- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Even though homes sell faster in the Washington region than in most other parts of the country, it sometimes happens that a home doesn’t move before the owners do. Whether it’s due to a job transfer or the owner’s choice, if the “For sale” sign still decorates the yard when moving day is right around the corner, real estate experts say, research and planning are crucial for a successful sale.

However, in this age of e-mail, faxes and Internet resources, today’s sellers can leave an unsold home behind and, with their Realtor’s help, take care of business long distance.

“While it’s not more difficult to sell, the preparation work has to be made very carefully,” says Tim Bird of ZipRealty Inc. in McLean. “It’s unnerving when your house is on the market in a different location, and it behooves you to go through the upfront planning process.”

Selling a home while the owners are out of town presents a bevy of challenges, so professionals advise sellers to pick an agent carefully by asking questions specific to their situation.

“When you talk to a Realtor, make sure that they are comfortable with your not being in town,” Mr. Bird says.

It’s also a good idea to interview a couple of agents and ask them important questions, such as, “When a contract comes in, how are we going to handle the presentation?” says Esther Pryor, chairman of the board of directors for the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors.

When looking for an agent to help with your long-distance sale, do the normal things that people selling a home do — contact three local real estate companies and get different opinions about how someone is going to market your house to get the most exposure.

Also, the experts suggest online research to find Realtors who have included photos and e-mail links on their Web sites.

“Find out who’s going to incorporate today’s technology,” says Beth Tyler of Long & Foster Real Estate in Annapolis. She recommends that when sellers call various real estate companies, they shouldn’t be content to deal with whomever answers the phone. Instead, she recommends asking for one of the top 10 Realtors within that office.

Once a Realtor has been selected, it’s important to start planning the details and getting your home in perfect condition before you move. Realtors suggest having the house professionally cleaned and making sure everything is in working order.

“I had two clients who moved out of the area fast, and in both cases, they each took one trip back to go over things on how to present the property in the best light. Then I took care of the details,” Mr. Bird says. “Get the house in shape, and see that all of the cleaning and painting is done so that the prospective buyer doesn’t have to do anything but move into the home.”

Real estate professionals also suggest that the seller leave some furniture in the home, if possible.

“A house with furniture always looks better, but if you do leave furniture, make sure that the home doesn’t look overly cluttered,” Ms. Pryor says.

“Homes show nicer with furniture, but sometimes it depends on the house,” says Ms. Tyler, who adds that if the furniture is dirty or makes the house look cluttered, it’s better to take it with you when you go.

“Many times, sellers are so focused on where they are going that sometimes things at home can fall through the cracks,” Mr. Bird says.

“Sometimes, housesitters are good to have,” Ms. Pryor says. “These are people who can live in your home and take care of it for you while you’re away. Whomever you choose should be able to vacate the home within 30 days’ notice and allow it to be shown when needed.”

Some sellers hire a property-management company to care for their home. If that’s not possible, sellers should at least hire someone they can depend on to mow the lawn, rake the leaves or shovel the snow from in front of the house.

Ms. Tyler points out that Long & Foster has a concierge service called Home Service Connections on its Web site, referring sellers to specific services.

According to Mr. Bird, “If your home is sitting on the market longer than a few weeks, then consider finding someone to take care of the property maintenance.”

“Most real estate agents wind up doing a little bit of property management if you aren’t hiring someone,” Ms. Tyler says, “but that depends on the local agent you choose.”

She adds that a good agent would go by the house from time to time to make sure that everything’s OK when the owner’s not in town.

“I checked on the property of some clients of mine who had to leave,” Ms. Pryor says. “It’s really a personal agreement between the owner and the agent.”

To make sure the home is presented in the best light, Realtors tell sellers that even though no one is living in the home, it is better to keep the utilities on.

They suggest that someone check on the house to make sure the lights are working, flush the toilets, open the faucets and circulate the air every so often so that the environment doesn’t become stale.

Although a home’s appearance will draw potential buyers, communication is still key to a fast and successful sale, especially when the seller is out of town.

According to Mr. Bird, reliable communication should be established right away so issues that come up can be taken care of immediately.

“In the process of negotiating contracts, if you delay three or four days, you can lose the contract,” says Mr. Bird.

Other Realtors agree that time can be critical in any real estate transaction. For the out-of-town seller, it’s that much more important that quick communications with the Realtor be established and maintained.

Before moving out, the sellers need to know what will face them when they return to close the sale of their home.

“A good agent will prepare the owners when they leave town by giving them samples of paperwork and forms that they’ll be expected to fill out so it won’t be a surprise when they get them,” says Ms. Pryor. “When the owner’s not around, the home isn’t any harder to sell, but it does involve a lot of phone calls and faxing.”

The Realtor has to make sure all documentation to the seller gets back in time, Mr. Bird adds.

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