Today's housing market is intimidating. Inventories are high, sales are low, and a good many people are resigned to the fact they'll be staying where they are for awhile. I suppose my wife and I could have taken on that attitude earlier this year, being in the same situation (or worse) as condominium owners. But we needed a change, and surrender isn't really our style.
At the time we listed our property, condos here in Madison, Wisconsin, were averaging over 110 days on the market. We sold ours in three and half weeks. While I can't guarantee you'll have similar luck today, I do know a few tricks for unloading your home fast. Here's hoping it gives you the edge you need.
Match the Lowest Directly Comparable Price
When we listed our home, there were six to eight other matching condos with list prices ranging from $174,900 to $189,900. Even though it meant taking a small loss, we matched the $174,900 price in order to make ours the best in the price category. While losing money can be difficult to accept, it's important to remember that you can make up the loss by finding a great deal on your next purchase. This is especially true if you are buying bigger in a market of falling prices.
Use a Flat-Fee MLS Service
The most efficient way to offset your lower list price is to use a flat-fee MLS service instead of a seller's agent. Barring negotiation, a realtor will generally charge you 3% of the sale price to sell your home. In our case, we were facing a $5,000 expense. By using Homefront LLC — a Wisconsin flat-fee MLS service — we had our property listed at a fraction of the cost. Potential buyers and their agents simply called us directly to schedule their showings, rather than going through a $5,000 middleman. We spent another $250 to have a real estate attorney review the offer and final paperwork.
Offer a 1% Cash Bonus to the Buyer's Agent
When you list your property on the MLS, you decide how much to pay the agent who brings you a buyer. The standard is generally set at 3% of the sale price. While your gut instinct will tell you to lower this to save some coin, you actually want to do the opposite – offer 3% with a significant cash bonus. The fee arrangement is only visible to realtors on the MLS system – not their buyers – meaning you'll gain a semi-secret preferred position among any agents bringing buyers through your area.
Get Professional Wide Angle Photographs for Your Listing
Homebuyers first limit their search by price, then by specifications, then by pictures. If they like what they see online, they schedule a showing. While there's often little to no leeway on your list price and home specs, professional wide-angle photographs bring an enormous return on investment. In a matter of an hour, a professional photographer can entirely change a buyer's first impression of your home – making it appear bigger, brighter, more open, and more colorful – resulting in significantly more showings. Here's a typical before and after example, courtesy of Dan Miller at DaneCountyMarket.com.
Keep Your Home Simple and Spotless
This one takes the most energy, but will easily distance you from any lazy competition. First, meticulously clean your home from top to bottom. Clean the oven, scrub the bathrooms, organize your cabinets and closets. Dust. Move any unwieldy junk down to storage, take it to work, or put it in your car. Your closets will seem twice as big if the floors are completely free of shoes and other clutter, and your windows will seem much larger if there's no furniture immediately below them or to the side. Sweep, mop, and vacuum before every single showing. Do this all well, and your house will simply feel good when buyers walk through it.
Get Chatty with Real Estate Agents
Once your property is listed, you've gotta be a champion for it. Visit the websites of your area's major realty offices and grab all the email addresses of your local real estate agents. Email them individually to let them know about the cash bonus, and all the other reasons why they should bring their clients through. Believe it or not, a large percentage of realtors will appreciate this effort. After all, they want to sell houses even more than you do and most will appreciate the heads up.
Once you start scheduling showings, make sure to call the buyer's agents after the fact to inquire about their clients' likes and dislikes. You will receive extremely valuable information that can improve your subsequent showings. In our case, more than a few buyers felt our living room was too cluttered. We moved some furniture out of the house and into a friend's basement to open up the room. We sold the place soon after.
Carefully Consider Any Offers You Receive
When you receive your first offer, consider the fact that it may be the only one you get for a long time. Often times, sellers will receive an offer within a week of listing their home, simply because it's the new hot commodity. Don't allow yourself to get over confident. Carefully consider whether or not it's something you can accept. Be very open to any unexpected requests. A buyer may want to own a house because of the furniture in the living room or a painting on the wall. Be flexible.
Finally, be smart about the earnest money you're receiving with the offer. You don't want it to be a deal breaker, but you also can't afford to take your property off the market for three months, only to see the closing fall through and award you with a whopping $500 in earnest money. Look at the requested closing date, consider how much risk you're taking by removing your home from the market for that long, and request a reasonable sum of earnest money. If the deal falls through, believe me, you will want reasonable compensation. And if the buyers are legit, they shouldn't be opposed to putting their money where their mouth is.