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SMART MOVES

Seller, Don't Sabotage Yourself

December 22, 1996|ELLEN JAMES MARTIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On the outside, the ranch-style house looked ordinary. But inside, it displayed a melange of bizarre art.

Who could help but notice the snakes painted on the walls? Or the piece of sculpture made of scrap metal that resembled a tractor seat? Or the clouds covering the bedroom ceilings?

To buyers, the house quickly became "the one with all that weird art," recalls Ralph Stonehocker, a Re/Max agent who showed the property to clients. Needless to say, they didn't purchase the place.

Of course, to each his own.

The notion that all Americans are entitled to decorate their homes as they chose may not be in the U.S. Constitution, but it's worth defending as a personal right.

Still, an owner who presents his house to the buying public with unusual artifacts or objects of art is engaging in self-sabotage, Stonehocker says. Such items are not only a turnoff for many buyers, but they also distract prospects from seeing the property's virtues and thereby slow a sale, he says.

Sometimes sellers fail to realize how the decor of their home affects others, says Stonehocker. During his nine years in the business, he's "seen it all," including rooms decorated for devil worship and the habitat of a plastic surgeon who displayed human fingers and ears in formaldehyde-filled jars on the corner shelf of his living room.

Most homeowners wouldn't consider living in such grotesque surroundings. But many furnish their homes in very personal ways that can seriously impair their chances for a successful sale, real estate experts say. Any display of atypical taste can make your home appear less desirable, they say.

Sticking with a personal decor when a home goes to market is one way an owner can engage in self-sabotage. Here are some others:

* Overpricing your home.

More than half of all sellers are tempted to "test the market" by asking more than other similar homes have recently fetched, estimates Dwight King, a sales associate for the Better Homes & Gardens chain.

The bad news is that an overpricing strategy almost always backfires on the homeowner, who must ultimately resort to price cuts to move his property, King says. The good news is that 80% to 90% of owners who are tempted to overprice are talked out of it by their agents, King says.

Why not come in high at the beginning on the basis that you can always cut your price later? Because your tactic will be transparent to the increasingly sophisticated buying public, said Linda Busick, the president of a real estate appraisal company.

These days, home buyers have broad access to price information for the neighborhoods where they're searching, including agent information on pending sales, Busick said. That means it's easier for a buyer to pinpoint the appropriate price for a property.

"Computers have really revolutionized the real estate industry. There's a lot more data at your fingertips," she says.

Because overpriced houses often languish on the market for months, raising the suspicions of would-be buyers, their avaricious owners usually get less in the end than those who are more realistic.

Overshoot the market by, say, 10% to 15% and you can expect to receive 3% to 4% less than had you come in at the correct price from the outset, Stonehocker says.

* Hovering when buyers come to see your home.

Owners should be neither seen nor heard during the showing process, real estate specialists agree.

"A seller who wants to take buyers around, showing them every nook and cranny, really turns them off. They're not buying a new or used car. They want to look at the home at their own speed," said King, of Better Homes & Gardens.

Even homeowners who volunteer seemingly positive information can inadvertently sabotage themselves, says Busick, head of CAA Appraisal Services, a small firm that specializes in residential appraisals.

"You might say, 'We have great neighbors. We get together all the time.' It sounds good to you, but to some people that could be a negative. Maybe they don't want to socialize with their neighbors," Busick said.

* Demanding that any agent who shows your home obtain the keys from your agent.

For many years, real estate professionals have been able to use "lock boxes," allowing agents relatively easy and secure access.

But some homeowners still insist that any agent seeking to show their property to buyers first obtain keys to the place from the listing agent's office. Or worse, a rare owner will demand he be the only one to dispense keys for showings.

Why is it self-sabotage for an owner to ask an agent to obtain keys to show a home? Because doing so discourages showings by making it inconvenient for the agent, and his buyers, to enter the property, Stonehocker says.

"When you ask for advice from a professional, you should take some of it," he suggested.

Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate.

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