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SMART MOVES

Sometimes Life Is What Happens When You Plan to Sell

April 11, 1999|ELLEN JAMES MARTIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The bride and groom were greeting visitors to the formal reception at their North Hollywood home.

Just as the wedding cake was cut, the doorbell rang. It was the first of two sets of buyers wishing to see the interior of the ranch-style house, which was for sale.

The visitors asked if they could tour during the reception. "No problem," the newlyweds replied.

Although 90 guests were there to celebrate, the couple had vowed not to let their wedding reception interfere with the sale of their home.

"Their flexibility was a major plus," said Gisele Karsa, a Glendale agent who listed and sold the couple's home in just one week with multiple offers. One offer came from buyers who wove through the crowds during the wedding reception.

Life offers many twists and turns. And a remarkable number of these events are accompanied by the sale of a home.

Perhaps you're facing a happy life passage, such as a wedding, a welcome pregnancy or a career change for the better. Or maybe you've been struck by bad news, such as the diagnosis of cancer, the loss of a job or the dissolution of your marriage.

Either way, be careful not to overwhelm yourself by seeking to deal with both the home sale issues and your life-changing event at the same moment. "You can only tackle one issue at any given second," said John Maquar, the co-owner of the Northridge office of Prudential California realty office.

Letting yourself be simultaneously consumed by your dual issues can be mentally paralyzing, making it hard to reach decisions. It's better to alternate between the two sets of plans. "Stop worrying and start dealing with one problem at a time," Maquar said.

Here are four pointers for home sellers:

No. 1: Play the right game on price if your home is in a prized place.

It's ironic but true that if you're selling a home in a neighborhood where demand is high and inventory is scarce, your home will probably fetch more if it's priced 5% below the prevailing market.

"That way, you're really going to generate a lot of excitement with both buyers and their brokers," said Karsa, a broker for Coldwell Banker.

Just as shoppers will swarm around the "last call" designer dress sale racks at a prominent department store, so will they swarm to your for-sale property if it's both well situated and listed at a tantalizing price.

But though no one at a department store will pay more for a designer dress than the tag indicates, that's not true of homes. When properties are in strong demand, an "auction effect" quickly occurs if would-be buyers perceive a bargain.

The result? A home can easily go for more than the homeowner is asking through competition among rival buyers. Karsa estimates that sellers can expect about 5% more for a coveted home that's slightly underpriced than for one offered right at market value. Such a house probably will also sell more quickly.

Why is such a pricing strategy especially important to those passing through a major life event? "You'll have a lot less hassle and a shorter time when people are coming through to see your home, which mean more privacy and fewer intrusions," Karsa said.

Selling quickly could allow you more attention to focus on preparations for the purchase of a larger property to accommodate a baby who is soon to arrive. Or, if you've suddenly been fired from your job and must downsize your housing for financial reasons, you'll have more time to rejuvenate your career.

No. 2: Plan early for your next housing if your health is declining.

Often the diagnosis of a serious illness means that the sole or secondary breadwinner in a family must take off work, either for several months or for good.

If the couple is reliant on two incomes to meet a mortgage payment, the loss of one could easily force the sale of a house. Perhaps the couple must then contemplate moving in with family members or to a less expensive home.

If illness is forcing such a move, it's best to plan the move before the sale of a home. Making arrangements for your future living quarters early will ease the fears that come with uncertainty. It's never easy to give up homeownership involuntarily.

However, if you must take a rental unit, seek one out with a special feature that appeals to you, Karsa suggests. For instance, look for an apartment or leased home in a serene setting (away from busy roads) or a place with a pleasant view of a garden or water. That will help ease the sadness of your transition.

No. 3: Arrange to separate your illness from the showing of your home.

It's a rare occasion (as in the case of the wedding reception) when it's acceptable to have the homeowners present when a property is shown to prospects.

"It's always easier for the buyer if the seller is not in earshot," Karsa said. "Buyers don't want to hurt anyone's feelings with their criticism. They're very timid in the presence of sellers."

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