For Sale, Forever

5 reasons your house still hasn't sold

July 20, 2008|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun reporter

The brick townhouse is a bright eight-year-old end unit with a list of upgrades - $10,000 in plantation shutters alone - and tasteful decor. Outside, it has a deck screened for privacy; inside, it has a big kitchen island. It's also in a convenient location, all likely pluses.

However, condos and apartments recently replaced the trees that were behind it and a dozen other townhouses are for sale in this Owings Mills complex, including three end units. All factors likely to limit its appeal.

The house has been on and off, but mostly on, the market for more than a year with more than one agent.

The current listing agent, Len Bernhardt, a Coldwell Banker veteran of 48 years, believes many would-be buyers are waiting out sellers in the hope that sellers will blink first.

"I would love to get back to California," said Gene Hill, the owner of the townhouse. But at the same time, she said, "I'm not going to just give my house away."

A recent price drop encouraged an offer so low she rejected it.

The story is not an unfamiliar one.

June housing sales reported by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. show the average sold price dropped by 4.43 percent from a year earlier. The statistics also show houses were on the market 32.93 percent longer, up from 82 days to 109 days.

If a house isn't generating buyer interest and a contract, it's time to reassess and make adjustments or consider renting it. Agents get feedback from colleagues who have shown a house to potential buyers, a good starting point for considering the next step.

There are a variety of reasons that a house may not appeal to buyers, but we spoke to several experts who identified five reasons a house may not sell: price, location, visual appeal, condition and our catchall of other market factors.

We asked area agents and Tara-Nicholle Nelson, host of HGTV's Savvy Woman Homebuyer video series (she's also a real estate broker, lawyer, speaker and author) to weigh in with some specific problems and their solutions.

1. Sale price is too high

"Price is everything," said Marc Witman, a partner in Yerman Witman Gaines and Conklin Realty in Baltimore. If the house hasn't generated serious interest within a few weeks and showings are at a trickle, re-evaluate the price. Recent comparables that sellers find at online real estate sites are helpful.

But they might not be entirely comparable, said Ann Whelan, an associate broker with ReMax100 in Ellicott City. The comparable figures don't distinguish between the house in a cul de sac and the one by the traffic light; the sold price doesn't indicate what assistance, such as $20,000 in closing costs or new energy-saving appliances, the seller provided. Agents have access to seller subsidy data.

SOLUTION: Drop the price to capture a new set of potential buyers, Witman said. Some 80 percent of buyers search online, where most tools automatically divvy up the market in $25,000 or $50,000 increments (though you can change the parameters). The house should drop into a lower price range.

Re-evaluate how much money you're willing to provide in assistance to a buyer. Offering your car or other goods unrelated to the house is more of a distraction than help.

2. Location is a turnoff

Location is key but it can mean more than whether your house is in the city or the country. A double-yellow line on the street in front, a train track behind, a shopping center parking lot nearby - they're buyer turnoffs. Less obvious is the neighbor's unkempt backyard and a dearth of parking.

SOLUTION: There's no moving the house, but there are some things a seller can do.

Hide the neighbor's yard with a fence or shrubs, said La Verne Gucker of Coldwell Banker in Annapolis. Draw attention to conveniences.

On a busy street? Landscape with a berm and shrubs.

Dealing with a parking issue now, Nelson said in an e-mail that she is having a seller draw up plans for a carport and obtain preliminary government approval, then obtaining three contractor bids to use as a selling point. "We'll offer to credit the amount of the middle contractor's bid to any buyer who offers the full selling price (obviously increasing our asking price to account for the credit)," she wrote.

Also, she asked the sellers to ensure generous indoor and outdoor storage space.

3. House has no visual pizazz

A generation of cable-TV watchers knows this: A house is supposed to be nicely landscaped, have a crisp interior and appear inviting. Would-be buyers may skip a house that falls short in looks.

Carol Schmidt, president of Chase Fitzgerald & Co., said many buyers lack the imagination to envision what a so-so house could look like spruced up.

"You've got to make your listing stand out," she said. "If a shutter is missing, or a flower bed isn't mulched, you think, 'What else are they missing?' "

Not obvious to a seller may be that the house looks dated, with carpeting in a 1970s green or walls in 1980s-kid colors. Eye-popping hues and themed decors may limit appeal.

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