Making a Trail of Success out of a Dirt Road

Dirt bike trails and power lines overshadowed a Plymouth, Mass., charmer, but one practitioner found the right buyer who could look past the dust and enjoy the view.

February 1, 2008

Location: Plymouth, Mass.
Square footage: 1,700 square feet
Lot size: 32,670 square feet (¾ acre)
Bedrooms: 3
Bathrooms: 2
Year built: 1997
Extras: Hardwood floors, gas-log fireplace, central air, underground lawn sprinklers, and attached two-car garage.

THE CHALLENGE: Located in a popular neighborhood, this Cape Cod showcase home was filled with upgrades and a true standout among competing properties in every respect — except for the all-terrain vehicle (ATV) paths that ran perpendicular to the house and the gigantic power lines and metal towers that stretched for miles in either direction of the home.

Peter McCormack, a sales associate with the SandCastle Group at RE/MAX Classic of Falmouth in Falmouth, Mass., who got the listing in January 2005. He says dust from the dirt bikes ripping by and the permanent hum of electricity passing through transformers outside the home raised aesthetic and health concerns for basically all of the 30 buyers who viewed the property.

“The area was popular with ATV and dirt bike enthusiasts, who had cut a swath of trails beneath the power lines. All my sellers could say was, ‘You get used to it,’” McCormack says. “It seemed hopeless.”

Q. How did you overcome the challenge?

McCORMACK: The situation was discouraging, but I wasn’t about to give up. After the 28th showing, the owners asked, “How did it go?” I didn't need to say much. We stood together in the driveway, talking for a few minutes. Then, as I stared into the distance, I thought out loud, “Who’s going to look at this positively?”

Just then, I noticed a neighbor and his son unloading an ATV from their trailer. I said to the sellers, “Let’s attract buyers who ride off-road for a hobby and won't be bothered by the noise.” The sellers liked the idea but were afraid of highlighting the very thing that was turning others off.

I was convinced that it was my best approach, but I didn’t want to upset my clients, so the changes were low-key. I changed some of my marketing materials and Internet descriptions to explicitly appeal to people who loved off-road vehicles and highlighted the abutting miles of dirt bike trails.

To reach a broader agent base, I also used a secondary MLS, the Cape Cod & Islands, which I pay for annually in addition to my primary MLS, the MLS Property Information Network.

Q. How much did you spend marketing the home?

McCORMACK: Much of the marketing expenses — set-up and subscription costs to maintain Web-based marketing — apply to all my listings and are paid once or annually. But I probably spent about $300 tops.

Q.How did you find a buyer?

McCORMACK: The buyers — a young couple who lived and worked several towns away — saw the property advertised on my Web site and drove up to take a look. They called me from the house and asked if they could see the inside. I was there within 30 minutes.

They loved the home and made an offer. After the home inspection, the buyer pulled me aside. I could tell there was something wrong. He said, “Your ad said miles of dirt bike trails.” Anticipating the worst, I asked him if he had a dirt bike. “No,” he said. “But I want to get one.”

I showed him the trails, and we closed later that month.

Q. What was the selling price?

McCORMACK: The property was listed for $399,900 in January 2005 and sold for $385,500 in May 2005.

Q. What do you attribute to closing the deal so quickly?

McCORMACK: Overcoming what 28 other showings perceived as a defect in an otherwise desirable home.

Q. How did you get the listing?

McCORMACK: The sellers are clients who purchased investment properties with me prior to this sale. This was their primary residence.

Q. What was your sales volume last year?

McCORMACK: My closed sales volume for 2007 was about $3 million, which was about half of my consistent sales volume in the last few years.

Q. How did you get started in real estate?

McCORMACK: I was first licensed in January 1999 and made the jump to full-time real estate in April of that year. Before that, I was a circulation director at a number of newspapers, but I hated working for someone else. I joined RE/MAX in November 2001.

Q. Do you have a specialty or niche?

McCORMACK: If I have a specialty or niche, it would be happy endings.

Q. What lessons did you learn from this transaction?

McCORMACK: It taught me an obvious advertising lesson: Instead of taking the broad shotgun approach, figure out who your prospective buyer is and adjust your advertising to attract that person. Now, whenever I have a listing with a “pink elephant,” I don't ignore it. I look for someone who likes the color pink and elephants.