Top Ten Reasons Your House Isn't Selling

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No, I'm not a David Letterman watcher, for reasons having to do with turning into a pumpkin before his show starts. I'm going to treat it a little more seriously than he does, as this is a serious subject, but I'll do my best to inject a little humor into it.

10. Surrounding Environment - These are environmental factors arising from areas beyond your property, and therefore, beyond your immediate control. Freeway noise 24/7, being downwind of a hog or chicken farm, being next door to a strip club with a huge neon sign constantly flashing, "LIVE NUDE GIRLS" - all of these and many more neighborhood factors can prevent people from even looking at your property. They see what's around it, and decide they're not interested in living there, or that the investment potential for the property is limited (to be charitable). The only real way to fix problems of this nature is not to buy the property in the first place. Look at all of the issues. Just because it doesn't bother you now doesn't mean it won't bother prospective purchasers later. Blame your buyer's agent. If you didn't have a buyer's agent, that leaves only one candidate for blame. You'll find them hanging around any mirror you might check.

9 HOA: This is closely related to surrounding environment, and condos and PUDs are the poster children of what a lot of people don't want. People want the property to be theirs to do with as they please. It's a sad fact of life that in an increasing number of places, they are going to be disappointed because they can't afford anything without a homeowner's association. Homeowner's Asssociations really are a good guardian of property values, but they have a tendency to give way to much power to the busybody and the would-be dictator. Unfortunately for a lot of people, the newer developments they crave all have homeowner's associations because while everyone knows that they personally can be trusted to maintain the property, those horrible neighbors who can't be trusted won't trust them. Unfortunately, the only way to appeal to people who don't want an HOA is not to have an HOA. Once again, blame the buyer's agent that "helped" with your purchase.

8. Zoning: Zoning restrictions, lot constraints, etcetera are all parts of this category. If you've got a two bedroom property and setback requirements keep you from building a third bedroom, your property is not likely to appeal to people who need a three bedroom place to live in. Once again, the only way to fix this issue is not to buy where it is an issue. Over-restrictive zoning is a real economic problem for a lot of reasons, but while people like to be able to cause everyone else in the neighborhood problems by not having enough parking for their apartment house or mini-dorm, they don't want everybody else turning the tables and causing them problems. Yeah, maybe you can get the zoning changed sometimes - but that's not the way to bet.

7. Schools: If you buy in an area that includes the right to attend a great public school, that's a gift you give yourself that keeps on giving, at least until the neighborhood starts voting against additional property tax bonds. Or if you can cause a school that heretofore taught only "hanging out with a GPS tracker on your ankle," to start teaching the kids some economically desirable skills, you can expect a windfall in the form of property value. I think that shackling kids to a particular neighborhood public school is slow motion suicide for society, but evidently at least fifty percent plus one of teacher's unions feel it's beneficial to getting union leaders more money and power. Once again, this is just a fact of life, and once you have bought a particular property, you're locked into whatever the local educational insanity might be.

6. Clutter: If you're tripping over knick-knacks, carnivorous house plants, and cannot eat meals as a family because the table is six feet deep in stuff, it would be a real good idea to do something about it. There are a lot of easy options here: Trash, charity, storage rental, loan or give it to some family member who's not trying to sell their house. If you're trying to sell, engrave the saying, "A place for everything and everything in its place" upon your soul for the duration. If there's any doubt as to whether you need it in your day to day life, the place for it is "elsewhere." If the place is so full of your stuff, people worry about whether there's going to be room for their stuff. Believe me when I tell you I understand how difficult this is: I've got two young kids and two dogs, all four of which are highly efficient entropy generators, but getting clutter under control and keeping it there is critical to selling for a good price.

5. Staging: Absolutely empty is better than "chock full of clutter," but then people wonder how their stuff would fit. I still have trouble believing this one, but I have to admit the facts. Most people have a hard time picturing their couch and their TV in the living room. A small amount of furniture gives them a reference point, scale, and a starting point for their mental decoration. It helps them figure out how their stuff is going to fit. A bare minimum of vanilla furniture shows better than even a vacant, empty property. Even most stagers seem to want to put too much stuff in the place, for some reason. Seriously, keep it to a bare minimum. A bed in the bedroom, a couch in the living room, a dining set in the dining room. Maybe one nightstand in the master bedroom, a coffee table and placeholder for the TV in the living room. That's it. If the place is not vacant, and you are still living there, that's still the target you should aim at. If you don't absolutely have to have it every day, get it out of there. This especially applies to family heirlooms, anything expensive, and anything irreplaceable. Get. It. Out. People want to be able to see their stuff in the place, and they can't do that if there's too much of yours. By the way, this applies to you, too, at least while prospective buyers are looking at it. Don't follow them around your property like you're worried they're going to steal the silverware. Get out. If there's anything you're worried about them stealing, get it out also, and keep it out until the property is sold. For everything else, your listing agent should have a record of who has been in the property, and you should be insured even if you're not trying to sell the property.

4. Condition Is it clean? Is it neat? Is it attractive? Here's an example for you: Carpet is at most $40 per square yard, installed, with a good pad. If you've got a hundred square yards of carpet that needs to be replaced, call it $4000. Not replacing it will probably cost you at least $10,000 on the sales price. More likely double that, and it'll take longer to sell and you'll end up giving a carpet allowance to your buyers out of what you do get. Dirty floors, chipped tiles, all that stuff is unbelievably costly not to fix. Believe me, I understand what a pain it is. My newest family member loved to chew drywall when she was a puppy. It costs far less to fix it yourself than you're going to have to give up to sell the property. Get a cleaning service in if you don't want to scrub everything yourself. It's stupid, but opening the blinds or drapes so that prospective buyers see all that light as they're walking in is worth serious cash, not to mention much broader interest. The point is this: Many prospective buyers have the imagination of a rock, and their agent isn't any better, because they don't want to say anything that would give the people they're supposed to be helping (but aren't) grounds to sue. You can choose to market only to the people who are visualization's answer to Albert Einstein, but it really does narrow your potential market, and hence, cost you money and time (and therefore more money) when you're trying to sell.

3. Showing Restrictions: If people can't see your property when they have the time, they're not going to make an offer on it. Cold hard fact. Since the time of highest interest is the first few days its on the market, if you haven't gotten an offer withing thirty days, not only is something wrong but it's cost you some serious cash in the form of lowered selling price. Showing instructions are easy to fix. "Just go!" is absolutely the best, but (unless you're an international supermodel), prospective buyers don't want to catch you in the shower or in bed any more than you want to be caught there. One bad experience in this area is all any agent needs, and I've had mine (believe me, you don't want details). Asking for a few minutes notice so you can evacuate is reasonable. Telling prospective buyers to avoid a time slot is also reasonable. But the more restrictions you put on showing, the more likely it will be that you've raised the cost for viewing your property too high. Asking for four hour notice - let alone 24 - is almost guaranteed to prevent prospective buyers from viewing your property. And if someone does ask that far in advance, for crying out loud get back with them and be as accommodating as you possibly can. I actually laid out a trip "day before" last week, and of the seven people who wanted advance notice, precisely one got back to me. That gives me quite a bit of information as to how interested they really were in selling the property, which is to say, not very. Even if you don't really care if the property sells, act like you do.

2. Price: I really hope you weren't expecting this to be number one. Buyers choose properties to look at based upon asking price. They choose which property to make an offer on based upon how well your property compares to others of similar asking price. If your property is clearly outclassed by properties of equivalent asking price, you're doomed. It is to be noted that just about every sin in the list is forgivable if the price is low enough, but the more sins there are, and the worse the violation, the lower the sales price is going to be, and most of the rational world wants the highest possible net from the sale. Trying to make believe that any problems that exist aren't there will only prevent the property from selling at all.

1. The Agent Plain and simple, you've chosen a bad one. Either they don't market the property effectively, they don't explain how things work to you, they make it difficult for other agents to show the property, they discourage offers represented by other agents, they don't return phone calls, they evidence a bad attitude, they're using your property to troll for buyer clients and don't want it to actually sell - the list goes on and on. They're effectively raising the price to make an offer on your property. Just because you've signed a listing agreement doesn't mean you're on cruise control. You need to monitor agent performance. At least, if you want to know whether they are performing or not. Are they forwarding all offers? Are they discouraging people from making offers because that offer might mean they don't get a kickback? All of these sins and many others really do happen.


Bonus Super Deluxe Reason. Homeowner Attitude About sixty percent of all listings I read leave me with one very strongly negative conclusion: That the owner of this property does not really want to sell. Maybe it's the agent's fault in some cases, but if you won't find - or pay attention to - an agent who won't tell you unpleasant truths, you're hurting only yourself. I tell my buyer clients that there is no such thing as a perfect property, but the same warning is equally important to sellers. There is no such thing as a perfect property, and acting like you own one is a great way to drive buyers and their agents off. You are not doing buyers a favor by putting your property on the market. You have real estate, the most illiquid investment there is, you want the cash those buyers have, and you're not going to get it by giving them reasons why you're too difficult to do business with. If you didn't want what buyers have (cash), you wouldn't have the property on the market. Buyers, their agents, anybody who comes to look at that property is helping you get what you want. I believe that people who look at the property you're trying to sell are doing you a favor. Even if they just want to look at it, in the middle of the best seller's market there has ever been. If the property doesn't show, you won't get offers - guaranteed. If you don't get offers, you are highly unlikely to consummate a successful sale. The property is only worth what someone is willing to offer for it - end of discussion. If the most you can get someone to offer is thirty-nine cents, that's what it's worth. You can choose to sell, or not to sell, for that price, but trying to tell yourself or anyone else that the property is "worth $400,000" when nobody is making offers that high is a waste of energy, and quite likely, of a buyer and an offer that really are offering the best you're likely to get.

Caveat Emptor

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on August 10, 2014 7:00 AM.

If You're In Trouble With Your Loan, Talk To Your Lender Right Away was the previous entry in this blog.

Choosing Buyer's Agents By Commission Rebate: Penny Wise, Dollar Foolish is the next entry in this blog.

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