'Tis the Season to Think Outside the Box

Unfazed by a tough market and cash-strapped holiday shoppers, a creative practitioner brings festive cheer to a dated rental property.

January 1, 2008

Location: Seaside, Calif.
Square footage: 1,186 square feet
Lot size: 5,500 square feet
Bedrooms: 3
Year built: 1963
Extras: Large, fenced backyard; 2-car garage

THE CHALLENGE: The market had been declining in the Seaside, Calif., area for about a year when Patty Ross, a sales associate with Keller Williams Realty in Carmel, Calif., received this listing in December 2006. The seller had originally purchased the house as an investment. It had been a rental for some time, so it was in need of a lot of TLC. "We really had our work cut out for us," Ross says.

What approach did you take to overcome the challenge?

ROSS: To start with, we removed the 1960s old shag carpeting, which exposed some great oak floors. With a little buffing, we were good to go. We bought new kitchen appliances, put down new flooring in the bathrooms and the kitchen, refinished the kitchen cabinets, and staged the home inside and out. We decorated the whole house for the holidays with poinsettias, lights, a wreath on the front door, and a Christmas tree in the living room.

Once we got the right look, I held open houses every weekend except the week of Christmas. A lot of real estate professionals came to look at it, and I showed the home to 10 potential buyers.

What was the listing price?

ROSS: I offered the house at a reduced price of $599,000 for one month as part of a holiday sale and then raised the price to $625,000 on Jan. 1, 2007. I got the idea from my retail background. Before I started selling real estate in 2004, I owned a retail clothing store for 25 years.

What was the selling price?

ROSS: We got one offer in December, but it didn’t fly. Then in January, after I raised the price, we got an offer for the asking price and closed in March. We had just over a 30-day close.

How did you get the listing?

ROSS: It was a coincidence. The seller had interviewed three other real estate professionals, but no one wanted the listing. That’s how bad this place was. She was complaining to her friend, whom I also knew, when the mutual friend gave her one of my cards and said, “Call Patty.” She took the card but didn’t call because she was getting exasperated and was thinking about forgetting the whole thing and just finding another renter.

But on the way home, she heard my commercial on the radio for a weekly show I host on Carmel Valley radio station KRXA 540 AM and thought it was a sign. She called me right from the car, and I met her at the house the same day.

What made you take the listing when other agents turned it down?

ROSS: This is an extremely opportunistic market, but with this listing, nobody really wanted to get their hands dirty or recommend what needed to be done. But I guess you could say that I’m not afraid to take on a challenge. I enjoy it. And I was comfortable with my strategy, so I felt confident that the house would sell.

How much did you spend marketing the home?

ROSS: Almost nothing. The seller’s friend, who is an interior decorator, helped me rip up the carpets and refinish the floors and the kitchen cabinets. And a fellow agent who stages homes let me use some furniture. The holiday stuff belonged to the seller.

How did you find a buyer?

ROSS: Actually, the buyer found me. An agent from San Jose had a buyer who wanted to move down to the area. The agent saw the property online and came with the buyer to look at the house.

What do you attribute to closing the deal so quickly?

ROSS: Pricing the home right for the market was the big factor to closing the deal, but I also think the way I marketed the home made a huge difference in cultivating interest.

How did you get started in real estate?

ROSS:> I saw an opportunity to start over. I owned a retail clothing store with my husband in Tarzana, Calif., for 20 years and in Studio City, Calif., for five years. But when we closed the store in 1999, my kids were grown so I moved here to Carmel. I didn’t want to stay in retail. I knew I wanted to do something else and got my real estate license. So I went from retail to real estate — instead of clothing people, I now house them. It was a fabulous move.

Do you have a specialty or niche?

ROSS: I haven’t been doing this long enough to have a niche. But it seems like lately all the listings I have and all the buyers I’m working with need lots of extra attention and care. I dealt with a lot of high-end people in my retail business, so I’m used to providing extra care and service to my clients.

What lessons did you learn from this transaction?

ROSS: While some sales professionals might not want to take a risk on marketing a less-than-perfect home, especially in a challenging market, this experience taught me to not be afraid to take on a challenge. I had to think outside the box to sell this home, and I hope I inspire other people to do the same.

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In this online exclusive series, practitioners reveal their savvy marketing and sales secrets in getting a challenging or less-than-perfect listing sold.

Patty Ross
Keller Williams Realty
Carmel, Calif.