Real Estate 2005: Selling Savvy

How to get more money with fewer headaches

Last spring proved a seller’s dream. “We saw more multiple offers than anyone could remember,” says Marjie Frankel, a Gladwyne-based realtor for Prudential Fox & Roach. This spring, following a three-year boom, the footing is expected to level somewhat, since the prediction is for slightly more inventory and slightly fewer buyers. Which means to sell well, you may have to do a bit more than sink a sign into your freshly mowed lawn. Here, area realtors guide you through your to-do list.

1) Do a preemptive strike.  Beyond cleaning and updating the obvious suspects (stained carpets, old appliances), Allan Domb, the Center City condo king, suggests getting a professional home inspection and having any problems it uncovers repaired ahead of time. “It’s worth the $300 to $400,” he says. “Give it to potential buyers as a selling tool; they’ll value your honesty and knowing the problems are fixed.”

2) Gut the kitchen.  Or maybe not. Renovations don’t necessarily affect market value significantly. (As far as the basic return on your investment, one study showed that homeowners in this area recoup about 84 percent of kitchen remodels, 105 percent for bathrooms and 83 percent for master suites.) They can, however, help you sell your place faster, according to Sandi Lichtman, of Lichtman Associates in Cherry Hill.  Your best compromise if you want to sell soon could be a mini-remodel.  For the kitchen, that might mean painting cabinets (or jazzing them up with more modern hardware), retiling the floor, or installing a sleek new faucet.

3) Set the price.  Keep in mind that highballing on the price can really cost you, says Frankel: “The buyers who should be looking at it won’t see it at all,” and before long, you’ll be slapped with the dreaded too-many-days-on-the-market tag and get lowballed by buyers who think you’re desperate. Instead, study the competitive market analysis (also called a “comp,” or CMA) provided by your realtor, and go from there as objectively as you can.

4) Do it yourself? According to the National Association of Realtors, independent sellers get an average of 15 percent less for their homes than they would with an agent, usually because they don’t price them right. Of course, there may be a way around that. Gail Germain, of Sewell, priced her home last May using CMAs from realtors she’d interviewed before going solo. She spent $20 on a for-sale sign and $650 on a lawyer, printed up flyers, and sold her house in a month — and says she saved herself $10,000 in a realtor’s fee, after her expenses. (In place of the CMAs, you can search realtor.com or your local town hall for asking prices or sale prices of homes in your neighborhood.)  

Services like helpusell.com and Foxtons.com will also get your house in the all-­important multiple listing service, which is used by realtors to find available properties. Foxtons.com charges a three percent commission for this service, half of the realtor’s standard six percent. Helpusell.com doesn’t charge a percentage, but rather has a sliding fee scale, starting at $2,950. But be warned that the lower commission to be shared keeps many buyers’ agents from showing properties listed with these services.

5) Call the realtor.  Start with referrals from neighbors and friends, Frankel recommends, but don’t be afraid to interview several realtors face-to-face before you find the right fit. Ask them what their marketing plan would be for your house, and gauge how willing they are to go the extra mile with things like expert photography for the MLS, realtor.com, or newspaper ads. If the realtor’s a big name, with millions in listings, don’t be shy to ask directly if he or she is interested a home like yours. “A good realtor can represent any home well.” says Frankel.  “but more are specializing now, so ask up front.”  Finally, make sure you’re comfortable with the realtor’s communication skills. Among other things, you’ll want her to share information with you after showings so you can fix any problems that are turning away possible buyers.