Finding the Hidden Value of a Home

Make lemonade: success with hard-to-sell properties

May 13, 2015

A Seamless Homecoming

When Susan and Randy Steen contemplated moving from Dubai back to their native Alabama two years ago, they went online and spotted a beautiful home along the Alabama River in Autagaville. It seemed perfect for them and their three children.       


They sent their agent, Jamie Harper, a sales associate with Forrest Meadows Homes & Land in Montgomery, Ala., to view the home for them. But when Harper got there, he discovered a potentially jarring feature on the property: a five-plot cemetery about 30 yards to the left of the front door.


"I was really taken aback," Harper says. "There was no mention of a cemetery in the MLS or by the seller's agent. I was thinking this may not fly with my clients."

Though the cemetery could have been a deal breaker, there were other compensating virtues of the property that Harper knew would please the Steens. It was very quiet and private, had a modern design, and was move-in-ready, all of which topped their list of must-haves. Susan Steen says they eventually purchased the home because Harper was able to show them how it met their needs.

"Jamie was very thorough with details and was fantastic at getting information for us," she says, adding that during the home inspection, he even went through and took pictures "like I would have done if I was physically there. I was confident that when Jamie said it was a great house, it was."

It also turned out that the cemetery was no deterrent. It's where the Cottrell family, the original settlers of the area, are buried. Dating back to 1845, the cemetery appeals to the Steens’ interest in history. "They’re the quietest neighbors we’ve ever had," Steen quips.


Clear a Path to the Sale

Where to begin? When James Chambers looked over the Arlington, Texas, home he'd inherited from his late father, what he saw was 40 years of his father’s life. Dirt was encrusted on the walls and doors. Boxes of newspapers littered the yard. And the garage was filled to the brim with tools, bikes, and trash. To make matters worse, the home hadn't had any updates since it was built in the 1970s.

Kelly Snodgrass of Coldwell Banker in Arlington provided a path through the morass, directing a massive cleanup that led to a quick sale.

Over six months, Chambers and his family brought in several 40-foot Dumpsters and cleared the property of garbage. Afterward, Snodgrass herself painted the fence, mailbox, gates, and ironwork around the front door, all to assure that the house would sell for its asking price of $159,000.

"I knew it was worth the price," Chambers says. "The hard part was finding people who could envision their own purpose for the property."

Once the home was emptied, Snodgrass created a marketing plan that portrayed the home as a blank canvas that a buyer could make into a masterpiece. She knew pictures of the three-acre property alone wouldn’t sell the home, so she held open houses and posted fliers around the neighborhood and local businesses "to bring buyers to the property so we could help them envision the potential," she says. "We had to show that there was unlimited potential for remodeling the home, building a dream home, or having an immediate rental property."

Snodgrass captured the interest of a buyer, and the property went under contract less than 30 days after it was listed in February 2014. Chambers says Snodgrass’s determination to find a buyer was extraordinary. An agent he'd hired previously had put forth much less effort, he says. Snodgrass "was diligent, always in communication with us, and always found ways to bring the home to the community’s attention."

Graham Wood
Content manager & senior editor

Graham Wood is a content manager and senior editor for REALTOR® Magazine. He can be reached at