Selling a home in a buyer’s market

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Last fall, my wife and I decided to downsize our housing and move to something easier to manage. However, on the sell side we were faced with one of the toughest real estate markets in recent history. This is truly a buyer’s market. I am sharing our experience, because it may be helpful to you, if you anticipate selling your home in the near future.

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Before we talked with realtors or anyone else, we needed a clear understanding between us of what we were trying to do. We sketched out a plan and a timeline for our move. This included “why” we wanted to move, a vision of our future home and the key steps it would take to get there.

Hire the right agent

Our next step was to interview three top real estate agents who had experience selling homes in our market area. Each came to our home armed with an array of brochures, statistics and marketing materials. During the interviews we asked five major questions:

•Tell us about your experience selling homes in our market area this year.

•Specifically, how would you market our home?

•What recommendations do you have to make our home more marketable?

•What are comparable sales in this area over the past three months?

•What is your commission and how do you get paid?

All three agents were well qualified, had strong marketing plans and their pricing was competitive. However, we were looking for the agent that we were most comfortable with as a partner to begin this journey.

Fix it to sell

We owned the house for 30 years and were very comfortable living there. However, from a selling perspective, all three agents gently told us that our house was out of date. The kitchen, bathrooms, lighting fixtures, carpet, wall colors, etc. would not sell, especially in a buyer’s market. One agent told us to expect to spend $1,000 in redecoration expense for each year we lived there. (gulp)

The agent we selected was also a skilled interior decorator and together we worked up a list of needed improvements. It was hard to swallow, that our favorite crystal chandeliers, vertical blinds and wallpaper had to go. However, we had to trust our agent’s judgment, because we had hired her to sell the house. The agent suggested three contractors to consider for the work. We interviewed each and carefully reviewed their proposals. Again, all were well qualified, but we had to select a contractor that we were most comfortable in partnering with.

Price it right

Our agent told us that we needed to have the house on the market during February to be positioned for the spring selling season. When the remodeling work was completed, we sat down with our agent to discuss the listing price. They suggested a high and low price range that differed by $5,000. We agreed on the lower listing price because we felt it would attract other agent’s attention.

During the third week in February, our agent held an open house for other real estate agents and placed the listing in the multiple listing service. A week later we had an offer, which was backed by a bank mortgage pre-approval letter. After negotiations, we signed a purchase agreement within one percent of the listing price.

We are completing inspections by the city housing department and the buyer’s private inspector and will make the necessary repairs. We anticipate closing within the next 60 days.

Lessons learned

•In a given market area, the 80/20 rule applies. 80 percent of the sales are made by 20 percent of the agents. Hire the best in your market.

•Hire the best partners and ones that you are comfortable with. Selling your home in a buyer’s market is a long journey.

•Put your house in “move in” condition and decorate it for the potential buyer’s tastes.

•The market sets the price, so list your house slightly below the market to attract interest.

•Communicate regularly and follow up with your agent and contractors.

Selling a home in a buyer’s market is tough work; therefore we are looking forward to being a buyer in the near future.

(Michael G. Shinn, CFP, is a registered representative of securities and investment advisory services offered through Financial Network Investment Corp., member SIPC. Visit http://www.shinnfinancial.com for more information or to send your comments or questions to shinnm@financialnetwork.com.)

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