Finding the Right Fit

Mary Zentz worried the gangly, expensive split-level home would be a hard sell. That was until she found a large family to fit the home.

December 1, 2009

Location: Lake Zurich, Ill.
Square footage: 3,400
Lot size (square footage): 14,520
Bed: 6
Bath: 3.5
Year built: 1973
Extras: Indoor hot tub. Large family room. Home theater with seating for nine.

THE CHALLENGE: When Mary Zentz, CRS®, SRES®, a sales associate with RE/MAX Suburban in Arlington Heights, Ill., sold the Lake Zurich home in 2005, she warned the buyer that it might be a tough resell. "But he fell in love with it and had to buy it," she recalls.

At that time, the split-level house had been on the market for more than a year. "He told me not to worry. He said he would stay there forever," she adds.

Two years later, forever yielded to the reality of a sluggish market, and the owner, a commercial developer, was struggling to sell two properties he had developed in Sugar Grove, a village about 45 miles south of Chicago. He decided he would live in one home and use the other for a business. The Lake Zurich property would have to be sold.

Although it appeared to be modest from the street, the Lake Zurich home was spacious and loaded with upgrades. The home featured six bedrooms, a 900-square-foot great room just off the kitchen, an indoor hot tub, and a nine-seat home theater. However, at $525,000, Zentz notes, it was the largest, most expensive home in a modestly priced subdivision. Moreover, she adds, the home's proximity to an enclave of custom homes on acreage in the same price range and the slow market made it a challenging listing.

What approach did you take to overcome the challenge?

ZENTZ: I tried to find a buyer to fit the unique style of this home. I remembered a business associate of mine—she was actually my Mary Kay [Cosmetics] lady, Phyllis—she has four teenagers and had mentioned to me on more than one occasion that she really wanted a home that would allow her to entertain guests, her teenagers, and their friends. Casually, during a social gathering, I mentioned that I had a great party house coming on the market. Phyllis wanted to buy in Palatine, which is about 6 miles from Lake Zurich. I showed her and her boyfriend a home in Palatine. The house had been added onto and newer homes in Palatine were beyond her price range. The Lake Zurich home was a better quality house and really had all that wonderful entertaining space. I didn't think it was easily within her price or geographic range.

On Christmas Eve 2007, I showed Phyllis and her boyfriend the home. I hadn't put it on the market. Some of the selling features were the giant great room, a killer kitchen, and room for her teenagers. The seller was willing to offer a two-year financing deal, which was good. But I couldn't read the boyfriend during the showing. Shortly after the showing, the couple left to go on vacation, and I listed the property for $525,000. A few days later, Phyllis and her boyfriend called me. They were still on vacation. They told me they had gotten engaged and wanted to buy the house.

What was the selling price?

ZENTZ: The home sold for $500,000 in late February 2008.

How did you find the buyer?

ZENTZ: As I mentioned earlier, I knew Phyllis. I had shown her four homes earlier in the year. I also knew of her desire to entertain in an open floor plan. The hot tub and home-theater system were ways she imagined she could keep her kids and their friends close to home.

What was your local housing market like at the time?

ZENTZ: It was a buyer's market. Unfortunately, it still is.

What techniques did you use to market this property and how much did you spend?

ZENTZ: I spent about $300. My marketing was minimal. I made a few calls. I put a sign in the ground. And I created a virtual tour.

How many times did you show the property?

ZENTZ: I showed it one time to Phyllis and had two other showings before the contract was accepted.

What do you attribute to closing the deal?

ZENTZ: It was really the home theater and the hot tub room that sealed the deal and made Phyllis the local queen of parties and the hero of her teenagers. Another thing that that made it so workable for all involved was the seller financing. The seller was willing to carry the note for two years, with a low rate, which gave the buyer time to get out of her lease and her fiancé a chance to sell his home.

What was your closed sales volume last year?

ZENTZ: My closed sales volume last year was $5 million.

How did you get started in real estate?

ZENTZ: I got my real estate license in 1987 to do some real estate investing while working my regular job as the director of a Toys "R" Us store. I made the leap to real estate full time in 1992.

Do you have a specialty or niche?

ZENTZ: I specialize in residential real estate and focus on first-time buyers, move-up buyers, and seniors.

What lesson did you learn from this transaction?

ZENTZ: I learned not to prejudge a situation. The market was slow. The home was big but on a smaller lot and near large estate properties selling for the same price. The home seemed unaffordable for this buyer. And the buyer wanted to live in another area. So I thought this would be a tough sell. But the buyer was willing to consider another option.

Even if the buyer tells you that they want something specific, as this story illustrates, they will entertain another option if you present something that fits within the parameters of what they want and need in a home. So don't limit your options because a buyer talks specifics. They may realize they are okay with other options. But if you give up too soon or don't present other options, you might miss a great opportunity.

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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