Forced to relocate? Price your house for a quick sale

SMART MOVES

July 11, 1993|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

Are you a statistic of the weak economy? Are you compelled to move out of state to replace a lost job in the Baltimore area yet also face the prospect of taking a financial hit when you sell your home?

Then you're not alone.

"Obviously, we're seeing a lot more people being forced to relocate," says Lonnie Wiskman, who sells real estate through Coldwell Banker's Charles Street office in Baltimore County. Defense cutbacks, military plant closings and corporate downsizing have all combined to force more people to move against their will, he notes.

The problem is that in these lean times many corporations have drastically reduced their relocation benefits. Even if the corporate move is a mandatory "take-it-or-else" transfer, you can't count on your company buying your bungalow if you can't sell it. Chances are that if your employer does take your house, it will be for a low price.

"Employers are just being a lot more realistic. They're buying properties at a much safer price because, of course, they're not in the business of real estate," Mr. Wiskman points out.

*

If you're going solo, or virtually solo, into a must-sell move, these pointers from the experts may prove of value:

* Consider putting a quick-sale price tag on your house.

Do you have only a matter of weeks before you must move to the new community as a result of a job transfer or new position? Then why not put a 30- , 60- or 90-day price on your house?

Realty experts say the relationship between a home's price and the time it will linger on the market is more predictable than most people imagine. Gauging conditions in your particular community, a capable agent should be able to estimate rather precisely how low you need to go to unload your property in the time allotted.

"If you're just part of the pack on pricing, you're going to have to take the average length of time to sell," cautions Mark Goldberg, an agent with Prudential Preferred Properties in Bethesda.

The cruel reality is that in many neighborhoods today, homeowners who are forced to liquidate must do so at a sacrifice or not at all. "In the past, you could feel fairly comfortable that your house would sell in a short period of time. But today, there are no guarantees. Without a corporate entity standing behind you, it can become very difficult," says Rick DelSontro, a marketing executive for the Century 21 chain in McLean, Va.

It's the sellers who price at the low end of the market who typically do best by themselves in a relocation situation, according to Mr. DelSontro. "Buyers can tell a good deal when they see it and they'll flock to it," he says.

The good news is that if you're forced to sell at a sacrifice in a challenging market -- say 10 percent below what you paid for your property in 1989 -- you could well recoup that 10 percent by getting a good deal on your purchase in the next community.

"That makes it a net wash," Mr. DelSontro points out.

The relocation seller who prices his home on the high side only cheats himself in the long run if this means his property must ultimately go vacant, realty specialists say.

Because a vacant home is usually less appealing to a buyer than is a well-furnished one, you can assume it will sell for several percent less than it otherwise would have -- once your moving van pulls out of the driveway.

"Vacant homes don't say anything. They're like a sentence without punctuation," as Mr. DelSontro puts it.

* Sell in the old town before you buy in the new.

You'll likely to make a much better deal in your new community if you come in with a clean, "cash contract" on your next property rather than one that's "contingent" on the sale of the old homestead, realty specialists stress.

* Go beyond basic cosmetic work in the staging of your home for sale.

To be sure, you'll want to present your house to the public with a freshly painted interior and new or newly new carpeting -- not to mention orderly closets, pruned bushes and attractive furnishings.

But if you're trying to get on the home-sale fast track, you may wish to go beyond such standard cosmetic work to include some special finishing touches, Mr. DelSontro recommends. Even without an interior designer, you can make your home more appealing by repositioning artwork, bringing in potted greenery, hanging brightly colored guest towels in the bathrooms, or placing beautiful art books on your coffee tables.

"A few little inexpensive extras can make a significant difference," Mr. DelSontro says.

* Meet your competition directly.

A sharp home seller will not simply speculate about the competition he faces from other sellers in the market. He will actually visit the other homes to see what he's up against and adjust his situation accordingly.

If the condo-apartment you're selling for $101,000 backs to a noisy highway and you become aware that a like unit across the community that backs to a wooded area is listed at $99,000, you'll have the opportunity to adjust your price if you're cognizant of the competition.

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