Being a Listing Agent I have honed many skills that allow my sellers to make the best first impressions, create buyer enthusiasm and ultimately, wring more from their sales to max out their bottom lines. Staging properties is not something that needs to be done at great expense to a seller. Little touches here and there are usually all that is needed. Most times, using the items the seller has in their home works. Every so often, I substitute in something from my own inventory.
In the case of the kitchen above, the seller had left barstools, the dining table (no chairs) and the table runner and a very nice polish pottery bowl. This area was tight. Fluffing the table included turning over the runner to the reverse side which was a lot less busy with only one pattern vs. three patterns, setting the table, adding a taller centerpiece and some chairs. Then came figuring out what to do with the barstools. The ones present didn’t really do anything but call attention to the big dining table and interrupt the flow of the island.
Adding these saddle style, lower height black bar stools left a clean line of the granite counters and left more space visually in the dining area. And with the living room being completely empty, I did make use of the bar stools elsewhere to set up an area of focus. You can see the full video tour of the property by clicking this link. There are examples of light staging in the owner’s bedroom and bathroom. Items were edited from the home that were useful, but dated it. Lamps, rugs, etc.
This home had been on the market as a For Sale By Owner on Zillow at the same list price and had a few open houses with many buyers through. However, it lacked offers when I took over. After the staging, professional photos and a few days on the market, the seller had four offers.
The devil truly is in the details when a home hits the market. Professional marketing agents like me get that and do everything we can to help our listings make the absolute best first impression.
Not too long ago, I was in a car with a very good friend of mine. The music playing on her car stereo was hard core metal. It sounded so pissed off and angry to me that I wanted to beg her to turn it off. She remarked that if I listened to the lyrics, I would find them insightful and contemplative. Being a communications major I knew I had to get past the non-verbal first, which was that loud, over-powered, fast paced music to have a chance of hearing the lyrics. And the way the artist was spitting out his words, it was not likely I would even understand them. The artists comtemplative and insightful thoughts were going to be lost to anyone who didn’t like this kind of music. It did not have wide appeal.
If you did not already know, most communication we encounter is non-verbal, even in a verbal message through conversation, music and so forth. How a person holds themselves, the words they chose to use, the pace of their conversation, the confidence in their voice and so much more all make up over ninety percent of what the recipient of our messages takes in. When the non-verbal conflicts with the verbal, the recipient can find themselves suspicious of the verbal. So how does this translate to selling a home?
Even in the strongly favored seller’s market that Bristow and Gainesville have been experiencing, non-verbal messages can overpower the message a seller really aims to make to buyers. Perhaps a seller has a very large floor plan with plenty of space. That message is not going to get through to buyers if the space is so cluttered with furnishing that buyers can’t actually take in the feeling of spaciousness. Maybe the home is targeted to luxury home buyers because it fits the mold of a refined home. It is not going to resonate with those buyers if the paint colors inside change from room to room and are reminiscent of trends that went by the way side and the carpet is stained. The disconnect between the intended message and what is actually happening are not going to lift buyer enthusiasm, but leave buyers hesitant to act. Or if they do act, they won’t act with the same gusto in the offer price they would if the intended message mirrored the non-verbal message a seller’s home is sending..
Listing preparation is where a seller’s intended message is edited to come through loud and clear. And when it comes to selling a home, the only way to achieve that is by de-cluterring, removing personal items, having fresh neutral paint throughout (preferrably professional painted with clean lines,) new carpet and rearranging furnishings to showcase the floor plan. Vacant homes will also do best with some light staging to help buyers visualize the space.
Of course, how to market to buyers is where a professional listing agent comes in. My job is make sure the non-verbal message of your home matches what you want your message to be. If it doesn’t, it will show in your offers. You don’t need to be a mind reader. Hire an agent well versed in the local market. This isn’t going to be your one or two deal a year agent. This is going to be a top producing agent with their finger on the pulse of the market. In Bristow and Gainesville, that is me. Get in touch for a no obligation market analysis that gives you an idea of your bottom line and how to best to increase it. If you don’t, you might as well be the deep thinker that wrote a song akin to poetry that will never be widely heard due to the overpowering music.
Achieving Buyer Success in Gainesville’s Heritage Hunt, Again
There are some well traveled Gainesville neighborhoods in my real estate business. One that comes up again and again is the active adult community of Heritage Hunt. By its sheer size, it is no surprise Heritage Hunt gets a lot of activity. Heritage Hunt is so big it is its own voting precinct!
Earlier this year, I helped buyers who had narrowed down their search to Heritage Hunt after over a year of house hunting. I also helped not one, but two Heritage Hunt condo owners sell their units in 2021. What I was not expecting on the morning of October 3rd was a phone call from a colleague with a Heritage Hunt single family home for sale, that had encountered interested buyers that wanted to make an offer on her listing. The only thing they needed was an agent to represent them. What an honor to be a go-to resource for a colleague who needed to place unrepresented buyers with a an agent. I was on it.
It wasn’t hard to jump into action on this one. As it turns out, when the call came in I was en route to Heritage Hunt to show property to another buyer-client. What was unusual was that of the interested buyer couple, one had seen the property courtesy of my colleague (the listing agent,) the previous day. After discussing it with his wife, the decision to make an offer was made.
The listing agent let me know that there was a very attractive offer on the table. Without having specifics, I knew my newly acquired buyer-clients would need to put their best foot forward. In explaining what that meant in an offer, they were all in. Turns out that my new buyer-clients won the property. The biggest challenge was simply going to be managing inspections and contractor quotes with buyers who were out of state. Again, not a problem.
Home inspectors were provided. Mr. and Mrs. Buyer chose one and I met their relatives and the inspector at the property. With only very minor issues, moving forward was easy. Now came the challenge to help these buyer-clients get their home prepped for their move. That meant hooking them up with paint and flooring contractors, as well as movers. Color and product consultations were handled via video call, choices made and work scheduled.
On Wednesday, November 17th, Mrs. Buyer was able to see the home for the very first time. She was very pleased and very excited. She is likely to be even more excited after the new flooring is completed before the first weekend of closing. Painting is happening the following week while their moving truck is making its way from Colorado. I’m as excited to see their choices in action as they are.
Buying a home may be a process that takes some buyers longer than others. It doesn’t matter. No matter how long the process, I am here to help make it as smooth as possible. If you have been considering a move to Heritage Hunt, or any other location in the Gainesville area, get in touch with me. Helping my buyer-clients find and settle into home is one of my greatest delights.
The Second Key to Max Profit When Selling Your Home
There are two major things a seller can do, even in a seller’s market, to max out their bottom line. The first I wrote about in detail and is all about creating buyer enthusiasm. This is essentially putting the shiniest, most attractive bait on the hook to the get the best and/or most buyers acting on the listing. The second key is what takes place after a buyer is under contract and it is just as important. It just involves different tasks. Simply put it is:
Maintaining Buyer Enthusiasm and Seller Profit
Neogtiations after a contract sales price has been agreed upon by the seller and buyer can be just as tense as the intial negotiations, if not more so. Buyers can feel they have a seller by the shorts and want to create points of renegotiation along the way. The first point of renegoation is home inspection. Having an idea of how to prepare for a home inspection is so important. Sellers can easily overlook simple things that can cause big panic. Or buyers can feel so entitled they overask. How should a seller respond to an an over indulgent buyer? An experienced, skilled, full-time professional agent knows how to deliver “no” without losing a buyer.
Appraisal is the second hurdle many buyers need to cross as a contingency to a sale. Even if a buyer has waived an appraisal contingency and is willing to eat any difference between appraised value and contracted sales price, there can be a buyer’s remorse issue if the divide exists at all, or is what the buyer considers too big. Not every listing agent meets an appraiser with a package of information to support the sales price. Whether the buyer has an appraisal contingency or not, I know that part of maintaining buyer enthusiasm and my seller’s profit is meeting the appraiser every time.
One of my favorite success stories about meeting an appraiser comes from having a less updated home sell for more than a very updated home of the exact same floor plan. I met the apprasier and though we still appraised low, we sold for more than the updated home. Turns out that discount broker didn’t meet the appraiser and relied on the home to speak for itself, leaving $15,000 on the table. (That was way more than the updated home’s seller would have paid by hiring a non-discount broker.)
In a seller’s market, getting through HOA void periods quickly is important as well. Having an agent that prepares for that ahead of time and doesn’t wait until the seller is under contract is just leaving the right to void period open for a buyer. And that’s not the only pitfall regarding HOAs. Did you know if HOA or condo violations are not corrected before settlement a buyer maintains a right to void under the title paragraph of the contract? Professional, local agents know the most frequently seen HOA violations and can help a seller prepare for their HOA resale inspection before the home is ever listed.
Details abound in the contract to close period of a home sale. Getting the major points of negotiation handled before there is an issue is a major part of that. Hiring a professional agent to lead the way is always the path to the highest profit. Again, it may seem intuitive to cut commission to save money, but he best don’t work for less. If a seller wants the best result (highest bottom line,) the agent they hire matters.
The First Key to Max Profit When Selling Your Home
Getting the maximum profit when you sell your home, even in a seller’s market is not as easy as you think. A seller can’t assume that any old agent that is willing to cut their commission because “it is so easy to sell houses in a seller’s market” is going to wring every dollar they deserve out of their home sale. Max profit doesn’t start with hiring the cheapest agent a seller can find, even though it is an absolute fact that the largest closing cost is agent commission. Reducing the largest line item paid in your closing costs may seem like a natural win, but as my father used to constantly remind us, “You get what you pay for.”
No matter the market conditions present when you are selling your home, the first key to success lies in three words:
Creating Buyer Enthusiasm
In one of the hottest seller’s markets on record, I have met two For Sale By Owners (FSBO) who had cut their commission line item in half by going it alone. What were they lacking? Besides buyers willing to write offers despite enough buyer interest to get it done, someone on their side to help them see their home through a buyer’s eyes and present it to the market in a manner to lift buyer enthusiasm. That is what generates higher prices, and in a seller’s market, bidding wars. Despite popular opinion on FSBOs, neither one was priced higher than the market would allow. They just had no clue how to create buyer enthusiasm and get legitimate offers. That’s where a professional marketing agent is worth their weight in gold.
Once I was hired as the professional listing agent, the focus shifted from how much could be saved on commission to how to get buyers to want this listing before they have even seen it in person. In each case, that involved staging, but not to the degree you might think. Simple rearranging of furniture to show a floor plan’s utility or larger amounts of space. Placing punches of color to draw attention to the home’s best features. Getting buyers to see how they would live in the property vs. seeing how a seller is currently living in a property. How someone lives every day in a home is not how they sell.
Once the stage is set, a professional listing agent knows to hire a professional photographer. Just like a seller who wants to cut commission believing it will net them more money, I fought hiring a professional photographer for too many years. Looking back, I can’t believe I ever took my own listing photos. The professionals in any field can not be matched and are a huge component of success. And naturally, the biggest compliment I get from my top notch photographers is that they love taking pictures of my listings because they are always primped for photo day and make great subjects. I like to say they are smiling and saying cheese when the photographer arrives. Still, it is unbelievable to me that a lot of listing agents don’t worry about what they photographers are taking pictures of if they are just professional.
While words used in describing a listing are also very important, they are a second to photos. Listing preparation and staging are vital to making sure your photos leap off the screen of the buyer’s phone, tablet or keyboard and plant that fast growing seed of buyer enthusiasm. Making sure the home presents the same in person to build on that level of enthusiasm is where all the preparation a seller did and maintains throughout showings is important. Making beds, clearing clutter, emptying litter boxes daily…you get the idea.
As I tell all of my sellers, the minute a buyer slumps their shoulders or sighs at clutter, condition, painting projects, old carpet…whatever…you have lost the chance at a full price offer. The cash register in the buyers head is running and they are overestimating the cost to get the home to look the way they want it. And the reality is that getting a home to look they way most buyers want is not as difficult, or costly, as a seller may think. Listing preparation is critical to buyer enthusiasm. Skipping it all together and relying on a hot market to bring you tremendous results is costly mistake.
Both of my FSBOs listed at the same price they had gone it alone and both got multiple offers and ended up selling above list price, which paid for the fee they had tried to avoid when unsuccessfully listing alone. However, it wasn’t just as simple as making sure the home looked great. That’s where we come to the second key to max profit when selling. Click the link to find out more.
Another day, another not so startling realization that too many listing agents have no idea how their choice of words, photos and inaction affect their sellers. A buyer-client texted me a listing of Interest. Her words were, “I know that something has to be wrong with the property since it’s been on the market so long.”
It would be a lie to say I had no pre-conceived notions as I typed the address in the MLS. Afterall, she had found the home on a media website beginning with the last letter of the alphabet that is infamous for its lack of current information. I was certain I would find that the property was in fact under contract. Alas, it was not. Hmm. What was going on?
Public facing remarks told the tale of a perfectly pleasing remodeled home with more acreage than its surrounding neighbors. Days on market showed nearly two months on the market. That does’t jive with being on the market two months when conditions favor sellers. The photos weren’t bad, but the opening one showed a three car garage with all of the doors open and junk spilling out of them. Not great, but not the worst I’ve ever seen. That’s when I noticed the agent remarks had some very important information.
The seller was insisting on a contingency on him finding another home to rent and wanted the right to void a contract at any time without penalty.
The property was being sold “STRICTLY AS-IS”
The first one alone was a big issue. Who the heck wants to get into business with a seller who sounds like they don’t want to sell? In two months, he should have been able to find some sort of temporary housing. Add in the all caps announcement that the home was being sold as is and I smelled trouble. Evidently, I was not alone as the home had been on the market all this time without action.
Calling the listing agent when you get into territory like this as a buyer’s agent is key. The barrier to entry into real estate is low enough, not to mention the very minimal expectations of many brokerages that don’t care who they bring on board as long as they have listings and buyers. A phone call always clears things up one way or another.
The listing agent was cheerful enough. He had been in business a very long time, but that doesn’t mean anything as I soon found out. Not only did he express that his seller had already found a home and moved out, he was shocked his own listing still had those remarks. Really?!! It was his responsibility to make sure the information was accurate, but I didn’t care. Leave it be. Less interest means more opportunity for my buyers.
As for the “STRICTLY AS-IS” language, I asked why he put that in there. After all, every listing agent worth anything knows that our contracts are as-is any way. Saying the home is “STRICTLY AS-IS” just rouses images of costly problems lurking in the shadows. Nope. There was one unfinished project, a koi pond. The seller just didn’t want to make any repairs. Most sellers don’t, but stating from the get go that a home is as-is just drives interest and price down. The connotation behind those words is not good for seller’s bottom line.
Counseling my sellers on the lay of the land with regard to strategy and marketing is key to getting them the most interest and highest possible price. Most sellers have no idea how their own ideas and stubbornness can work against them. It is my job as a full-time real estate professional to make sure they fully understand each aspect of the sales process and that we have a solid plan of action to increase buyer enthusiasm, not arouse buyer suspicion.
When you are ready to sell, insist on hiring a full-time professional agent that will level with you about how to get that sought after top of the market price. The simple fact that demand may favor sellers is not a recipe to demand one sided negotiations and lackluster marketing that will leave you buyer-less.
When Is Using an Escalation Clause in an Offer Appropriate?
One of the devils of a seller’s market is use of the escalation clause in offers from buyers. Having been at the helm of a twenty-six offer offer scrum with a Gainesville seller ealier this year, I legitimately had to make sticky notes on the offers as to which offer escalated them to various points. From the listing side they are sought after by sellers, but misused by buyers.
The best explanation I have come up with for escalation clauses for my own buyer clients is that they should speak in your absence. Say for instance a home has no offers, but is likely to get many. An interested buyer may write a full price offer with an escalation clause to speak for them when other offers roll in. However, writing an offer with an escalation clause and expecting an immediate answer from a seller is insanity.
Escalation clauses are an invitation to the seller to find offers that would escalate the offer. A buyer writing an offer with an escalation clause, if they are willing to pay above list price and do not want to compete, should simply write the offer they were willing to stand behind with their escalation clause. That would be worthy of a seller answering right away.
Nonetheless, this week I encountered two misuses of escalation clauses as a listing agent. My sellers received a full price offer with an extremely generous escalation addendum. When they had not answered the buyer within less than eight hours, they pulled their offer. It was madness. But it didn’t end there. Another offer with an escalation addendum rolled in. What did they want? An immediate answer, of course. When they didn’t get it, they withdrew their offer.
Escalation clauses are wonderful tools when used appropriately. And of course, if you use one, you must expect the seller to attempt to escalate it or, another danger of escalation clauses, simply counter you at the highest escalation point. When buying a home, if you want an immediate answer, an escalation addendum is likely not the tool you want.
Sellers: Is Your Home Ready For a Home Inspection?
In the seller market conditions that the Bristow/Gainesville market, and entire Northern Virginia area has been facing, home inspections have been more rare. However, after a dip in activity during the summer months, home inspection contingencies seem to be making a come back. Granted, buyers may be opting for Right to Void Home Inspections vs. the right to ask for repairs as part of the contingency. However, your property should leave very little cause for concern. You don’t want to cause undue alarm to buyers, their agents and inspectors for items that are well within your control to maintain for less than the cost of a dinner out at a very nice restaurant.
Here are some items that sellers can do to prepare their properties for home inspection:
Change your air filters before the inspection
Make sure all burned out light bulbs have been replaced
Gas fireplaces should have pilot lights lit and ready to ignite
Replace batteries in ceiling fan remotes and leave remotes where they are visible
Make sure your garage door opener safety sensors are aligned and free of cobwebs
Garage door remotes should be left out for testing
Downspouts should be connected and in good order with extenders if possible
Hose bibs should be winterized in mid to late fall and remain so until early spring
Make sure your smoke detectors are less than ten years old, have fresh batteries and all are the same model if hard wired into your home
These simple items can save so many headaches with buyers. Light bulbs that are burned out are called out as non-functioning lights by inspectors. Same with gas fireplaces that can’t be ignited. And dirty air filters can cause all kinds of alarm.
The photo at the top of this post was taken at a home inspection where I represented the buyer. There was zero air flow going through it, thus suffocating the air handler. The filter was being sucked into the air handler. This meams the HVAC was working harder than it needed to, which can lead to prematurely aging the system. In the case of the property where this drywall dust and paint particle encrusted filter was found, it was obvious that the renovations done to the property prior to hitting the market left a lot of debris in the air. Obviously, it all landed in the air filter, as it is supposed to. Unfortunately, the sellers, nor their contractors, thought to change the air filter during or after the improvements to lessen the stress on the HVAC.
Simple maintenance items can stop a lot of unnecessary panic.
Since beginning my real estate career in 2005, I have encountered many unwanted leave behinds in listings. They are brought to my attention by buyer agents on my listings and buyer-clients I represent doing final walk throughs. The latter I can report to listing agents and know they are not my responsibility to remove. The former often become my responsibility to avoid my seller-clients being charged unreasonable fees to pick up less than six paint cansm especially if they have already moved out of the area. My rule of thumb is simple, if it won’t fit in the trunk of my car, it is getting kicked to my seller-clients. And only one seller in all these years has required a junk removal fee. Not bad.
Paint cans and cleaners, toilet brushes and plungers are among the top items I remind sellers to get rid of as they move. If we get a communication from a buyer that they want paint cans and cleaners, great. Leave them. If not, get rid of them. And as far as my personal experience, no buyer wants toilet related products (outside of toilet paper on the roll) left behind. If there is a chance there is fecal matter on it, get a trash bag and dispose of it.
Recently, I was caught off guard by a buyer agent who flagged a coffin in the shed that needed to be removed from my listing the day before settlement. As I recalled, the seller had power to the shed. Were they talking about a coffin freezer? I reached out to the buyer agent and got clarification. No. It was a coffin, in the traditionally known shape of a coffin. However, he clarified it was small and light and should be easy to remove.
When I found it in the shed, standing about five feet tall, I hoped beyond all hope that it was made of lightweight plywood or balsa wood. Nope. It was going to be a two person job, only I was the only person there to move it. And naturally, it was one of the hottest days of summer. I hauled it out of the shed and used gravity of the downward slope of the back yard to get it started. Then it became a matter of hauling it to the curb. Oh the glamorous life of a real estate agent.
At that moment I heard the many voices of people I had encountered that had day dreamed of becoming a real estate agent with the phrase, “I really enjoy looking at houses. It must be so fun.” Really? How do you feel about hauling a sturdy Halloween coffin prop to the curb while in work clothes between appointments on a hot summer day? Too many times, being a real estate agent includes getting the dirty deeds done.
The coffin was truly the most bizarre unwanted leave behind I have encountered to date. And thank goodness for Facebook marketplace. Do you know how many people clammored for the free coffin? It was gone in fifteen minutes of posting after two dozen inquiries.
Bottomline for sellers is this: If you don’t want to be bothered moving it, odds are the buyers aren’t going to want it either. If you want clarification, alert your listing agent about items you wish to leave behind and see if they are indeed wanted by the buyers. If not, try giving it away on Facebook marketplace or taking it to the curb for trash pick up. Paint cans and cleaners will be considered hazardous waste and will require a special trip to the local landfill.
Every buyer’s path to the closing table is different. And buyers facing the madness of the 2021 seller’s market have tales of endurance through the toughest market a buyer could imagine. Homes would go on the market and have literally dozens of offers, with a handful that waived all contengencies and go well above list. Acting fast is a must. It was actually at an Open House for 15124 Santander Drive in Gainesville in January that I met these buyers relocating from a neighboring state.
Their home requests seemed simple enough: Find a four bedroom, three and a half bathroom home, with a finished basement bedroom and bathroom, double sinks in the upper hall bathroom in one of two high school districts. However, with the market leaping up significantly in value of homes due to the overwhelming demand, the plan was to act as quickly as possible.
From the end of March to the early part of June, we looked at twenty-eight homes and wrote eight offers, each one more aggressive than the last. It was disheartening to keep striking out. And then, on my birthday of all days, they sent a request to see a home that had popped up online. Because they were out of town, it ended up being a virtual tour. The home was impressive inside and checked all their boxes…something that hadn’t happened in a while as prices kept marching up. They made a full price offer and gave great terms.
It took a few days to get an answer, but my buyers got the house. And today, July 23rd, they signed all their closing documents to become official Gainesville home owners. Their perserverance paid off. Congratulations and welcome to Gainesville, my friends!