks and the toilets should not always run. Clean your carpets, remove pet items and during showings your poets should be taken out of the house. And, remember to freshen the batteries in your smoke/CO2 monitors to prevent annoying beeps and to prepare for a fire inspection.
5. BUYER AGENTS: Over 90% of today’s buyers start their search for a home online. In addition to the statistics from NAR, I can see this first hand with traffic coming in from my websites, my premium status with Zillow and Trulia, my Blog and my many Open House websites. Once they have narrowed their search to town, I usually get the call. So, I will start with an interview to get an idea of what a buyer is truly looking for in terms of needs and desires. I will purposely take them to see at least one home below and one above so as to try to provide focus and to help inform and educate my buyers about current market conditions and opportunities. Of course, a key component of a search is that the Buyer(s) are pre-approved so that we know what their true price range actually is. Then, once finding the house they want, we need to discuss making the offer. An offer is a combination of price, timing and how the purchase will be financed. If you are certain that this is the house you must have then Buyers need to make a reasonable first offer so as not to alienate the seller. Offers can be of a “low ball” nature if “stealing’ the house is the goal and/or if being purchased as an investment property. Buyers need to be mindful that the amount of homes on the market has been decreasing and sales continuing to rise with increasing competition for homes among buyers producing multiple offers. Then, you need to know that your agent will be on hand and available to project manage your purchase.
a. Home Inspection: This is a critical step in the home buying process. In addition to making sure you are buying a home that is safe and confirming the condition of its systems, pest management, etc. this is also your best opportunity to learn how your house operates from thermostat, to radiator, to furnace, etc. When issues are uncovered by the Home Inspection, I will do everything in my power to make sure necessary repairs are made or that credits to be used to make future repairs are granted.
b. Appraisal: I always drop by to shadow the appraisal. In the past this function was often a courtesy. If I represent the seller I try to make sure the home appraises for a minimum of the Under Contract price. However, if I am working for the buyer, I listen and learn as a home that under appraises generally creates a new round of price negotiations. Also, I am now finding that appraisers are often identifying home inspection issues like asbestos, etc. and requiring that these repairs are made before coming back out to the property to then authenticate a valuation for the lending bank.
c. Certificate of Continuing Use and Occupancy/Fire Inspections: While the responsibility for these 2 inspections varies between listing agent and buyer agent from town to town, there is no mistaking that these are almost always required to close. I make sure the corresponding inspection is ordered and I make sure I also shadow the inspection so that I can tell you if we are good to go or if something else needs to be done to prepare the house for transfer from Seller to Buyer.
d. Mortgage Commitment: When we write up your contract, it also includes a date for getting your Lending Institution to confirm that you have an actual mortgage commitment. Just so you understand, a mortgage commitment can be likened to a full inspection of your insides, in contrast to the Pre-Approval that is like taking your temperature. I make every effort to help this process stay on course and meet the contractual deadlines. Taking this a step further, I will continue to be involved until I have confirmed that your loan will be able to fund by the proposed closing date.
IN CONCLUSION: There is a lot of behind the scenes work that is an essential part of how to get a house on the market, marketed, get an offer, go through the buyers mortgage process, appraisal, inspections and get to the closing on time. I often shock my clients when I inform them that 80% of my time is spent working on their behalf after the offer has been accepted. While I absolutely love what I do and enjoy immense satisfaction from seeing my seller’s move on to their new homes and my buyers moving in to theirs, there is no doubt that a successful agent will be working very hard on your behalf. I trust you will see that it is no accident when a home sells; it is the result of the hard work of your agent.