6 reasons homes don't sell
your lawn grown up around that "For Sale" sign? Have the wasps moved
into the lock box on your front door? Did you just receive an invitation to
your real estate agent's retirement party?
If so, chances are your home sale fizzled.
Here are the six most-common reasons why homes don't sell and
what you can do about it.
1. Your home is overpriced.
Optimistic home sellers love to parrot the old adage, "There's a buyer
for every home." But they often leave off the qualifier: "at the buyer's
The fact is, buyers -- not sellers -- ultimately determine the
market value of a home. You can ask for the moon and set your listing price
well above comparable properties in your neighborhood, but at some point it
will be up to you, the seller, to accept what the buyer thinks your home is
Overpricing is the most common reason homes don't sell. When you
ask an unrealistic price, it sets in motion a process that often works against
you. Here's why:
Most real estate agents, and hence most qualified buyers, will see your
new listing within 30 days. If it is overpriced by as little as 5 percent, it
will be duly noted and interest in your property will wane, especially if you
show no intention of coming off your asking price. You likely already priced
out buyers who might have qualified for financing at a more reasonable price.
Even if you manage to find a buyer at your inflated asking price, the property
may not appraise at that figure and the financing will fall apart.
Your real estate agent may have approved or even suggested the inflated
asking price to secure your listing (more on this in No. 4). Conversely, other
real estate agent often use overpriced properties like yours to help sell their own listings
("Here's what they are asking. Now would you like to take a second look
at that first house I showed you?")
"If you have a house that really should be priced at $200,000
and you've got it listed at $260,000, you are trying to compete against homes
that really are worth close to $300,000 and all of a sudden your home really
is not competing well," says Jeri Fisher of Jeri Fisher Real Estate in
Missoula, Mont. "You want to compete with what is available out there among
homes similar to yours."
If your home remains on the market for too long, agents and buyers
may begin to wonder if there are other, perhaps more serious reasons why it
"It becomes shopworn, the same as a jacket hanging in the
store week after week," says Fisher. "People are aware that it has
been on the market a long time and agents stop showing it."
2. Your home doesn't "show"
Your home is competing against shiny new houses in those pristine subdivisions
out in the suburbs with their attractive prices, incentives and community amenities.
Face it: Even the best old house needs a little makeover if it
hopes to attract a qualified buyer.
The good news is most of the work will be cosmetic and relatively
inexpensive: a new coat of paint, a few attractive window boxes, a thorough
cleaning of floors and carpets. Voila! The place may look good enough to reconsider.
A good real estate agent can advise you on where your time and money are
"Price and condition are two things that the seller can do
something about," says Fisher. "I always give people my 'honey do'
list. I think paint is probably a seller's best friend because it makes things
smell fresh and look fresh. If it's time to paint, it's time to paint. It's
the best return on investment."
3. You're in a bad location.
Nothing has a greater impact on your home's value than its
location. Your humble abode might be worth a king's ransom were it located in
Palm Beach, Aspen or San Francisco. It might even jump thousands in value just
two streets over in the next (and far superior) school district.
"If you're in one of the higher-ranked schools around here,
you're going to add $50,000 to $100,000 to the price of the same house,"
according to Lenn Harley, a broker with Homefinders.com Inc. in Maryland and
The point is, location rules in real estate.
If your home's location is less than desirable, your options are
somewhat limited. A good real estate agent will do his best to help you accentuate the
positive and eliminate the negative of your circumstances, say by using foliage
to screen off offensive adjoining properties or dampen traffic noise.
The best way to compensate for a poor location is to reduce your
asking price or offer attractive incentives such as seller financing or a lease
option with rent credit.
4. You have a lousy listing agent.
Yep, they exist: Real estate agents who mislead, misfire
Their bad advice can cost you plenty in time, money and the sheer
hassle of keeping the place show-ready 24/7.
The agent from hell will allow you to overprice your home ("Here's
what I can get for you if you list with me!"), not market it properly (see
No. 6), fail to screen for qualified buyers, be unresponsive to interest from
other agents (if they sell their own listing, they don't have to split the commission)
and keep you totally in the dark throughout the process.
What's more, if your agent is abrasive, arrogant or otherwise
difficult to work with, other agents may not want the hassle of showing any
of their listings to prospective buyers.
5. You are battling competition or market conditions.
We've all heard the terms "buyer's market" and
"seller's market." In real estate, market conditions are affected
by any number of external forces, some of them predictable (the weather, sort
of), some of them unpredictable (the local economy, interest rates, public optimism
In a "hot" or seller's market, homes go fast. Inventory
(homes on the market) may be low, meaning less competition for you. Chances
are better that you will get your asking price in a hot market; in fact, it
is not uncommon to even be offered more than your listing price.
But in a "flat," "cold" or buyer's market,
sales slow to a trickle, inventories grow and buyers can find bargains, especially
when they know the seller is motivated (i.e., paying on two mortgages).
If you're trying to sell in a flat market, you're not only competing
against all that vacant new construction, but against rentals as well. In this
case, be prepared to settle for less than top dollar, or wait to sell until
the pendulum swings once again in your favor.
6. You have ineffective marketing.
Gone are the days when an agent could simply place your listing
with the local multiple listing service, hold a halfhearted open house and wait
for another agent to bring forth a buyer.
Today's top performers launch a multilevel marketing plan that
includes listing tours for area agents, newspaper and even TV ads, weekend open
houses, listing fliers and placements in local real estate publications.
Computers and the Internet also have changed the face of real
estate. According to the National Association of Realtors, today more than one-third
of all home buyers use the Internet for house hunting. The best real estate agents are
computer-savvy. They have your listing in color on their laptops to show clients
and communicate frequently via e-mail, a particular boon when working with out-of-town
Suffice it to say that if your real estate agent isn't listing your home
online through the company Web site as well as with the local MLS, you may not
be getting the exposure necessary to find a buyer.
"There are those who just put the listing in the multiple
and pray it will sell and those that put a lot of effort into marketing their
listings," says Fisher. "Unfortunately, with this weird system of
compensation we have, they all get paid the same, whether they know nothing
or have many years of experience."
Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based
-- Posted: July 1, 2003