Seeing the Possibilities

To sell a dying storefront, broker Bernie Fallon realized he had to see past how the property was used previously and help buyers see new possibilities.

May 1, 2009

Location: Rochester, N.Y.
Square footage: 4,068
Lot size: 16 x 112 (1,792 square feet)
Floors: 2
Year built: 1925
Extras: Vintage brick row storefront with a stunning marble floor inside and an ornate tin ceiling on the first floor.

THE CHALLENGE: The 1920s red-brick row building thrived as a retail clothing store for more than 50 years in Rochester, N.Y. But these days, a forensic crime lab, municipal organizations, and legal entities dominated the area.

Bernie Fallon, broker-owner of Rochester-based Fallon Associates Realty Inc., found the retail angle a difficult sales pitch for the property.

“The area had been one of the central places to shop in the 1960s, but the area had changed,” Fallon says. “We now had a property that had been a retail clothing store and while it once worked in the area, it wasn’t going to work anymore. I really had no idea how we were going to sell it."

The challenges didn’t stop there. Those who were interested in the property wanted to use it as a mixed-use business-residence structure, but zoning became an issue since the second floor was zoned for storage, Fallon says.

How did you overcome the challenge?

FALLON: I listened to the prospective buyers talk about their ideas as they walked through the property, which helped me understand how the building could be used as something other than retail.

I also worked with the seller to make sure he understood the goal, which was to try and get his property sold. I made sure he understood the market and the sales process. We talked a lot about location, condition, and price.

We really had to sharpen our pencils and make sure the seller got out of it what he needed. He would have loved to have sold it for a little more, and the buyer would have liked to get it for a little less, but I got them to meet in the middle.

How long did the sale take?

FALLON: I got the listing March 29, 2008. We listed it for $99,900. I sold it in September for $75,000.

How did you get the initial listing?

FALLON: The seller—who originally bought the building for a possible video gaming store—renovated it but then decided it wasn’t a good location. The seller had looked at another property I had listed a few years back, and I had been continuing to send him my monthly e-newsletter. So he called me when he was ready to sell.

How much did you spend marketing the property?

FALLON: I used print ads, signage, and online marketing tools like LoopNet (which lists commercial properties for sale). I spent about $600.

How many times did you show the property?

FALLON: I showed it six times to agents and direct buyers.

How did the buyer come to you?

FALLON: He saw the signage on the outside of the building. He is a small business owner who had other investments in the area. I believe he plans to open up a high-end liquor store.

What do you attribute to closing the deal?

FALLON: This deal was about timing and finding the right buyer for this property, area, and market. Still, finding the right buyer was a little like looking for a needle in a haystack.

I had a motivated buyer who had a vision for what he wanted to do with the building, considering the businesses in the area. I had a motivated seller who had put some time and money and a lot of energy into the property but couldn’t make the property work for his business needs. And so I put them together.

What lessons did you learn from this transaction?

FALLON: I learned the importance of listening to people as they tour the property. By listening, I got a lot of input about various uses for the property that I hadn’t even considered. I was able to use this to my advantage when showing the listing. I also learned to stay positive. Despite the odds, I had to believe that there was somebody out there who would be interested in this building. And there was.

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.