When the Seller Can't Let Go

The seller grew up in the neighborhood and rebuilt every inch of the home. When a job relocation forced him to sell, no offer was going to be good enough.

October 1, 2008

Location: Santa Rosa, Calif.
Square footage: 2,300 square feet
Lot size: 1.27 acres
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 2
Year built: 1932
Extras: 40-foot deck and patio, 2,300-square-foot unfinished basement with a separate entrance, and detached garage with a dirt floor and corrugated sides that were “ready to fall over.”

THE CHALLENGE: Rita Alonso, a sales associate with Creative Property Services Homes & Land Realty in Santa Rosa, Calif., says the house looked like a pink Kleenex box from the outside and lawn was home to about a dozen goats.

“Everybody asked if the goats came with the house, but they didn’t; the owners just liked the goats and let them stay because they kept the weeds down,” she says.

But the goats were not the real problem. The owner’s sentimental attachment to the house posed the biggest challenge to a successful sale.

“The husband had already physically moved to his new job in Reno, Nev., but his heart and soul were still in that house," Alonso says. "He had rebuilt the house and knew every inch of it."

Because he put so much work into the home, he believed it was worth far more than the market would bear. No offer was good enough. "He also grew up down the street, where his parents still lived, so he had a big connection to the home and the area."

The husband would only sign the listing extension for one month at a time, so Alonso had to ask for a new listing agreement each month. "He was really attached," she says.

The wife, who remained in the home to oversee the sale, became frustrated with the delays associated with her husband's attachment to the property. “Her home had been on the market for 164 days with a different agent prior to me,” says Alonso, who had the listing for 249 days. “She was sick of the whole thing.”

How did you overcome the challenge?

Alonso: I encouraged the husband to lower the sale price, and he eventually complied. I also counseled the wife to minimize her frustration. I held lots of open houses and maintained constant communication to reassure her that things were moving along.

I really empathized with her because the selling process was quite drawn out, by anyone's standards. The house had been on the market for more than a year, and was in escrow three times. The first one fell through because the buyer’s husband was too nervous about the mortgage payments. Another time, the deal was contingent on buyers’ other home selling, but they had all kinds of problems and had to take it off the market.

I continued to market the home even while in escrow and kept in touch with agents who had shown interest. I called them as soon as I thought it would be back on the market. Because of this, I was able to negotiate a new deal within a week of each canceled escrow.

What was the final selling price?

Alonso: The original selling price was $945,000 when I got the listing April 30, 2007. We reduced it to $899,000, and closed in January 2008 for $890,000. 

How did you get the listing?

Alonso: The seller came to me as a referral from a friend.

How much did you spend marketing the home?

Alonso: I spent around $500 on a professional photographer, as well as on print and Internet ads and food for the open houses.

How many times did you show the property?

Alonso:  I held open houses every other weekend for 249 days.

How did you finally find a buyer?

Alonso: The buyers’ agent’s sister bought the house. She planned to run a small business out of the basement and she loved the country feel and the backyard.

What do you attribute to closing the deal?

Alonso:  Patience, tenacity, follow up, and consoling and supporting the clients.

How did you get started in real estate?

Alonso:  I worked in the mortgage business for 10 years but there were too many layoffs. In 2004, I decided it was time to be the captain of my own ship and started selling real estate.

What lessons did you learn from this transaction?

Alonso: I learned that patience and empathy are important in real estate, just as they are in life. Those are skills that I've honed as a mother of two boys who are disabled. My sons, now 25 and 28, have been legally blind from birth, and I think that has taught me how to work well with people who are feeling lost and overwhelmed.