Go back to basics if you want to sell an unusual house


December 20, 1992|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

The house was a sprawling rancher in the Manchester area of Carroll County, with a sauna, in-ground pool and 3,500 square feet of living space. But it took a skillful agent more than a year to sell the property.

Why did the custom house present such a tough marketing job? Because it had an unusual feature. All its rooms -- except bathrooms -- were equipped with sliding doors of smoke-colored tinted glass. The doors were a curiosity but not something with which most prospects felt comfortable.

"More times than not, people buy along tradition rather than novelty," says Lou Occhionero, manager of Coldwell Banker's Towson office and a friend of the builder who owned the Carroll County rancher.

Do you live in an architect-designed contemporary with indoor balconies and two-story windows? Do you have a below-ground kitchen? Does your home have only two bedrooms or a single bath? Have you painted your place bright turquoise or turned your family room into a golfing green?

Then expect to face a long and difficult ordeal when you sell.

"People like what's familiar. That's the problem with selling unusual houses," says Carolyn Janik, author of "How to Sell Your Home in the '90s," a Penguin paperback.

Although you can expect an out-of-the-ordinary home to present marketing challenges, realty experts say there are ways for savvy sellers to minimize those problems. They offer these pointers:

* Restore your house to the customary whenever possible.

Have you transformed your master bedroom into a computer zoo? Has your formal dining room become a model train museum? Does the bright yellow exterior of your house stand out within the sea of pale blue and tan homes in your neighborhood?

Then it's wise to act quickly and restore your home to the conventional norm, says Monte Helme, a vice president with the Century 21 International chain. He suggests you paint, dismantle your train garden or remove your computer zoo before you open your place to public viewing.

* Allow extra time to sell your unusual home.

As a rule of thumb, figure it could take four times as long as usual to sell an out-of-the-ordinary house, Ms. Janik estimates. The more atypical the house, the smaller the potential market, the longer the time to sell.

* Ask relatives to take a fresh look at your home and tell you how strangers would view it.

The idea here is to bring extra pairs of eyes to the property that are more objective than your own. Relatives are often your best choice for this job.

"Friends may be afraid of offending you. Family members don't care -- because they know you can't get rid of them. They'll still be your family," Ms. Janik says.

Ask the relatives what about your property would concern them if they lived there. Are they worried, for instance, that all the sliding glass doors in your home would pose a security problem?

By identifying these items, you'll have a chance to modify them or try to explain them in when you market your home.

* Find an innovative agent who enjoys selling your unusual house.

"A creative agent who likes the house can really help," says Ms. Janik, the real estate author.

Take care in selecting your listing agent by interviewing at least three to five candidates. "Invite them in and ask them, point blank, 'How would you market this house?' Look for enthusiasm and someone who really likes the house," Ms. Janik advises.

* Prepare a sophisticated marketing brochure on your unusual home or have your agent do so.

It doesn't have to be a full-color handout, but it should have a professional look to it.

"The brochure is to convince people they would like to live in your unusual house," says Ms. Janik. She recalls a couple who had converted a barn to a dwelling and faced a tough marketing job when it came time to sell.

Knowing that would-be buyers worry about the structural soundness of the property or whether it would be troubled by termites, the couple made sure these issues were addressed directly in their brochure. At the same time, the brochure stressed how much square footage was available in the converted barn at a relatively low price.

What's important is that the writer of your brochure reflect the right wording and tone to present your unusual property in the most positive light. It's worth the effort to scout out a good writer. "It should be written by someone who is aware of the connotations of words -- perhaps the local English teacher," Ms. Janik suggests.

* Anticipate the objections of would-be buyers so as to meet those objections head on.

"What holds a lot of people away from an unusual house is that they can't picture what their lives would be like there. You have to convince them your house would fill their lifestyle needs," Ms. Janik says.

The idea here is to deal with buyers' concerns about your property even before they arise -- whether through marketing material or statements made directly to prospects by you or your agent. It's important to put a positive spin on your home's features -- however unusual.

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