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Smart Moves

Spring Is Season When Home Sales Bloom

April 05, 1998|ELLEN JAMES MARTIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Spring is the primary home-buying season in Southern California--with most buyers anxious to conclude a move by early summer, after school is out but before vacation starts.

But this spring's buyers are more motivated than usual, said Karyn Schonherz, a broker-associate at the Anaheim Hills office of Prudential California Realty.

The Southland economy is roaring, she said, yet mortgage rates are close to their lowest point in more than four years. What's more, many are feeling prosperous because of the swelling value of their stock portfolios.

"There's a huge pent-up demand in all of Southern California," Schonherz said. "People want to make sure they get a home before prices really escalate. We're getting a lot of multiple offers."

But even in a hot market, a smart seller is always proactive--even when faced with several attractive offers, stressed Jane D. Jones, an agent for Re/Max Westside Properties who works from the company's Brentwood and Santa Monica offices.

Jones urges that a seller in a strong local neighborhood who is lucky enough to draw several bids counter each one with a proposal for a still better price.

Why? "Because when you have multiple offers, you want to create a kind of auction--with people competing for your property," Jones said.

Of course, not all buyers are willing to negotiate. But others are comfortable participating in a second round of bidding, knowing that rival home shoppers covet the same habitat.

By countering all your initial bids, you quickly identify the prospects most willing to sweeten their offers, even after others have dropped out of the bidding. Then you can choose the best offer that remains.

For instance, Jones recently sold a highly desirable Santa Monica property that attracted six bids immediately after going up for sale. The bids were generous, yet the homeowner still countered--seeking a somewhat higher price.

At that point, three bidders dropped out of the competition. But the other three responded with better offers. And of the remaining three rivals, one even topped the owner's counteroffer.

Of course, it's an unusual home seller who has so much negotiating clout, even now. But if you happen to be one of them, Jones figures you might as well play your strong hand to the maximum.

Here are four other tips for springtime home sellers:

No. 1: Resist the urge to overprice your home even in a hot sellers' market.

A house that's a gem during the winter holiday season when people are too busy to focus on a housing transition should be even more desirable during this spring's selling season.

If you own a highly prized home, it could be tempting to price your home aggressively--more than 10% beyond what like homes have been fetching in your neighborhood recently.

Yet, ironically, a high asking price may not be the path that leads to the best possible closing price. Your better bet is to price your home reasonably and then let aggressive buyers compete to drive up the sum that's ultimately paid, said Schonherz, the broker-associate from Anaheim Hills.

Her advice may seem counterintuitive. But it makes sense if you think about the way prospects go about selecting the homes they visit.

Many home shoppers set a price ceiling for themselves that is somewhat (or a large amount) below what they could actually afford. Then they restrict themselves to seeing properties below that price cap.

"You'll get fewer showings with an overpriced house," said Schonherz, who has been selling houses for 26 years.

With fewer contenders, you have less potential for rivals to appear with multiple bids. No matter the season or the year, it's virtually always a mistake to price well ahead of recent nearby sales, Schonherz said.

No. 2: Make your home look as spacious as possible for spring buyers.

Home buying is always an emotional activity--but all the more so in the spring, when people are stretching out psychologically and owning a larger home seems particularly vital.

By discarding clutter and putting excess furniture in storage, you can make even a pint-sized house seem like a quart, Schonherz said.

"In our business, less is more when it comes to furnishings," she said.

Rooms that aren't crowded seem bigger than those that are stuffed.

To make your small- to medium-size home look more spacious, Schonherz suggests that you reduce the number of chairs in your dining room to four and remove an extra leaf from your dining table. Also remove your tablecloth, replacing it with a decorative flower arrangement and a few nice place settings--as if company were due.

You can make bedrooms seem bigger by removing plump quilts as well as bedcovers with bold patterns. It's also wise to remove the canopy from a four-poster bed that's being used in a small bedroom.

In addition, you may want to place your bed parallel to a wall, to make a tiny bedroom look bigger.

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