Common errors will cost you at selling time


October 06, 1991|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

If you're selling your Hunt Valley home, it may sound like a heck of an idea to hire Aunt Marlene as your listing agent. Sure, she's new to real estate and lives in Dundalk, but why not give her a shot? After all, she could discount her commission and still make money, you reason.

But trying to make Aunt Marlene happy could make you miserable. Green as she is, she's likely to do a less than splendid job marketing your home. And her lack of expertise in the Hunt Valley market means she'll have a harder time pulling in buyers than a good agent who works the territory regularly.

Hiring a relative is one of the five most common, yet serious, errors committed by home sellers. Making one of these mistakes could mean your home sells more slowly and for less money than it otherwise would. Yet, all of these pitfalls are easily avoided.

* Error No. 2: Falling into the "gotta get" pricing syndrome.

"The market determines the price for which you're going to sell -- not what you need to get out of a deal," says Daryl Jesperson, a senior vice president with the RE/MAX International realty chain.

Sellers know this, but in their quest to get top dollar, too often forget.

Suppose, for instance, that a couple living in a modest 3-bedroom colonial -- call them the Greens -- decide to trade up.

One Sunday they happen upon an open house at a new development of four-bedroom homes. They're taken with the extra space, skylights, oversized bathrooms and walk-in closets. their enthusiasm, they sign a contract.

To buy the contemporary, they determine, they must sell the colonial for $175,000. Regrettably, the amount they need from the old house is $10,000 more than the prevailing price for similar homes in their neighborhood.

Still, they price the colonial at the "gotta get" level.

But it's obvious to buyers that the colonial is priced higher than its competition, and most won't even bother to visit it.

That means that during the first 30 days of the listing -- when the home should generate the most excitement -- it gets few lookers and no buyers.

Worse, the home becomes shopworn. As it languishes on the market, people become suspicious that something must be wrong with the place.

Sure, the property will probably sell when the Greens come to their senses. But the selling price might even be lower than the Greens would have received by properly pricing the home at first.

* Error No. 3: Trying to "test the market" in terms of price.

Like the "gotta get" sellers, people who try a higher-than-market price, with the notion that it can always be lowered, ultimately hurt themselves most.

Of course, it's a free country. You can charge what you want for your castle -- ignoring the advice offered by any broker or appraiser you meet. But overpricing will sabotage your sale, says Mary Jo Button, sales manager for the Golden Ring office of Prudential Preferred Properties.

Asking just $2,000 or $3,000 more than market value could mean the difference between selling quickly at a good price and not selling for a while, Ms. Button says. And remember, keeping your house on the market for a prolonged period imposes its own expenses, including carrying costs and upkeep.

* Error No. 4: Misrepresenting your property.

Sellers have a natural inclination to be positive about their property -- and that's perfectly appropriate. On the other hand, misrepresentation often works to the seller's disadvantage, points out Peter G. Miller, the Silver Spring-based author of real estate books.

Mr. Miller remembers visiting a home described on the listing as having five bedrooms. What the listing failed to indicate, however, was that the living room had been carved into two bedrooms. The place had no living room at all.

"It was like a dormitory. I've seen better looking barracks," Mr. Miller jokes.

While most sellers wouldn't commit such an outrageous misrepresentation, there is a tendency to fudge. Some people fib about room sizes.

Others include such areas as screen porches, decks or unfinished basements when they calculate a home's total square footage -- when only living areas should be counted.

"What you're doing is setting people up for disappointment when you misrepresent your home on the listing. And once they're disappointed, it's awfully difficult to recapture their interest," Mr. Miller says.

* Error No. 5: Putting a house up for sale before decluttering the yard.

A lot of the clutter and overgrowth may seem pretty innocent. So the shrubbery needs a little pruning and has started growing up against the house? So the grass is a little high? So a few boards and building materials are piled near the front door? So the children's bicycles and toys are strewn about?

Innocent as they seem, however, such elements of yard clutter can be serious deterrents to selling a home.

They lessen what's known in real estate as "curb appeal," notes Mr. Jesperson, the RE/MAX executive. Very likely the prospective buyer will be put off by the clutter even before getting out of the car.

"What the clutter does is send a subliminal message to the

buyer. The buyer thinks, 'If the yard is this bad, what have they done to the inside of the house? What have they done to the hot water heater?' " Mr. Jesperson says.

On the other hand, if your yard and entrance areas are inviting, the prospective buyer is more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt, Mr. Jesperson says. "Instead of saying, 'We'd never buy a house like yours with yellow Formica,' the buyer might say 'We could always change that yellow Formica.' "

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