I have seen my share of thumbs down houses over the years. It’s a sad truth, but for every summer blockbuster, there is a Real Estate Gigli. Properties that look so promising in the MLS trailer fall flat despite the star-studded cast. Granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances, new carpet, manicured back yard … a quick read-through of the script tells you that the home should be a smash hit. Only when you see it on the big screen do you realize that the photos omitted the faux oak paneling throughout the entire downstairs, or the sunken conversation pit in the living room. You never know where Rosemary’s Baby may be lurking behind the pleasing marketing facade that a savvy listing agent has erected to entice showings.
Enter the Real Estate sneak preview.
Knowing all too well that I am performing preliminary recon, sellers will occasionally grill me as to my intentions when I arrive for a preview appointment. As I circumnavigate the home, they give me the unabashed hairy eyeball treatment reserved for ex-cons, Realtors, bankers, lawyers and ill-mannered guests who don’t sit on the plastic. Believe it or not, though, the preview does not merely serve as an arbiter of a buyer agent’s pass/fail verdict. It is a crash course in product awareness.
To those who would disallow Realtor previews because they anticipate the reports will discourage potential buyers from viewing the home, allow me first to offer a mild rebuke, and then to assuage your fears. First, disallowing preview appointments will have the opposite than desired effect. Like the producer of straight to DVD smut who would sooner pay a personal assistant a livable wage than allow an advance screening for critics, you are telling wily Real Estate agents that the house is a total clunker if you won’t let them in for a quick peek prior to an actual buyer showing. Thou doth protest too much, Ed Wood.
Moreover, you do you and your home a disservice by limiting Realtor previews. Salesmanship requires a deft touch. It is just not that easy to sell what one hasn’t seen. When I come through with my client, you want me to focus on the features with which I became acquainted during the preview rather than blundering about blindly. Knowing what specific hot buttons light my buyer up, all parties are best served if I have direct, first-hand knowledge of such. You know, the stuff that doesn’t necessarily make it into the MLS.
Is the second bedroom close enough to the master to make a suitable nursery?
Is the kitchen open to the family room or a candidate for expansion?
Is the yard private, but not overwhelming?
Worst case scenario? The home is not a fit for my clients, and I save everyone time. Surely you don’t want any more strangers stomping around your home than absolutely necessary, especially if there is zero chance that the property will work for them. To boot, I just might remember your house as a possible fit for the next buyer I meet.
Want to sell your house? Heed the marquee:
Coming soon … to a home near you … Realtor Paul Slaybaugh!
Pretty please, let him in.
Oh, but that little house was turned out the day it landed on the multiple listing service! The hardwood floors all scrubbed and polished. The smell of freshly cut lawn and bougainvillea greeting new arrivals as they stepped out of Mazda Miatas and Chevy Tahoes and Ford Fusions. The windows so crystal clear that the rogue speck of dirt eventually capitulated and moseyed along to a less lonesome locale. Everything was just so as you wooed prospective new owners.
You sold your home that very first weekend. Enchanted the buyers through your concerted efforts to distinguish a well-loved home from the abandoned dreams that haunt the competing bank-owned and short sale properties, you did. Bent on purchasing the best bargain on the block when their plane touched down at Sky Harbor, the nice relocating couple from South Dakota instead rationalized the higher price tag of your owner-occupied home against the great unknowns that plagued the lower cost, distressed property options. After several celebratory glasses of wine, they recast the entire episode with your home starring as the greatest value proposition on the market.
It is now day 14 of the escrow period. The home inspection, a week in the rearview, couldn’t have gone any better. You were never all that concerned about it. You change the A/C filters regularly and have the units serviced semi-annually. You resealed the foam roof with elastomeric last May. You even placed a home warranty policy on the property prior to hitting the market to fend off any unexpected eventualities, you clever fella, you. Now, having agreed to correct the double tab at the main breaker box (damn landscapers), replace the faulty GFCI outlet at the pool equipment and fix the malfunctioning shower diverter valve in the hall bathroom, you let out a well-deserved sigh of relief. Knowing that you have an honest to goodness sale firmly in place, you turn your attention to other pressing matters that had been relegated to the back burner.
And the lawn grows a little taller as the mower doesn’t make it out of the shed this week. The carpet in the hall gets a little matted down from the higher than normal traffic and a missed date with the vacuum cleaner. Aside from little Johnny’s peanut butter fingerprints on the lower third of the living room picture window and the fogged up corner of the breakfast nook window by the doggy door, the glass is still pretty passable. The contents of your cabinets and drawers are strewn about the den and family room, but you have to break a few eggs to make a moving omelet, right? Besides, you already found your buyer. No more agents calling to pop in for a showing with ten minutes notice.
Thus begins the great unraveling of your sale. You see, in 2010, you do not just stage your home for potential buyers. Matter of fact, buyers don’t even possess the most discerning eyes that will take in your abode during the sale process. Nope, those hawkish peepers belong to a black-hatted professional who holds the fate of your transaction in his number-crunching hands.
Once you strike a deal, you better keep the joint gussied up for the appraisal, Jack.
Besieged by stringent regulations and menaced by fire-breathing underwriters, appraisers are no longer encouraged to hunt for validation of the accord reached on the open market by a willing buyer and seller. That’s so 2006. These days, the poor SOBs have more incentive to impugn a home’s value than defend it. This is not a knock on their collective competence, but an indictment of the constraints by which appraisers are currently bound. You counter this institutional bias with the same measures you employed to overcome the price objections of your buyer.
You have to resell the house.
Do not discount the human element in a supposedly objective endeavor. Consider the properties that most Real Estate appraisers spelunk on a daily basis. Bank repo after bank repo, the job should come with a snorkel and a mobile decontamination unit. Given the wide disparity in property condition in the market, the silver lining to cloudy times is an ability to add value to your home though no greater expense than meticulous housekeeping. It’s your agent’s job the sell the objective proof (most viable comparable sales, list of upgrades / features, comparisons between the subject property and comps, etc), and it’s your job to sell the feeling of mom, baseball and apple pie.
Clean and “not-jacked-up” is the new granite counter tops and travertine floors.
There may not be an input column in a uniform residential appraisal report for “squeaky clean” or “not infested with hobos,” but latitude is given to appraisers for affixing additional value to a property based on conditional comparisons to the properties selected for the analysis. The dialed-in condition of your home will stand out in full bas relief against the tired housing din. It is especially critical if you don’t have all of the snazzy upgrades. You are relying on the impression of value for lack of more readily quantifiable measures.
Don’t give in to inertia prior to what has become the penultimate part of the escrow process. Treat the appraisal as a showing appointment instead of the contractual procedure that it is and you give yourself considerably better odds at a soft landing at the closing table with the same purchase price with which you began.
Scented candles, they aren’t just for buyers and third dates anymore.