at time of sale and staged image

© Tim Fleming

The kitchen and bathrooms were completely ripped out, with nothing but drywall and sawdust remaining. Inset showing staged image.

Making a Plan for an Unfinished Home

New Jersey agent Marilyn O’Donoghue showed buyers why a property with no kitchen, bathroom, or flooring was worth nearly $3 million.

March - April
2019

What would you expect in a $2.75 million listing? You’d likely presume the home would be move-in ready with functional fixtures. I took this listing knowing fully well it lacked a kitchen, bathroom, and flooring—with plumbing that was far from operational. Still, in February 2018, after five months on the market, this house with tons of potential sold for the full asking price.

My sellers, who are real estate investors, were in the middle of renovating the 3,400-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-bathroom home on the Jersey Shore when a business opportunity in Florida peeled them away from the project. They had to move quickly and decided to sell “as is” rather than finish the remodel. The kitchen and bathrooms were completely ripped out, with nothing but drywall and sawdust remaining. I knew this sale would be daunting, but the challenge got my creative juices flowing.

It was the most expensive listing I had ever taken, with expansive views of the Atlantic Ocean buoying the price. I knew its location would be a selling point. But in my marketing, I also needed to help potential buyers envision what the home could be once renovations—which the eventual owner would have to take on—were complete. I called in a professional photographer to virtually stage the demolished rooms. Once those images were produced, I printed posters of them and hung them on the walls. I also included them in a video home tour.

At every open house, most visitors said they loved the posters and appreciated seeing the possibilities in the home but thought it was overpriced for its condition at the time. I explained that the home could be worth upwards of $4 million after renovations, and I encouraged my sellers to hold out for the right buyer. Even though many of my colleagues couldn’t see past the demolition and told me the house was a teardown, my clients and I believed the home’s views and location commanded high value. And I had the comps to back up my professional opinion.

Finally, after a few lowball offers during the fall and early winter, a couple of investors came to look at the house and fell in love with the virtual staging and my vision for the property. They aimed to complete the renovations quickly, in time for the start of the summer rental season four months later. I showed their agent how the numbers could work, and my enthusiasm for the project helped seal the deal. The buyers waived an inspection since the home was incomplete and worked with the local zoning board to make sure improvements would meet local building standards. By summertime, the new owners were ready for tenants.

I believe in embracing opportunity, even when it seems like a long haul. Now when I meet with other potential sellers, I use this sale as my top achievement—not just because the house sold under challenging circumstances but because I provided the best service possible to my sellers. You don’t have to have a glorious home to sell; you just have to show an unwavering commitment to your clients. —Marilyn O’Donoghue, Long & Foster Real Estate, Avalon, N.J.

Graham Wood
As told to
Senior editor

Graham Wood is senior editor for REALTOR® Magazine. He can be reached at gwood@realtors.org.

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