Speedy Open House Does the Trick

The seller's grandson had turned a1920s cottage into an unkempt hangout for his friends. But a straight-talking practitioner used a 15-minute open house to get it sold.

February 1, 2009

Location: Highland Park, Calif.
Square footage: 1,121
Lot size: 6,680
Bedrooms: 2
Bathrooms: 1
Year built: 1926
Extras: The house borders the stunning Pasadena area, known for the Rose Bowl and the Tournament of Roses Parade. The front of the home featured a unique stained-glass window with a colored coat of arms.

THE CHALLENGE: To all outward appearances, the two-bedroom, 1920s English cottage had tons of curb appeal, says Matt Littell, a sales associate with Dickson Podley REALTORS® in La Cañada, Calif. But within its walls, the cottage was less than tidy. “The owner’s grandson and his friends had lived in the home rent free for years,” Littell says. Cigarette burns, debris, and even drug paraphernalia littered the floors and an intimidating pit bull held residence.

“When I got the listing, I went and met the grandson and explained that I needed to show the house," Littell says. "He wasn’t violent or nasty. He just didn’t want a bunch of people in suits roaming around."

How did you overcome such a big challenge?

LITTELL: It took some negotiating, but I got him to agree to a one-time, 15-minute open house. We set the date, and I went to work at spreading the word. I put the house on the MLS below market value with full understanding from  the seller that this was what we needed to do because of the difficulty in showing the house and the mess inside. I told everyone that if they wanted to see it, this was their one and only chance.

Consequently, on the day of the open house, about 50 brokers and their clients walked through the property.  

The grandson eventually moved out at his grandmother's request. Unfortunately, when he left, he cut out the colored coat of arms that was the centerpiece of a beautiful 1924 original stained-glass window in the front of the house. The seller agreed to credit the buyers a large amount to replace the stained glass.

Did you have any problems after the grandson’s exit, too?

LITTELL: The seller changed the locks as soon as he left. But undaunted by the big “Sold” sign in the garden, the grandson and his friends continued to spend time in the house, entering through the back door. I suggested to the sellers that they hire a security service and post a guard on a chair in the property 24-7 until the deal was done. It worked.

Who finally bought the property?

LITTELL: A nice school teacher couple who came through the open house bought it. They didn’t have the funds to get this cute of a house in the kind of condition they would have liked and had been outbid on numerous properties in this price range. They saw the potential beyond the immediate obstacles.

What was the selling price?

LITTELL: I listed the home June 11, 2008, for $399,000. We went into escrow 12 days after the listing date. And the property sold for $410,000 on July 30.

How much did you spend marketing the home?

LITTELL: About $300. I couldn’t post any great photos of the inside of the home because of all the debris everywhere. So I did a good write-up on the MLS, put an ad in the Los Angeles Times and on Craigslist.com. I also e-mailed the listing to multiple agents I knew.

What do you attribute to closing a deal with such blatant obstacles?

LITTELL: Working with everyone involved was a big factor. I stayed in constant contact with the elderly seller and her daughter, who was a real estate professional in another state. And I went in-person to speak with the grandson explaining what was happening without talking down to him. Also, the buyer’s agent was very good. And the buyers recognized they were getting a great property under market value.

How did you get started in real estate?

LITTELL: Before real estate, I was a stock trader and a professional rock musician—I played bass guitar with Terri Nunn, the singer for the group Berlin, and played on a "Quiet Riot" album. After the tech-stock meltdown of 2000, I saw the opportunity in the real estate market. I got my real estate license in 2001. It turned out to be fortuitous timing.

Do you have a specialty or niche?

LITTELL: About 90 percent of my transactions are short sales. And I think this transaction and the short sale have a lot in common. Unlike a lot of deals where the buyer’s and seller’s agents are at odds, in a short sale everybody has to work together for a common goal. If you don’t work as partners in a short sale, you’re not going to make it to the end of a four-month deal.

What lessons did you learn from this transaction?

LITTELL: All deals are closable if you can think outside the box.

Do you have a "How I Sold It" story of how you used savvy marketing and sales techniques to sell a challenging property? To be considered for a future column, send an e-mail to REALTOR® Magazine Online. You must be able to supply a photo of the property.

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