Like rookie buyers, clients who are new to selling need extra hand-holding through the sales process.
Even the most steely-eyed sellers can get emotional when it’s time to list their home. It’s the place where they raised their children, gathered friends for annual holiday parties, or painstakingly executed their design vision over many years. The longer they have stayed in a home, the greater the challenges they may face getting up-to-date on the rules and regulations governing transactions. Those who have never before sold are, indeed, in uncharted territory. Here are suggestions for working with first-time sellers who may find the financial and legal complexities, as well as the emotional terrain, especially daunting.
First-time sellers who have never contended with buyer demands may not initially understand how neutralizing their home or adding small upgrades can make their property more competitive on the market. Using data to highlight comparable nearby homes and what they’re selling for is a good place to start, but make sure to explain how the data supports your argument. Andy Werner, abr, e-pro, associate broker at RE/MAX Realty Group in Gaithersburg, Md., says many first-time sellers don’t realize how minor repairs can elevate their property’s market value. Buyers typically expect a home to be in move-in condition, so sellers who choose not to upgrade could face a $10,000 to $15,000 price reduction, he says.
“I tell buyers that if you don’t fix up your house, the buyer will go around the corner and buy from someone who did—and they’ll pay $5,000 more,” Werner says. Such an explanation demonstrates market fundamentals to your clients and keeps them on track toward the closing table. The costs of modest repairs, such as repainting, installing carpet, and refinishing or replacing kitchen cabinetry, are often recouped at resale, Werner adds.
Selling After Decades of Owning
Some common seller issues become more difficult simply because of how long a first-time seller has lived in a home. Decluttering, for example, can be hard enough for someone who’s been in their home only five years. Imagine how challenging it is for sellers who have lived in a home for their entire adult life.
It’s not just emotional resistance they’re experiencing. First-timers may simply not be aware of how clearing out personal items improves the odds of a sale. Alice Chin, psa, a broker with Keller Williams Infinity in Naperville, Ill., recommends that sellers who have never dramatically decluttered their homes before do it in stages, clearing one room at a time. Slowing down the pace can ease the mental and emotional pressure involved in getting rid of personal items, she says, and once sellers see the results in one room, it can encourage them to continue working on the rest of the house. If your client needs more convincing, ask a professional home stager to weigh in, Chin says.
Patience Is a Virtue
All sellers benefit from practicing patience while waiting for the right buyer, but this is doubly true for those who are listing a vacation home in resort areas for the first time. They face different market dynamics than if they were selling a primary residence, says McKee Macdonald, a broker with Coldwell Banker Carlson Real Estate in the ski resort town of Stowe, Vt. Many of his clients who are new to selling are shocked to learn how long it can take to sell—an average of 250 days in his market. Some properties have languished for as long as five years, he says.
Therefore, first-time sellers require a higher degree of communication so they can be prepared for the realities of a niche market, Macdonald says. He explains that traditional marketing tactics such as open houses aren’t always effective because the number of skiers (who are prospective buyers) in town on weekends is unpredictable. Instead, he advises his clients to consider renting out vacation properties while they wait for a buyer. After all, selling a second home often isn’t urgent, and a seller’s motivation can change. “Some sellers say, ‘Throw it out there. If we get the price we want, great. If not, I’m still using it,’” Macdonald says.
Experienced Sellers Can Be Rookies
Even seasoned sellers can feel like newbies when market conditions have changed markedly since their last sale. A client who sold one property during a downturn may be ill-prepared for today’s tight-inventory environment and the stress of handling multiple offers. Though it’s a nice problem to have, it can still be overwhelming.
Ashleigh Fredrickson, sales associate at 8Z Real Estate in Denver, says the biggest challenge for sellers of all experience levels is determining which offers stand the best chance of holding up. In a strong seller’s market, buyers can get swept up in the heat of the moment and bid 10 percent over list price only to realize later they won’t be able to qualify for financing, she says. So it’s important to counsel sellers—particularly those who have never been in such a situation—that the highest bid isn’t necessarily the best. “You want to make sure you’re getting the most qualified buyer so that you’re not back out on the market again,” Fredrickson says.
She suggests using a spreadsheet to help sellers analyze competing bids, taking special note of any contingencies. Your clients need to understand that a higher offer with more contingencies may not be in their best interest. “Maybe the timeline is paramount, so the seller will sacrifice a couple of thousand dollars to ensure the deal is done by a certain time,” Fredrickson says.
Above all, directness and thorough education are what every first-time seller needs, Macdonald adds. When a sale isn’t going the way a seller had imagined it would, “you need to look for strategies to offset the negatives.” But always “give sellers the honest truth, and don’t sugarcoat it,” he says.
The sales price of neighboring homes is only one part of the equation. Be sure that sellers understand the other factors that affect how their home compares to their neighbors’.
Location within the neighborhood.
If your seller’s home is in a part of the neighborhood that borders a highway, train tracks, or an industrial area, it’ll likely fetch a lower price. Make sure you pull comps of other homes in similar locations to compare and explain pricing differences to sellers.
The home’s lot.
Take into account that hilly terrain can affect the usability of each home’s lot and bring your seller’s price down. You can have two one-acre lots next to each other, and one can be fully usable while the other is only half usable because of steep slopes, says Todd Gibbons of William Pitt Sotheby’s International.
Home owners who have done home-improvement projects typically get a higher price for their property. You should know which properties in the neighborhood have undergone renovations and how much they sold for so you can suggest to your seller what projects they should do if they want to boost their home’s sale price.
In some markets, the cost of land has dropped, making building a new home less expensive and, thus, more affordable for buyers. Sellers need to understand how competition from the new-home segment could affect their listing price. For example, in the suburbs of Chicago, where Michael LaFido of Marketing Luxury Group does business, building a house similar in size to an existing structure costs 20 percent less today than before the recession. Pull comps from builders in your area to show sellers the potential impact on their home’s value.
The difference between listing price and sales price.
Many sellers will go online to see listing prices for other homes on the market in their neighborhood and ask you to price their house accordingly. You need to explain that listing prices reflect what sellers are asking, not what buyers are willing to pay. That’s why sold inventory is more reliable for determining the realistic price of your seller’s home than the asking price of properties currently on the market.
Sources: Maria Azuaje, Berkshire Hathaway Homeservices Florida Properties Group, Miami; Ann Marie Clements, AHWD, e-PRO®, Keller Williams Capitol Properties, Rockville, Md.; Michael LaFido, Marketing Luxury Group, Chicago; Todd Gibbons, William Pitt Sotheby’s International, Westport, Conn.
John N. Frank is former managing editor for REALTOR® Magazine.
People naturally go through buying stages as their lives change. Whether they’re aging, gaining wealth, expanding their families, or just maturing in their tastes, each potential client is going through an easily recognized cycle. That cycle puts buyers into three categories: those who are starting out and are truly just looking; the ones who have decided they are definitely going to do something, but haven’t decided what yet; and the ones who have a clear idea of what they want, including their price range and other details.
Stage one buyers are just toying with the idea of making a change. They’re not trying to be coy when they give vague answers to your questions about what they’re looking for. They legitimately don’t know. Agents can put themselves in a position to win their business down the road by taking on the role of adviser and asking them questions that move them forward mentally.
In stage two, buyers have chosen to make a change. They’ve put their houses on the market or have decided not to renew their rental agreement. They’ve already made a verbal commitment to each other or to friends and family that they are going to buy. They don’t know exactly what they want, but they do know a change is coming. Agents can distill two or three different options to help them narrow the field.
In stage three, customers come to the table knowing what they want — their price range, the features they can’t live without, and a notion of the type of floor plan that meets their needs. They are definitively in the market, and it’s only a matter of who’s going to win their business.
When agents fail to win that business, too often their response is that “buyers are liars.” They write them off as unserious people only interested in wasting their time. In truth, agents who are surprised by a customer going a different direction most likely aren’t asking the right questions to get inside buyers’ heads. When agents aren’t aware of what their potential buyers are thinking, they are the ones wasting their own time with the wrong people, losing business in the process.
On the other hand, when agents find out which stage buyers are in, they can meet them there. They don’t need to talk about price range if the prospects haven’t even decided whether or not they need a change. In this stage, buyers don’t need to hear specifics. They need to first understand the how their lives will improve if they make a change. In stage three, they don’t need to be persuaded that a change will improve their lives. They already know that and that’s why they came to the agent. Stage three buyers need to know why the agent, community, or home is the right one for their specific situation.
It’s important for agents to spend time with buyers in all stages of the process. This way, they’ll have a healthy pipeline of prospects as potential clients move through the stages. If agents are ever surprised by a customer’s decision, coach them to identify customer stages. That will allow your agents to meet customers where they are so they can move them into the next stage (and subsequently, their next home).
Jason Forrest is a sales trainer; management coach; member of the National Speakers Association’s Million Dollar Speakers Group; and author of three books, including his latest, Leadership Sales Coaching. One of Training magazine’s Top Young Trainers of 2012, Jason is an expert at creating high-performance sales cultures through complete training programs. He incorporates experiential learning to increase sales, implement cultural accountability, and transform companies into sales organizations.