- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2003

After hearing stories of multiple offers and bidding wars, today’s sellers are likely to price their home at or above the top of the current market price and are dismayed if they do not make a quick sale and substantial profit. Are sellers getting

greedy, or just following a trend?

The market for homes in the lower brackets — that means below $300,000 in the Washington area these days — is still hot, Realtors say.

Yet, interest rates have been creeping up, putting downward pressure on demand. This leaves sellers sometimes stuck with a house that won’t sell for as much money or as quickly as they had hoped, Realtors say.



“Sellers expect to sell in less than a week,” says Realtor Andy Norton with RE/MAX Distinctive Real Estate in McLean. “When it takes a normal time for them to sell, they are disappointed.”

The consensus among Realtors interviewed for this article is that it is currently normal for a home to take as long as a month to sell but that it is not abnormal for a house to sell in a single day.

If a home is not enticing potential buyers in this highly competitive market, there are a number of possible reasons, Realtors say. The most likely problem is an inflated asking price.

The solution is simple. Price your home at fair market value to begin with, Realtors say, and your chances of drawing numerous bids dramatically increases.

“Price it right,” says Mr. Norton, “and you’ll get multiple contracts. If the price is too high, it lingers on the market and people begin to question.”

Sellers can ask their Realtor for a competitive market analysis, looking at five or six comparable homes in the area, to ensure that their home is priced reasonably.

Wicca Davidson, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in the District, says many sellers have been pricing themselves out of the market.

“Sellers have been greedy and going above the market price,” she says.

In fact, Ms. Davidson says, part of her job is to protect buyers from overpaying. “I don’t want them to buy something they’ll be furious with me about a year later,” she says.

Ms. Davidson says she has seen situations where sellers had to make concessions and lower their price to make a sale.

She recently listed a home in Silver Spring that was priced at $360,000. During an open house, 45 people showed up, but no offers were forthcoming. When the sellers lowered their price to $345,000, they held another open house and had two offers almost immediately.

“Price is pretty much everything,” says Ms. Davidson.

Shaun Gangji, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Vienna, agrees that price is paramount when trying to sell. Mr. Gangji says Coldwell Banker marketing guidelines indicate that sellers who price their homes by working with a Realtor who uses the multiple listing service attract 95 percent of market interest.

If the home is priced at 5 percent over the market value, it will attract only 50 percent of buyers, he says, and a price that is 10 percent over market value will bring in only 30 percent of buyers.

Mr. Gangji says many buyers today conduct their own analysis, researching homes using the Internet. If a buyer initiates a search for houses within a specific price range, he or she will never see a house that has been overpriced out of that range.

In addition, many buyers don’t want to negotiate, so even if they see the overpriced listing doing a Web search, they won’t consider it, he says.

“Some buyers don’t want to haggle over it, so, if it’s over market value, they’ll just say, ‘Forget about it,’” Mr. Gangji says.

Price is the No. 1 reason homes don’t sell, but the condition of the house runs a close second.

Some Realtors believe that because the current market is so aggressive the state of the property is rarely the reason a home won’t sell quickly.

“More and more buyers are much more likely to look the other way” when encountering minor issues in a home, says RE/MAX’s Mr. Norton.

Others point out that the appearance of the home, inside and out, is still a priority. Even if the price is right, prospective buyers may be turned off by an unkempt lawn, deteriorating kitchen counters or peeling wallpaper.

Jim McCowan, a Realtor with Long & Foster in Arlington, says it is sometimes difficult to explain to sellers that their house is not enticing buyers because they need to make improvements or upgrades to the property.

Selling a home is a huge emotional undertaking, he says. Homeowners have many memories associated with their home, and they have decorated the house in a way that reflects their personal tastes.

But they must be willing to make some changes to the house if they want to sell.

Mr. McCowan says he recently worked with sellers who had a specific kind of tile in the lower level of their home that they had picked out and admired. While they favored the tile, Mr. McCowan says he had to explain to them that the flooring dated the house and would detract from the home’s value.

He suggested an inexpensive carpet instead, a small improvement that had a major impact and resulted in a quicker sale.

Realtors say the two most important rooms when selling a house are the kitchen and the bathrooms. Improvements in these areas yield the most return, and the best chance of impressing prospective buyers.

Mr. Gangji says an outdated kitchen can mean a major setback when selling a home. “People are looking for big kitchens that are workable, usable — with modern appliances,” he says.

In addition to price and the property’s condition, there are other factors that could make it difficult to sell your home.

Mr. Gangji says undesirable contract terms, such as uncertain closing dates, could make buyers nervous. Other factors that could contribute to a slow sale include a high crime rate, ongoing construction in the neighborhood, or unfavorable homeowner’s association fees and rules.

Of course, some variables that can affect how quickly a home sells are not easily remedied.

John Brenkus, a Realtor with Weichert Realtors J&J; Real Estate in Manassas, says he recently had a house on the market for more than 2 months because of its location.

The home, on Route 17 between Warrenton and Fredericksburg, was on what Mr. Brenkus describes as a gorgeous 3-acre lot, but lack of traffic in the area meant no one was seeing it.

In that situation, he says, the answer was simply to be patient and wait until the right buyer came along. Finally, it happened.

“The location was a plus for the buyers,” says Mr. Brenkus. “They wanted to be farther out.”

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