Prior to 2006 most real estate agents weren’t discussing house staging with their clients. Why hire a professional interior decorator for $1,500 to $2,000 and rent furniture and accessories at $250 to $400 a month when the typical El Dorado County home was selling in 30 days or less. Time was when buyers and their agents were frantically tracking new listings to be first in line with full priced offers. In some neighborhoods offers would appear on newly listed homes before the “For Sale” sign was installed.During 2006 that changed. Buyers became more selective about their home purchases. By the end of that year the nicest properties in El Dorado County were taking 60 days to sell and the less-than-average homes longer. Builders were the first to recognize a shift in buyers’ attitudes. Rather than lowering their prices, they began offering incentives and upgrades to lock in a deal on a new home. In order to compete with all the newly finished construction that seemed to be simultaneously on the market, along with an increasing number of re-sales, sellers began making costly upgrades to their homes before listing them for sale. Tile counter tops were replaced with granite; good carpets were replaced with wood flooring and serviceable plumbing fixtures replaced with designer new ones. Remodelers were busy with home improvements designed to attract buyers.
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As home prices softened into 2007, the professional home staging business flourished. Sellers and their agents looked for competitive advantages in order to sustain their price while selling their home. Designers offered a lower price alternative to expensive remodeling. Outdated tile counters were no longer replaced, they were accessorized. Poorly designed small rooms appeared transformed into spacious living space with well placed landscape paintings, decorator mirrors and accent lighting. Homes were de-cluttered, de-personalized and staged with artistic flare. It was as if buyers were walking through Pottery World.
The general interest in professional staging was over by 2009. Sellers could no longer hold back the tidal wave of declining prices by remodeling or staging their homes. There grew a “Great Divide” in the pricing between foreclosure listings and individual sellers. If individual sellers were to compete for a dwindling number of buyers, it would need to be on price alone. It was a slippery slope. Individual sellers were forced to lower their prices to compete with lender foreclosures who dropped their prices even lower.
There is now some evidence that the downward price spiral has about reached bottom. Home prices will not bounce back but are predicted to stabilize, keeping up with inflation until the excess inventory of 4 million homes currently in foreclosure has been sold. Market stability will be a welcome change. Buyers will have more confidence in making a long-term commitment and sellers will have some market consistency in order to make some decisions about what they can do, besides lowering their price, in order to sell their home. Here are a few cost effective marketing tips that are selling homes into today’s market.
Before all the listings were pictured on the Internet, most buyers would call an agent, tell them their specifications, interests and price range, and the agent would select homes for showing. Today a home may be virtually previewed hundreds of times prior to a buyer’s on site, actual physical presence. Homebuyers now search on-line, locate suitable properties and e-mail their agent with homes they want to see. Since the home selection process has transformed from agent directed to client, via pictures on the Internet, a home’s first impression is more important. Sellers need to pay attention to front landscaping, de-cluttering the front yard, and offering an inviting entry. If buyers don’t like the front pictures on a home posted in the MLS, they will click on the next one.
If a buyer likes what they see of the home’s exterior appearance, they are more likely to take the time to closely study the home’s interior pictures. Research has shown that prospective buyers will click on eight to 10 pictures before making a determination if the home should be considered further or deleted. Making the rooms look larger by de-cluttering and removing furniture will attract more personal previews.
New paint and carpet still offer sellers the highest return on their money. Colors should be neutral.
Pest/termite inspections on a home should be performed prior to listing the property for sale. Most inspection fees run between $100 and $125 and the inspector provides a written report detailing any issues and a bid for their repair. Although most homes may not have termites, the inspector will likely find some wood deterioration commonly referred to as “dry rot.” The homeowner can then make the repairs themselves, hire a handyman or contractor or hire the pest company to perform the required repairs. Addressing any issues in advance eliminates surprises in escrow and buyers feel more confident about making an offer on a home that already has a clear pest report.
Real estate agents have traditionally been a good source of advice to sellers as to what improvements should be made to a home prior to offering it up for sale. Every home and situation is different and markets continue to change. Properly preparing a home for market is a significant part of the overall marketing strategy. Price is still a significant factor in attracting buyers but once within a competitive price range, buyers will always choose the home that stands out in a crowd.
Ken Calhoon is a real estate broker in El Dorado County. He can be reached through HYPERLINK “http://www.kencalhoon.com or go to kencalhoon.com.