A New Approach to Selling Older Homes

By digging into a home’s past, you can unearth information that will create an emotional connection with potential buyers.

April 1, 2005

For many homebuyers, old equals problems and new equals luxury. This way of thinking presents a problem for real estate practitioners who are trying to sell older listings. So, to make old homes more appealing, salespeople often try to downplay the age of the home with the hope that potential buyers will focus on the other features of the property.

But that can be a losing strategy. By taking a different approach, and using the age of the home to create an emotional connection with buyers, practitioners may find greater success, says Dave Burrell, president and CEO of Historical Insights Inc. in Denver.

Instead of disguising the age, do some research on the home’s history and present it as a positive.

You may be able to garner more interest when buyers find out that a local politician once lived there or when they know about the era when it was built, says Burrell, who makes his living by digging into a property’s past and compiling historical information for the owner.

"Since so much of the mystery of old homes lies in their connection with the past, a home’s history can highlight that connection very vividly,” he says. “This is especially the case today, with so many transplants seeking to grow roots within their communities. And because emotions are such a key part of the homebuying process, helping buyers make a personal leap into the living experience of the home quickens the purchasing decision."

Histories often include the architectural style of home, how that type of home served society at the time it was built, who lived there, and what changes were made to the home over the years.

Burrell says creating such detailed histories can be a challenge, but there are ways to do it that wouldn’t be too much work for a real estate practitioner to handle. The first step is heading to the local public library.

"A starting point would be city directories that go by street names or addresses. You can find out who lived in that house and from what dates,” he says. “Second, go to Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps which you can find at local archives.”

These maps span from the late 19th century to about 1970. Sanborn Fire created maps for insurance companies that show streets, buildings that are there, exits, doors, and windows. You can see the house change from when it had a stable to when a garage was added, Burrell says.

“You can see if they had an outhouse and when it was torn down,” he says.

Burrell points to his own home as an example. "In my house, there was a small porch in 1925, but a large porch was added by 1929. It's the little things that are interesting and it personalizes the home to buyers because they know something no one else knows."

If you don’t have time to do the research yourself, you can hire someone like Burrell. He says a leather-bound copy of a history is about $400, but simpler versions cost less. Home histories can be a great listing tool, a great closing gift, and a great legacy for referrals.

"Caring about the history of homes is something that can differentiate one [real estate practitioner] from another,” Burrell says. “By getting a book likes this, you’re going to give a physical manifestation of the house that helps them enjoy their home. When they resell, they have a collection of information with [your] name and information. They won't throw this away.”

(c) Copyright 2005 Realty Times. Reprinted with permission.

Blanche Evans is a writer/editor and CEO of evansEmedia. Formerly, she was a senior editor with Realty Times, where she was named by REALTOR® Magazine as one of the most influential people in the real estate industry.

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