Friday, February 09, 2007

How Not to Sell Your Home

I never cease to be amazed at the condition and presentation of homes that I see for sale everyday. When I walk into a home that is being actively marketed, I immediately place it into one of two categories - staged for the purposes of selling or unfit for presentation. It is an unfortunate fact of residential real estate that home shoppers do not want to see how you live in your home, how you decorate, or which faith you believe in strongly (be it Catholicism, Buddhism, Salvador Dali, or the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame). They want a vanilla-flavored home which can be mentally decorated with their belongings, a nearly open space with enough furniture to demonstrate that theirs will fit, but not so much that it fills their view with your personal taste.

A couple weeks back on a Saturday, I visited about a dozen homes with some clients of mine. On three consecutive showings I was amazed at the poor presentation of otherwise very nice homes.

Home #1

The first home was being sold using a discount real estate company whose responsibilities are limited to putting the home on the MLS and receiving any faxed offers. The homeowner was a very nice man who wanted to sell a three-bedroom duplex-down that he and his wife had purchased just 3½ years back. The place was gorgeous – granite countertops, 42” cherry cabinets, stainless steel appliances, and beautiful angled hardwood flooring throughout the home. Even better, the home faced a very large park, which was the only thing that separated the home from Lake Michigan. It was on the lake, on the beach, on a great big green park. It was well priced.

The owner had opted to rent out the home to what was a family of four, and seemed like a family of 18. There were things strewn about the home. There was too much stuff in every room of the house. One of the three full bathrooms was filled floor-to-ceiling with junk. The floors were dirty. One of the renters was home when we came to see the condo, a young teenager, and his video game playing made it difficult to see one of the three bedrooms.

The home was exactly what my buyers were looking for, where they were looking for it, at the price they wanted. Unfortunately for Mr. Homeseller, they couldn’t see themselves living in that home, because it was cluttered with someone else’s junk and filth. The homeowner recognized that it was a terrible way to present the home, and acknowledged that fact several times.

Mr. Homeseller was probably collecting $1600/month in rent, paying $2000/month in mortgage, taxes, and insurance, and devaluing his home by keeping it on the market for months on end in an un-sellable condition. He was costing himself $400/month, but maybe tens of thousands of dollars in resale value by renting his home. The average market time in his neighborhood is about 75 days, or 2½ months. By forgoing less than $5000 in rent, he could likely sell his home in a short period of time at a far higher price, ending up well ahead of the curve. Furthermore, a full-service real estate agent would tell him that from the start, saving him months of frustration and time-consuming showings with uninterested and potentially unqualified buyers.

Home #2

The next home was a condominium in a high-rise building. Only my clients and I were at this home, as the seller’s agent had left the keys at the front desk. When I got the door unlocked and walked in, there was a floor-to-ceiling painting of a young girl slaughtering a sheep directly facing me. I almost knocked over my clients in the process of jumping straight out of my shoes. The home was filled with dark and frightening art work, some of which were classic works of art, but none of which belonged in a listed property. The seller, of course, would be taking these with him, but we never got over the creepiness of the home, which was promptly removed from consideration. My clients never made it to the window and balcony, which featured some of the best views of Chicago’s Loop.

Home #3

The third home on our haunted house tour was also in a high-rise building. The listing agent’s office was located in the lobby of the building, which was a good thing, as she had recorded our appointment for the wrong day. This was the second time she had done this to me in two attempts!

The tenants (owners?) were home when we arrived at the unit. They had been given about 3 minutes notice. Again, the home was very nice, but there were things everywhere. My sellers were extremely tentative about opening closets, walking in the bedrooms, switching on and off lights, etc, because they felt as though they were invading someone else’s home. If you cannot become comfortable in an environment you certainly aren’t going to picture it as your future home. The Pièce de résistance? We had to wait three-minutes to see the second bathroom, as one of the tenants was using it. Talk about uncomfortable…

The Moral

The moral of the story is simply this – homes need to be staged for marketing and selling purposes. I don’t ask my clients to buy new artwork, furniture, or appliances. I do, however, suggest that they rent a storage locker for three to four months to deposit superfluous items, religious artifacts, bold and unusual artwork, and posters they pridefully displayed in college.

I suggest to them that they reduce clutter, that they make any and all minor repairs (which will come up at inspection anyway), that they make themselves scarce during showings, and most of all, that they remember that I am not commenting on their taste, perspective, or lifestyle, but that I am looking at their home exclusively through the eyes of a salesperson.