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SMART MOVES

Small Homes Deserve Big Marketing Push Too

September 29, 1996|ELLEN JAMES MARTIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

They're a couple of high school teachers living in a condo so tiny that only they can fit into their U-shaped kitchen, and even that's romantic. What's more, the unit has one bedroom and one bath.

"You practically have to go out in the hall to turn around," joked Century 21's Joan Cusack, the agent the couple engaged to sell their unit.

But just because their condo is bantam-sized doesn't mean the pair will settle for less than it's worth. Finally able to move to larger quarters, they're going to great lengths to prepare their place for market.

They've selected an agent who guarantees full-service advertising and open houses for the condo, though its sale will yield her a relatively small commission. They're also taking Cusack's advice: replacing carpeting, painting and repairing bathroom tile before the place is put up for sale.

"It's a challenge to sell a small home. You've got a very limited market. How many people are interested in moving into something small? Buyers want as much space for the money as they can get," said Cusack, who has 15 years of experience in the realty business.

"Selling your small home is a matter of pricing it right and emphasizing the positives," said Donna Stockton, a broker-associate for the Prudential real estate chain.

Seniors are among the best prospects to buy tiny low-upkeep units, Stockton said.

Unfortunately, the small-home owner faces higher hurdles in trying to sell to prospects who are younger than retirement age, Stockton said.

Now more than ever, people want square footage. Even singles and couples without children express discontent at the notion of having just one bathroom or one bedroom.

"You have a society today with many two-professional households. Both bring home work. And they want a separate space for a home office," Cusack said.

Even one-person households now often seek at least two bedrooms and baths, because they expect guests to stay over or because they need an extra bedroom for exercise equipment or a hobby. In fact, the three- to four-bedroom size is becoming the gold standard for home buyers in virtually all categories, except for the very elderly.

A realistic price and close to pristine condition are the two keys to selling a small home, said Kasia Rivera, a Coldwell Banker agent who entered the real estate business right out of college.

Rivera, who specializes in representing buyers who can afford only condos, said many young buyers, single and married alike, prefer owning a pint-sized unit to the alternative of spending several years renting until they have the means for a larger place.

What's more, Rivera encounters an increasing number of college students buying studio or one-bedroom condos or joining with other students to purchase somewhat larger units.

Are you seeking to sell your undersized home? Then these pointers could help:

* Put your place in near-mint condition.

There are usually two major objections from prospects: size and condition.

Take the case of the high school teachers with the tiny condo. They expect to spend $1,000 to paint, install new carpet and repair their unit before it goes on the market. "But the return on a $1,000 investment is very lucrative," agent Cusack said.

* Stage your home with only a few small furnishings.

"The less furniture you have in a room, and the lighter it is, the larger your room appears. It's like the [minimalist] school of art," said Coldwell Banker's Rivera.

She also recommends that you remove all the clutter from the front of your refrigerator and kitchen counter tops to give them the appearance of being larger.

* Hire an agent willing to give your small home a full marketing campaign.

It may not be fair, but a minority of agents actually refuse to list small or relatively inexpensive properties, and others will take such listings yet fail to invest the necessary time and energy to market them. The commission on a low-end home is smaller than that paid on a pricier property, but the marketing effort should be just as diligent, Cusack contended. At the minimum, you should expect your agent to advertise your home and promote its sale with enthusiasm, she said.

How can you be sure you'll get first-class help from an agent you're considering?

Ask the agent for references from other small-home sellers who have listed with him, Cusack said.

* Don't misrepresent your house in any sort of advertising.

Does your detached house have just one bathroom or a postage stamp-sized lot? These realities will soon become apparent to any customer who inquires or visits the house.

It's futile to try to hide the realities related to your small home, even in your ads. Mention them, but put them in context with positives about your place, such as the fact that you have a terrific view or are near a park or a prized school.

* Never give up on the sale of your property.

Your home may be bantam-sized, but there are bound to be some aspects that make it desirable at the correct price. And, of course, you need only one firm buyer to accomplish your objective, Cusack said.

"There's always a market for a small home because there are always people making their first purchase who are trying to live as cheaply as possible. Plus there are a lot of seniors on limited incomes who have to pare down," she said.

*

Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate.

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