Cream puff lures buyer in 11 days SOMETIMES IT WORKS ... ON YOUR OWN

May 29, 1994|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Sun Staff Writer

On a Sunday in April, Frank and Cyndi Barr planted a "For Sale By Owner" sign in the front yard of their 5-year-old Pasadena townhouse. Eleven days later, the house sold.

But it was hardly a quick and simple matter.

Planning to move to a larger, single-family house in Anne Arundel County's West River community, the Barrs knew right away they would try to sell their townhouse on their own.

"We needed the money out of the house," said Mrs. Barr, a stay-at-home mother of a 14-month-old son. "Plus, my husband and I figured who better to tell about our house than us. We're the ones who live here and have the desire to sell it."

Doing so proved a time-consuming, full-time job, one requiring thought, planning and sacrifice.

The Barrs proceeded first by trying to put themselves in the place of prospective buyers, who might be turned off by clutter or a particular decorating style.

They packed away knickknacks and almost everything in the home but bare essentials. They rented space in a garage and moved a couple dozen boxes and about 20 pieces of furniture into storage. They stripped the living room down to a sofa, love seat and television and removed two dressers, three chairs, a night stand and a stereo from their bedroom.

The home's interior appeared more spacious that way, the Barrs say. And by removing traces of their country-style decor, they wouldn't deter someone with contemporary taste.

"We just took out everything we thought people would have a hard time getting past," Mrs. Barr said. "We wanted people to look at the house, not at my stuff."

They examined the walls and floors inch by inch with a flashlight, crawling along baseboards and peering into corners, checking seams for cracks and other defects. They found a crack and fixed it. They steam-cleaned the wall-to-wall carpeting and repainted the walls. They scrubbed windows, ledges, baseboards, vents, chair rail, trim and ceiling fans. Six weeks later, the house was ready.

"When we opened the house to let people in we wanted it in perfect, mint selling condition, so if they said 'we want to settle tomorrow,' we'd be able to move out," Mrs. Barr said.

They had set their asking price at $115,500. They did so by comparing features of their home with those of comparable homes on their street that had sold or were on the market. Their townhouse had three bedrooms -- including two master bedrooms -- 3 1/2 baths, cathedral ceilings, a large foyer, a workroom in the basement and ceiling fans in every room. Plus the Barrs had built a platform in one of the master bedrooms and knocked out a wall in the living room, opening up a staircase leading to the basement.

A house four doors away had sold for $114,900. That home, which also had a wall knocked out in the living room, had one upstairs bathroom and a deck. Mrs. Barr figured her home, which had two upstairs bathrooms and the large foyer, should be priced slightly higher.

Other homes on the market ranged from $113,900 to $115,900. The highest priced had a fireplace, two full baths, two half-baths and backed to the woods. The Barrs figured their home should be priced slightly lower.

They posted a "For Sale" sign in their yard and three signs on nearby streets reading "Open House, Sunday, 1-4." But it rained that day, and no one showed up.

Mrs. Barr spent the next couple of days designing and printing fliers offering a $500 reward to anyone who could find a buyer. She distributed them in her neighborhood and placed a newspaper ad for an open house the next Sunday.

That day, five people came in. They were greeted by fragrances of burning potpourri, breezes from the ceiling fans and the sight of fresh flowers around the house.

Recognizing that prospective buyers might feel uncomfortable inspecting closets and jiggling faucets with the owner looking on, Mrs. Barr did such things while showing the house.

"You have to be willing to listen to criticism and to tell them about the house and community and area," she said. "I told them information they didn't ask. People should be prepared to share why your house is better than Joe Blow's house down the street. You've got to tell people. They may be afraid or not know how to ask."

One of the shoppers, a young woman, returned that evening with her fiance. The next day, the Barrs and the buyers sat down with a copy of a sales contract the Barrs obtained from the real estate agent who'd sold them their new house. They signed a contract for the asking price, with the Barrs agreeing to pay the buyers' closing costs. The Barrs hired an attorney, who will represent them during the June 10 property settlement.

Mrs. Barr, who estimated she spent $300 and saved $6,000, said she would sell a home on her own again. "If somebody is going to do it on their own, you've got to be committed to doing it," she said. "If you're patient and persistent, the end result should be what you want."

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