"Over-priced" Houses That Don't Sell

As I wander through the various message boards, I often read about people’s frustration regarding “over-priced houses that can’t possibly sell”.  To a buyer who likes the house, and is waiting for the price to be within reason, this can be very frustrating.

What they fail to understand is that every house that is for sale, is not necessarily going to be sold by the current owner. 

1) Divorce – Often in a divorce, one of the spouses is offered an option to buy out the other spouse.  In a market like this one, sometimes the agreed upon price must be tested.  Say the spouse who is leaving wants the buyout price to be $600,000. Let’s say they bought it for $400,000 and put $100,000 worth of improvements into it.   They put it on market for $$599,000 and keep reducing the price to $519,000.  Then it goes off market (this is a real case) and it never comes back on market.

Meanwhile, a buyer has been watching it, who wanted to buy it for $485,000.  He’s been watching it for 7 months.  He feels “used” and frustrated that it went off market before it hit an asking price of $499,950 .

Once the value was proven to be $400,000 plus $100,000 at best, the two spouses agree on the “buyout” amount, and one of them gets to stay in it.  It was only ON MARKET to prove to one of the spouses that the price of $600,000 was unrealistic.

2) Passive Aggressive – saying YES and meaning NO.  Husband and wife have a fight and the wife calls an agent to list the house, planning to get a divorce when the house sells.  Husband signs the listing paperwork at a price at which he knows it won’t sell.  He appears to be cooperating with the sale, and blames the market for the wife’s failed plans 🙂  They make up at some point, take the house off the market, and live “happily” ever after…until the next fight.

3) “Mom, you HAVE TO move” – Well meaning children tell Mom she’s too old to live in that big house all by herself.  She’s tired of hearing it, and agrees to put the house up for sale.  High price and awkward showing instructions.  “Can only be shown with listing agent present’ or “Can only be shown on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and not on weekends”.

Sometimes these homes are on market from April through October, every year, year after year, with the price increasing every year.  Kids wonder why Mom’s house won’t sell, but they stop bugging her about her need to sell it.

4) Short Sale – Bank approves a sale price of $450,000.  House sits on market at $450,000.  No offers.  Owner can’t lower it below what bank has indicated they will take.  Bank won’t reduce the amount they will take, because they have an appraisal at $450,000.  House sits on market until someone buys it at foreclosure.  Some owners keep reducing it every couple of weeks, but mls says they can’t offer it at a “fake” price not ratified by the Bank…big Catch 22.

So when you look at the inventory of homes for sale, understand that they will not all be reduced to a price at which they will sell.  Often you will not get the real story about the seller’s motivation.

The pain of over pricing and poor photos… and how not to get bit by them, 9+ questions to ask your listing agent.

I’ve noticed a trend in my business lately.  Several consumers are contacting our team for help in re-listing their home after having a poor experience with a prior agent.  While it is true that selling activity in Puget Sound is lower this year than last, there is still some positive selling activity occurring with some areas of Puget Sound continuing to grow in housing values.

So, with there still being some sales activity why is it that these folks are contacting us?

What I’ve seen as key factors in the lagging sales of these homes is poor pricing and presentation of the properties.  In one case the price had been overinflated by hundreds of thousands of dollars, plus it had poor presentation in photos and staging, so the home languished sitting on market for over a year.

In the majority of these situations things could have been handled differently with the past agent.  And, while I believe that me and my team provide a higher level of service than many others, we know we aren’t the only game in town that can figure out the right mix of marketing, presentation, and pricing for a property.  However, in these instances, I do believe the former listing agents could have done a better job – for certain – but, as a seller, it is also up to you to do a good job of interviewing a prospective agent.  A few good questions by the seller might have led to a different decision about how the house was marketed and led to a better discussion about what impacts the value of a home.  This, in turn, could have led to a more informed decision about where to place pricing.

So, to try and help those of you out there who are considering putting your home on the market, here is a list of 9+ questions you can use to qualify and interview your prospective listing agent.

1.   What methods of advertising do you use, and why?  Can you tell me which will likely be the most effective?  How comfortable are you using Internet advertising methods?

2.   Do you think my home will need prep work or staging to get it ready for market?  What types of things do you suggest for sellers and why?

3.   What is the typical timeline for selling a home that you have represented and how does that compare to the local marketplace?  What percentage of selling price do you typically get compared to list price?

4.  Do you offer any particular programs or services for each home that you sell such as a home warranty, professional photos, etc?  Does your fee determine whether additional services are included or not?

5.  If you don’t provide these additional services yourself – do you at least have companies you can refer me to that if I choose to use them directly to prepare my home more effectively, I can do so?

6.  Are there any special considerations I should have while selling my home such as security, prep for showings, etc?

7.  How often will you communicate with me about the sale of my home?  What kinds of reports can I expect?

8.  Will I get a chance to review and approve any of your advertising or marketing materials such as the flyer, MLS ad, or otherwise?  If not, why?  If I am not satisfied with a piece, will you work with me till I am?

9.  How will you determine the price that should be advertised for my home?  Will you include me in those pricing decisions and explain to me any reasoning for a price above or below my own estimate?

This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive but it will definitely open up a lot of good (or what should be good) conversation between you and the agent you are interviewing.  If the agent is unable to respond to any of these questions then you should seriously reconsider whether or not you will use him/her regardless of if it is a “family friend” or otherwise.  In today’s marketplace it is important that you make the right choice the first time, if you can.  The buying public is much more sophisticated today than even 10 years ago because of the Internet and because of the onslaught of home focused television shows and channels like HGTV.

Pocket Listings in Seattle?

I was a meeting this weekend with an agent in Southern California where he showed me a website he says he visits a couple times a week.   A competitor had built up a large repository of “pocket listings” for the Beverly Hills area and then stuck them behind a registration wall… of which he visited regularly.

Being a Rain City Guide kinda guy, I’m not keen to put things behind registration, but I am fascinated by the idea of putting together a page of pocket listings as a resource for Seattle area agents and consumers.  If you’re an agent who serves any area supported by the NWMLS and you’d like to advertise a pocket listing on RCG, let me know in the comment below.

If I get 5 or more pocket listings in the comment section of this post in the near future, then I’ll assume there really is demand for such a tool in the Seattle area and I’ll start up a new page (right between “About RCG” and “Seattle Agent Recommendations”) for pocket listings.

Here’s the only information I need from you:

  • Neighborhood
  • One to two sentence description of the listing
  • Contact information (name & phone)

For obvious reasons, I’m assuming that most agents won’t want to list the address of the pocket listing, but if you want to include that information as well, all the better.  And just to be clear, this is a free service of RCG.   Assuming it becomes a lot of work, I may charge a nominal fee to cover my time and/or automate the system, but I honestly don’t see that happening in the near future.

Are there rules for getting your pocket listing on RCG? Most definitely!   But I don’t even know what they are yet.   However, I will definitely figure out some rules if people start abusing the system.    Some potential rules that come to mind: (1)  Only allow agents to list their top 3 pocket listings, (2) must let me know if a pocket listing gets listed on the MLS and/or (3) must let me know if a pocket listing is no longer available. But even those rules aren’t hard-and-fast yet until I get some feedback from the community.

So, if you are an agent intersted in getting some additional exposure for your pocket listings, let me know!

A Thanksgiving Real Estate Story

I’m greatful that I get to work in this wonderful world of real estate sales.  Every family that is buying or selling a home has a story to tell me.  Every investor renting, buying or selling a building or entrepreneur buying or selling a business brings the agent into their lives during the transaction and often long lasting friendships are forged. What I love is that every deal is different, every buyer and seller brings new and interesting lives with them.  I’ve learned about nearly every religion in the world (I ask a lot of questions).  I’ve learned why people come to the Greater Seattle area.  I’ve learned all about the books and operations of the businesses I represent and their hopes and dreams and I get to share these dreams.

But I want to share the story of Stacy Bannerman who is The Founder/Director of a Foundation called The Sanctuary For Veterans & Families, with whom one of my agents, Brian Borgen and I are currently working. 

This summer I co-listed with Brian a fabulous waterfront home/retreat/spa/B&B in Vaughn, about  ½ hour west of Gig Harbor with 900 feet of salt waterfront, 11,000 sq ft home and 5 acres.  Working with interested buyers has been fascinating and fun, seeing the property through the eyes of different buyers, such as a retreat for Hollywood stars and a Bed and Breakfast business supported by Social Entrepeurs from Europe.

However, Stacy Bannerman called us from an online ad this fall and thinks the property will be perfect for their needs as the Sanctuary they have been looking for.  Working with Stacy has humbled me and made me realize how thankful I am for our Veterans who have been in harm’s way.

Stacy shared with us her vision for this Sanctuary and explained to me why she was willing to spend countless hours volunteering her time so that veterans could have a place of retreat from the world while they get the special services they need to get back on their feet.

ChavezShe states that “at least 1.6 million American military personnel have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Iraq war veterans are exhibiting higher rates of post-combat mental health problems than veterans of any other war in this nation’s history.  

Due to repeat, extended tours, an unprecedented wound-to-kill ratio of 16 to 1, and the high incidence of civilian casualties in a war without front lines, the most conservative estimates now are that at least 30 percent of troops will suffer some post-combat mental health problems. While post-combat mental health issues affect an individual veteran, the aftermath of war impacts the whole family and reverberates across communities.”

Stacey is going through the hoops to get this property under contract, she already has set up work schedules for the operation and arranged to have Bastyr University  handle the rehab portion of the week to help with mental and physical recovery.  The foundation will also be setting up a children’s dayschool so that the veterans can find a safe place to bring their families and get special counseling for a week at a time.

So, today an architect is drawing up the changes to be made to submit to an appraiser and then we get under contract and she’s out raising money.  All this and she has a full time job herself.

I will be so proud to be part of this and sure hope it comes together.  It all feels right and I’m excited and once again, so grateful to be in this business.


Photos are worth 1,000 words (and a lot of money too)

We “dog food” our real estate search product at Estately (we use it like a consumer): I subscribe to a couple of daily email alerts, a constantly updating RSS feed showing properties as they come onto the market near my house, and I subscribe to a feed of my saved homes to see when they sell.

Today two properties came on the market (welcome to Seattle prices, out of towners!):

$720,000 3 Beds / 2.25 Baths / 15 photos / 1,412 sqft / $509 per sqft
$729,000 0 Beds / 0 Baths / 0 photos / 1,700 sqft / 2,400 sqft lot / $428 per sqft

I didn’t even look at the second property – really, what’s the point? Like most buyers, I’m driven by emotion. I click through photos pretty much as fast as they load until one catches my eye, I linger, something about the property gets past my reptilian complex and I actually consider the details. Good agents know this on both sides; they take fantastic, eye catching photos or hire a professional to do so. Some of our Agent Match clients have found that they overlooked a great property with bad photos until they were dragged there by their agent and at least one was pleased to find that bad photos and staging could cost a seller upwards of $25,000.

If you are a consumer selling your house, dog food it. Subscribe to a daily email of new homes for sale for a month or two before you list your house and see what catches your eye. It’ll make “decluttering” easier.

If you are a realtor who works with sellers, dog food it. Sign up for a daily email from your company’s website. If your listing doesn’t look good there, you’ve lost a lot of the buyers who are currently in the market. You missed your chance to catch their eye and they’ve moved on to Craigslist. Maybe you can have a second shot at impressing them there.

Update on staging of house…

I put a post here the other day about staging a house and then saying I’d put in photos of the finished product to get responses from readers here (preferably readers and not regular contributors) about whether or not they could see the value and difference staging (and good preparation) makes in a sale. This listing got multiple offers and has a contract on it for more than asking price right now which was somewhat expected since we priced the home in the mid-range of what it could sell for based on our market analysis for the area.







Comments?  I have not posted every single photo but this gives a good layout of the house and most of the amenities it has to offer.

another day of staging…

Today was a busy day and another one that required a bit of handholding and education. We have been working with a client for several months now as they prepare a home for sale. The house has been a rental for several years and when I saw it in early December it was in not so great condition from a cosmetic standpoint. The former tenants had ruined the carpets in a scant 2 years of renting and there was plenty of cosmetic damage on things such as walls and doors where the teenaged daughters had vented their sibling rivalry.

You wouldn’t believe that this is the same house now.

I failed to take the photos I planned on today but I’ll post some of the “before” and “during” shots here and then I’ll follow those up later this week once we have the professional photographer’s work done. If anyone looks at this post, I’d really appreciate some feedback on whether you think me and the client did a good job. I’ve been offering a higher level of service to listing clients where we provide a lot of things such as professional cleanings, window washing (in & out), yard service, pro photos, and staging. I think it makes a big difference and I’d like to get your opinion too of whether going through this much work is worth it from the consumer’s point of view.

So, here are the beginning photos… stay tuned at the end of the week for the final shots…

front of the home – it needed some pruning, edging and trimming as well as a fresh layout of beauty bark.

Back yard photo – note the shrubs that have grown up high and are making the house look smaller than it is. The house needs plants that are more in keeping with the size and dimension of the home.

The kitchen and its cultured marble counter tops and older wall oven and gas stove top. Most people likely wouldn’t even notice but the stove top is too big for the space. Note how it goes past the fan above and is underneath the cabinet to the left. This is a fire hazard and was fixed when the house was updated for sale.

The living room carpet detail is hard to see here but let’s just say that it wasn’t the cleanest carpet I’ve ever seen. Lots of spots and stains. Underneath are what turned out to be really great oak floors as you can see a portion of them at the left corner of this photo. The floors were refinished prior to going on market this week. They look great and run throughout the length of the home in all bedrooms, hall, dining area and living room.

This is the 3rd bedroom just to give you an idea of how the room looked before since it is the smallest of the 3 regular bedrooms (not including the office that would likely qualify as a bedroom and has been used as such). We had the seller take out his home made bookcase, remove the dirty carpet, old trim and we had new doors installed.

Selling houses is a flashback to dating on Match.com

[photopress:heart.jpg,thumb,alignright]Yes, that’s right, I too have used Match.com in the past and it’s actually how my partner, Michael, and I met. This weekend I was reminded of the dating experience online as I perused houses in the Greenlake area with some clients. First, we looked at houses in a price range of over $1 Million. The house they’ve written an offer on is gorgeous but the photos of it were horrible. It was exactly like how Michael and I met because he had a horrible photo – so I almost didn’t meet him – and it ended up that when we really did meet it was love at first sight. It was the same way with this couple, I almost didn’t show them the house because I was afraid it was going to be lacking in the aesthetics department based on the lame exterior photos – there were none of the interior. Thank goodness I took a chance and used it as a comparative for another expensive home and they ended up falling in love.

[photopress:IMG_1075.JPG,thumb,alignleft][photopress:master_bedroom.jpg,thumb,alignright]As I’ve been in the real estate biz only a few years I imagined that all agents who work with higher priced properties might actually take the time to provide exceptional skills when it comes to marketing a home. Well, apparently this isn’t the case. Do sellers just not think to ask to see what their house will look like online? The post that came in a few days ago about putting in good photos on real estate listings really strikes a chord with me. Which photo would you rather have for your home? The one that limits the scope of the room to be seen and is kind of dark and depressing? Or go for the warm, inviting photo that gives some sense of the actual space?

I’d post the photos of this house here but since we’re under negotiation right now, I can’t. Let’s just say my client’s digital photo did a lot better than the one the agent took. I have to say that, like Michael, I’m glad someone put in a bad photo this time because otherwise a love match (for me and then my clients) wouldn’t have been made.

Zillow's Free Advertising – A Consumer Perspective

[photopress:warning.jpg,thumb,alignright] Before everyone jumps into the pool, every agent and owner must “LOOK before they LEAP”.

The Zillow Zestimate WILL appear, of course, in the same space as your “Property For Sale” listing. The printed data is also picking up the erroneous square footage info and number of bedrooms and baths from the tax records. So far it would appear that the owner can edit this data, but not the agent for the owner. Still playing with that.

Clearly, no agent should be listing a home where the Zestimate is less than the Asking Price, without first consulting with the owner, as I did last night BEFORE 9 p.m., having seen the proto-type last week. I am not particularly alarmed by this variance, but clearly the Zestimate being higher, rather than lower, would be a PLUS! 🙂 Attempting to turn a blind eye to the Zestimate, by not posting your home for sale there is no answer. Not here in the Seattle area where 82% of the buying public is likely to have seen the Zestimate, whether you invite them to do so or not. Seattle PI: “The company’s internal numbers (Zillow’s) indicate that 3.2 million people visited the site in November and that 82 percent of all homes in King County (WA) have been viewed on Zillow in the last 10 months.”

It is quite possible that the whole valuation process will pull in the direction of Zestimates, particularly in areas like ours with so many tech savvy buyers. In fact, I am already seeing a move in that direction for many properties on market and ones sold recently.

Whether or not you choose to post your home for sale on Zillow.com, these are issues facing everyone involved in real estate transactions. Buyers are making offers with the Zestimate price. Sellers and Agent’s for sellers will need to learn how to calculate the variance with some level of credible accuracy.

One of the reason’s David G. and Jeff, of Zillow, my parter Kim and I, met last week to review the new product, was to view first hand some of these potential pitfalls. While I did notice the Zestimate vs. Sale Price issue, the square footage discrepancy did not pop out at me during the presentation.

“Supporting New Business Models” and being an “Agent for Change” requires that someone jump in first to test the waters and assist with these little blips from the getgo, and not without the owner’s permission to do so.

To Galen, who notes that it is difficult to simply load up listings en masse, perhaps this is fair warning that adding a home for sale should NOT be done en masse. Every agent and every owner must consider the potential consequences of showing the Zestimate price side by side against their Asking Price, and be prepared to justify the basis for the differences between the two with regard to square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, finished vs. unfinished space, etc. and price.

This “FREE ADVERTISING” and the info contained “in the AD” is not entirely editable by the owner and the owner’s agent…so far anyway. I’m still working on it. Not a small matter, and one that must be addressed rather quickly if Zillow’s erroneous data is going to show side by side the owner’s “corrected” data.

So what did I forget to ask David G. last week? Did Pearl Harbor Day come up in any conversations concerning Zillow’s choice of unveiling the new upgrade? Did unveiling it at 9 p.m. on the 6th, camouflage any refererence to December 7th, when most would be waking up to see “God-Zillow” in their sheets with the morning paper?

Tear Downs

One of the commenters, Redmondjp, asked about tear downs. Kirkland is famous for new homes being put where old ones used to be. But our conversation stemmed around whether or not Bellevue and Redmond ramblers built in the 50s and 60s will go the way of these Kirkland teardowns. I know of a few in Bellevue. I don’t know any in Redmond.

Here are a few recent tear downs, before and after, from Kirkand. What do you think?

Should the old ones have stayed?