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SMART MOVES

House Hunters' Feedback Can Help You Sell Home

June 14, 1998|ELLEN JAMES MARTIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The home was near the ocean in Pacific Palisades. It was an "Ozzie and Harriet" house with shutters of ocean blue set against a sea-foam white background.

But the owner, an export company founder, tried to swim beyond his limits when he first priced the property, asking $1 million, $100,000 more than similar homes were fetching in the same neighborhood.

Yet after two weeks and many showings, the evidence was overwhelming. Nearly everyone who saw the place said it was "nice but overpriced," recalled Greg Pawlik of Coldwell Banker Jon Douglas Co., the exporter's real estate agent.

Once the feedback came in, the exporter responded and reduced his list price to the figure Pawlik originally recommended. The price reduction immediately set off a bidding war between two rival prospects, with one offering $25,000 more than the asking price to buy the house.

The moral of the story? When the market yells, listen.

Once your home has been put up for sale, a good agent will faithfully gather comments from everyone who troops through the abode. The remarks of prospects should go from the buyer's agent to your listing agent and, within days, should loop back to you.

When the homeowner and her agent have priced and staged the property correctly from the outset, the buyers' comments shouldn't come as a surprise, said Diana Prosser, a broker-associate for Re/Max South County in Newport Beach.

"I shouldn't have to wait for buyers to tell me that the house is too expensive, cluttered, dark or dirty. We would have taken care of all that before it goes on the market," Prosser said.

Still, no agent is perfect. And, more to the point, many home sellers resist the guidance of the person representing them until others weigh in with their views. After all, many owners want to "test the market" with a high price.

And some sellers are averse to making needed improvements until it becomes clear that such changes will more than pay them back for their expenditure of time and money.

So feedback can be a crucial factor in keeping a home-marketing plan on track. Here are some pointers on handling buyers' comments when you sell:

* Be sure your agent is active in soliciting feedback from prospects.

As soon as they glimpse a home from the curb, prospects will typically start reacting to what they see.

If the property's exterior paint is peeling, the frontyard is littered with toys or the shrubs have grown out of control, most buyers will spontaneously report their findings to their agent.

The same holds true for the interior, where most buyers will be brutally honest, especially if the homeowner is not there to hear the negatives.

Chances are that those who are shown your home will know how it's priced before they arrive and pick up a copy of the marketing brochure.

But until they're allowed to go inside, they won't know how well the list price aligns with the home's genuine value. Once they see the property, their responses to your price can provide a good reality check, Pawlik said.

Remember you can't count on buyers' agents to automatically provide you with feedback unless your own agent requests it. That's why your agent should phone the buyer's agent shortly after every showing, Pawlik said.

* Be sure your agent learns a bit about the buyer who is commenting.

Would a newspaper send a tone-deaf reporter to review a symphonic performance? Very unlikely. Should you let yourself be guided by the remarks of an unqualified music reviewer? Definitely not.

By the same token, you should heed comments about your home that come only from buyers who have studied the local market lately, Pawlik said.

Those who have just begun looking in your area have no basis for telling you if your condo is overpriced, for instance, because they have acquired little firsthand knowledge of neighborhood values.

In gathering feedback on showings, Pawlik suggests that your listing agent find out whether a critique is coming from buyers who have done at least two recent house-search outings in your area.

"You have to qualify the person making the comments," he says.

* Take note of prospects making extreme comments in your presence.

Remarks conveyed by buyers are of value in judging whether your marketing plan is on track and can yield clues on buyer motivation. Should you happen to be present when a prospect comes through for a showing (which is not advisable), you may hear some rather extraordinary statements made about your place, said Robert Irwin, author of "Seller Beware" (to be published by Dearborn Financial Publishing later this year).

In your presence, a buyer may gush about the virtues of a home he has no genuine interest in buying. Yet someone who finds fault with your place could be very serious about it and may imagine that his harsh evaluation will help his bargaining position.

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