Tiny Mountaintop Home

The property, with no dining or family room, was 30 minutes from the nearest major town. But a mother-daughter sales team managed to find a young buyer who valued privacy.

September 1, 2008

Location: Corralitos, Calif.
Square footage: 761 square feet
Lot size: 1 acre
Bedrooms:  1
Bathrooms: 1
Year built: 1945
Extras: New bathroom, nice outside deck, fire pit, and end-of-the-road privacy.

THE CHALLENGE: The local housing market wasn’t exactly booming in August

2007 when Jennifer Lyng Watson, e-PRO, a sales associate with Sherman & Boone Real Estate in Watsonville, Calif., listed a one-bedroom mountain-top home with her mother, Marion LL Lyng.

“At that time, the average time on the market for homes in our area was 104 days or 161 for continuous days on the market,” says Marion, brokerage co-owner.

If the slow market and miles of winding roads leading to the Santa Cruz County home weren’t challenging enough, the nearest town and freeway access was a good 30 minutes away. Talk about isolation.

The home had recently been remodeled, but it had no dining room and was smaller than many neighboring properties—yet priced about the same.

“The only interested buyer was a typical Generation Yer [born between 1977 and the mid 1990s], who couldn’t get anyone to take him seriously because he looked like a kid,” Lyng Watson says. "[Everyone] thought he wouldn't get financed."

How did you attract buyers to the listing?

LYNG WATSON: We tried to turn negatives into positives. The home had no dining or family room. There was nowhere to eat except in the living room or outside on deck. So we told people: ‘Heck, most people eat standing at the counter while they are cooking or in front of the TV anyway.’

The home was located in the mountains, about halfway between Carmel and San Francisco, in Corralitos. But we were also marketing a two-bedroom beach condo in the same area for $619,000 and advertised both properties as a "surf-and-turf" combination or “your choice” in newspaper and Internet ads. We also used some great photos.

Although the property was isolated, we did a lot of research into the neighboring land surrounding the property and promoted the privacy issue. We really highlighted the idea that buyers could retreat to their own corner of the world. And as it turned out, privacy was important to this buyer.

LYNG: We also put the actual mileage to the property in our advertising, so it didn’t sound so daunting to drive that distance up the canyon road. And despite the home’s small size, we explained during showings how a second room with no closet—which was technically not a bedroom—could be used for hobbies. We also really tried to pre-qualify people before we showed them the property, too.

How did you get the listing?

LYNG: We have a great office location by a bagel shop, grocery store, and gym. The seller walked in and said, “I want to sell my house,” which never happens. She had seen our real estate signs around town.

How many times did you show the property?

LYNG WATSON: We did two broker open houses, about six weekend open houses, and  two private showings. We spent about $500 marketing the property.

How long did the sale take? What was the selling price?

LYNG: We listed the home for $499,000 in June 2007 and sold it for $495,000 in August of 2007. It was on the market for 61 days.

How did you find the buyer?

LYNG WATSON: The online ad and photos appealed to a by-definition Generation Yer, a 26-year-old single guy with live-in girlfriend and dog. He was totally tech-savvy and comfortable searching for properties online. But as is the case with many young clients, some agents don’t see them as serious buyers.

He had gone to four other agents who wouldn’t work with him. He contacted me about the ad and came to the open house the next day. He wanted to complete the purchase on his own—and probably could have—but with his mother’s financial help we were able to get him a better interest rate.  

He had a whole green and solar thing going. So he enjoyed the idea that he could be out in nature. We showed him the neighboring acre at the end of the road, a true oasis of a property, with a creek and redwood trees. In June, he closed on that $8,000 property, too, and told us that we will have him as a client for life.

What do you attribute to closing the deal so quickly in a tough market?

LYNG: We did our homework on the property and surrounding inventory, so we could explain and promote the upsides. We prequalified potential buyers. And we took fliers to the local markets and other real estate offices. We really pushed the networking aspect of selling the home by reaching out to local residents and the real estate community.

What was your closed sales volume last year?

LYNG: We did more than $8.6 million in sales volume for 2007.

What lessons did you learn from this transaction?

LYNG: Never give up clients because they are young and might not seem like a good bet for financing. I have more than 30 years’ experience in this industry, and while financing can be difficult sometimes, with experience and some creative ideas, we were able to get a first-time buyer into a home.