Michele Meyer is a Houston-area freelance writer who often covers real estate, marketing, branding and design.
What to Do When a Home Won’t Sell
Start with an honest assessment, but don’t stop there. Find ways to help discouraged sellers give their listing more gusto.
March 16, 2016
Who isn’t frustrated by a listing that generates little or no buyer interest after months on the market? As your clients grow impatient, your relationship with them becomes tense. You, perhaps counting on the sale, begin to see your commission evaporating. Worse, you feel your reputation as a professional is on the line.
The best way to avoid this predicament is with an honest assessment of the property. If you see problems that are likely to reduce buyer interest, a frank discussion with the seller at the start is essential. Communicate the challenges and agree on improvements or a pricing strategy to overcome them. But if you should still end up with a listless listing, here are some tips to bear in mind.
Never Fake Perfection
Whatever a home’s issues, hiding them is never a good idea. Sellers are typically obligated to disclose known defects, and the Code of Ethics requires that the “true picture” of a home be presented in advertising. So when it comes to cosmetic flaws, don’t Photoshop them out of listing photos, says Colleen Badagliacco, CRB, CRS, broker-associate with Legacy Real Estate and Associates in San Jose, Calif. Instead, suggest minor improvements—paint a tired front door or set flowers on a table to counterbalance a less attractive feature “and then take the picture,” Badagliacco says. “If the house looks like it belongs in Architectural Digest online but it’s run-of-the-mill in person, you’ve set—and shattered—an expectation.”
Of course, not all problems can be solved with staging. If there’s something disturbing in a home’s history, like rumors of a haunted past, consider using it as a storytelling element. “Ask the sellers what led them to the home, and use that in your marketing,” says Keith Bennett, GRI, broker-associate at Comey & Shepherd in Cincinnati. Do warn sellers that unusual traits sometimes slow a sale.
Get a Second Opinion
If showings are few and far between and the sellers seem frustrated, it may help to bring in an appraiser to reinforce the home’s price point or a contractor to offer suggestions for improvements. Rather than bringing in your own appraiser, have the sellers find one through a lender so they can be assured of an objective analysis, says Deborah Winters Chaney with Keller Williams Realty Clear Lake in Houston. Explain that since lenders put up the money to buy properties, they “won’t loan more than they think the property is worth.”
If a home requires updating, another tactic is to invite contractors to an open house. They can give buyers a vision of the improvements that are possible and an estimate for the work. Better yet, they may be able to convince sellers to tackle the job. Penny Clissold, broker-owner of Clissold Properties in Houston, had a listing that hadn’t moved in six months, The cramped kitchen was keeping buyers at bay. A contractor offered her sellers a solution: For $1,800, he moved a set of cabinets to the dining room’s outer wall. “My clients jumped at the low quote,” Clissold says. “We were able to raise the price of the home $10,000, and it sold promptly.” If sellers do make improvements or repairs, no matter how small, keep copies of the bills to show buyers what’s been done.
You can also ask your colleagues for their professional opinion. V. Faye Nelson, e-PRO, GRI, an agent with -RE/MAX Professionals in Kennewick, Wash., invites other agents to lunch at a property that isn’t selling. “Over sandwiches, I’ll ask: ‘What are the problems here?’ While we’re competitors, we also work together.”
Show, Don’t Tell
Sometimes sellers need to see the competition for themselves to better understand how their home stacks up. Take them on a tour of nearby listings, so they can compare features and pricing. Just be sure to let the listing agents know what you’re doing. “You’d be surprised at how often they have no idea what other listings in their neighborhood look like,” Chaney says. After the tour, “I ask them to think of their home as if they’re walking into it for the first time: What would they want changed if they were the buyer?” This can lead to a more meaningful conversation about the need to lower their price.
Even after your best efforts, sometimes you get to the end of your listing agreement without a sale. If you feel the sellers won’t take the steps necessary to sell, you may decide to diplomatically bow out of renewing the listing. Keep it positive, but be firm, Bennett suggests. “Tell them, ‘you need someone who has new ideas.’”
“My partner has told sellers, ‘List it with someone else, and when it doesn’t sell, maybe you’ll listen to us,’” says Kevin M. Sears, broker-owner at Sears Real -Estate in Springfield, Mass. “Standing your ground can be liberating."
This originally appeared in print under the title, "Handling a Listless Listing"