Curb appeal can boost home sale price

curb appeal
Curb appeal (infographic from nar.realtor)

If you want to increase the sale price of your home this spring, you will no doubt focus on the interior.  But how does the home’s exterior look?  You’d be surprised about the amount of necessary cleaning, decluttering and repairing around the exterior of your home.  But don’t skimp on the exterior home preparations before your sale – research conclusively shows that improving your home’s curb appeal can increase the sale price by as much as 8 percent!

An empirical study conducted by Chen, Evans-Cowley, Rutherford, and Stanley (An Empirical Analysis of Effect of Housing Curb Appeal on Sales Price of Newer Houses. International Research Journal of Applied Finance. 2013, Vol. 4 No 11, p1407-1419) was the first to demonstrate the relationship between a home’s sale price and curb appeal.  The authors also discussed how home buyers’ preferences in a home’s exterior influence the home’s sale price.  Besides curb appeal, they suggest that the home’s architectural elements could also be important in the final sale price.  The idea that today’s modern designs are more desirable, and likewise costs more money, is only transitory; such that today’s designs could become trite and tired in twenty years.

The study used a seven-point “attractiveness” scale to determine how respondents viewed the attractiveness of a home’s exterior.  They concluded that there is a relationship between a home’s exterior attractiveness and the home’s sale price.  In fact, they reported that a one-point increase in their scale corresponded to an 8 percent increase in the home’s value!

Home buyers make assumptions about your home’s interior based on the appearance of the exterior.  An unattractive exterior can repel home buyers before they even see the beautiful and updated interior.  Attract home buyers and boost your home sale price by focusing on cleaning, repairing, and “finishing” your home’s exterior.

Basic landscaping can make a huge difference in your home’s attractiveness.  Having too many plants, or letting them grow too much can make the home’s exterior appear crowded and unkempt.  Make sure your lawn is full but manicured throughout your listing.  Properly trimmed trees not only look tidy, but allow home buyers to see your home from the street.  Appropriately placed and trimmed shrubs and flower beds can accent the home’s architectural design.

Check your home’s siding.  Replace and repair any missing or broken siding pieces.  Freshen up siding by power cleaning, or painting.  Even if your home has artificial materials as siding, inspect window frames and fascia boards; these areas are often neglected and may need urgent repair.

How does the deck look?  Unless you maintain the deck regularly, chances are it may seem dull and tired, and may need to be re-treated.  Even if your deck is made of artificial decking, check the railings.  Hire a licensed contractor to repair and secure the deck as necessary.

How about the sidewalks and patio?  The sidewalk and patio can be easily cleaned by power washing.  Cracks in the sidewalk and patio are not only unsightly, but can be a trip hazard.  Cracks are typically caused by rain and water runoff, but can be repaired.  Consider also sealing the sidewalk and patio to prevent further water damage.

Finally, consider finishing the exterior to make your home more appealing and cordial.  Much like staging the home’s interior, you can use similar principles to increase the exterior’s attractiveness; such as placing appropriate chair(s) and potted plant(s) on the porch, deck or patio.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Listing agent secrets you need to know

Listing agent Secrets

There are a number of topics that your listing agent probably won’t discuss with you, or can’t properly explain.  Here are several listing agent secrets that you need to know:

Your agent won’t sell your home

home for saleYour home will likely sell to a home buyer who is represented by a buyer agent. This notion is supported the 2016 National Association of REALTORS® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers (nar.realtor), which reported that 88 percent of home buyers used an agent to buy a home.  The remaining 12 percent of home buyers purchased through other means, including with the help of the listing agent, or even a FSBO.  Although your listing agent may claim to have sold the most homes in the neighborhood, the truth may actually be that they are only facilitators.  The buyer agent who actually “sells” the home is labelled the “selling agent” by the industry.

Buyers are not finding homes in print

listing agent secrets
Agent secrets (infographic from nar.realtor)

Print advertising no longer is the means of selling a home. More information from the 2016 National Association of REALTORS® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers indicate that having a nice spread in a magazine, or posting open houses in the local paper is probably a sales ploy to get your listing.  The Profile reported that home buyers reported how they found their home as follows (nar.realtor):

  • Internet: 51%
  • Real estate agent: 34%
  • Yard sign/open house sign: 8%
  • Friend, relative or neighbor: 4%
  • Home builder or their agent: 2%
  • Directly from sellers/Knew the sellers: 1%
  • Print newspaper advertisement: 1%

Bigger is not better

Another one of your listing agent secrets is that the larger your agent’s brokerage or team, and having a high number of homes actively listed may actually be detrimental to your home sale!  An empirical study by Shiawee X. Yang and Abdullah Yavaş (Bigger is Not Better: Brokerage and Time on the Market; The Journal of Real Estate Research; 1995, Vol. 10, No. 1, pp. 23-33) reported the following results:

  1. The amount of agent’s commission is not indicative of your home’s time on market;
  2. The size of the listing firm does not affect your home’s time on market;
  3. Homes listed and sold by the same firm (i.e., dual agency) does not reduce time on market;
  4. The more active listings your agent has, the longer your home may sit on the market because they do not devote to the time to your sale.

Yang and Yavaş suggest that the larger the listing firm, the more incentive to “cheat” days on market by circulating new listings within the firm before entering it in the MLS, which also increases the chances of a dual agency situation.  “Private placement,” or pocket listings can have similar dual agency results.

Dual agency could cost you

Chances are that your listing agent doesn’t totally understand dual agency, and therefor may not be able to explain how it affects your sale and potentially your sale price.  The Maryland Real Estate Commission’s “Understanding Whom Real Estate Agents Represent” disclosure states:

The possibility of dual agency arises when the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent both work for the same real estate company…The real estate broker or the broker’s designee, is called the “dual agent.” Dual agents do not act exclusively in the interests of either the seller or buyer, and therefore cannot give undivided loyalty to either party. There may be a conflict of interest because the interests of the seller and buyer may be different or adverse.

One of the listing agent secrets is that dual agency may not be beneficial to you, and can even lower your home sale price.  There are a number of empirical studies that indicate conflicts of interest and other issues that arise out of dual agency.  But a study by Joachim Zietz and Bobby Newsome (Agency Representation and the Sale Price of Houses; Journal of Real Estate Research; 2002, Vol 24, No 2 pp. 165-91) found that a home’s sale price drops about 3.7 percent when the listing and buyer agents are from the same firm.  They stated:

the fact that buyers may obtain a lower price by engaging a buyer’s agent from the same firm as the listing agent raises the issue of whether or not the listing firm is shortchanging the seller. The evidence appears to suggest that the agency relationship between seller and listing agent may be compromised.

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Transforming real estate – whom do agents really represent?

transforming real estate
Real estate transformation over time (infographic from movoto.com)

The continuously transforming real estate industry continues to change because of two forces, consumers and real estate professionals.  It would seem intuitive that the forces should be complimentary, but a deeper analysis might suggest conflicting interests between consumers and real estate agents. Whom do agents really represent?

Efficiency, although not openly stated, is a main goal of both home sellers and real estate agents.  Home sellers want to sell their homes efficiently (as quick as possible and for the most money); while the real estate agent may be focused on collecting the most commission in the least amount of time.  A.W. Jenkins’ ground breaking research looked into why consumers continued to use brokers in a transforming real estate environment as a means of buying and selling a home.  Jenkins determined that the only reason why consumers did not use a more efficient “used house dealer” is because they don’t exist (Home, Sweet Home: Real Estate Brokerage in Canada, Vancouver, Canada: The Fraser Institute, 1989).  Jenkins discussed the incentive for consumers to sign commission based broker agreements, even when there are more efficient means of buying and selling a home; including a used house dealer, sell the house on their own, or even pay a flat listing fee.

Anglin & Arnott furthered Jenkins’ line of questioning and came to the conclusion that although a used house dealership (like the used car dealership) may be the most efficient means of buying and selling a home for the consumer, it is not an efficient business model for residential real estate professionals (Residential real estate brokerage as a principal-agent problem; The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics; 1991, vol 4, no 2, pp 99–125).  The cost of maintaining a used house inventory for the dealer is prohibitive because home resale usually takes longer than reselling an automobile.  Another reason for non-existent used house dealers is government regulation: The sale of residential real estate by individuals other than the owner is highly regulated and sets standards for real estate brokerage.

Furthermore, they hypothesize that there may be broker “collusion” in maintaining existing business models:

…Collusion, we argued, is particularly easy to sustain and enforce in the residential real estate market because transactions require cooperation between the buying and selling broker…

As the transforming real estate industry continues its journey, the notion of efficiency has taken a substantial turn in favor of the real estate agent.  The advent of buyer agency and dual agency has allowed agents to leverage their name and reputation to other agents through a “team.”  Much like the medical office business model of luring patients through someone’s name and reputation, only to see the lower techs; the real estate team has become a popular business mode because an agent can leverage their time by having other agents do their work.  To further the confusion, in some cases there are teams within teams. But to understand the structure of the real estate team concept, think of a Russian nesting doll.  The team is a smaller nesting doll which is embedded in the larger nesting doll (the broker); and the team members are even smaller nesting dolls embedded within the team nesting doll.  To be fair, there are various team models in use today; some are better than others with respect to transparency.  The transforming real estate industry has moved towards real estate teams, which essentially operate as a brokerage within a brokerage.

Real estate team advertising and disclosure have become the focus of regulation in recent years, but has not entirely thwarted unscrupulous advertising that intends to mislead the consumer.  Furthermore, agents who are independent contractors and sub-contractors of brokers and other agents, can not only muddy the waters of agency, but can further distance the agent’s incentive and duty to their client.

In his article about the dual agency controversy (From subagency to non-agency: a history; inman.com; Feb 27, 2012), Matt Carter reminded us about a 1993 treatise by the former National Association of Realtors general counsel William North titled “Agency, Facilitation and the Realtor.”  The essay was written at a time when transforming real estate was about acknowledging buyer agency.  Agency relationships between Realtors and their clients were under scrutiny.  North was questioning whom agents really represent and if agents actually knew their role.  To make it easier for agents to know to whom they have a duty, North made an argument for eliminating the independent contractor status that prevails throughout the industry.  He stated:

An approach more difficult of acceptance by NAR membership would be the abandonment of the independent contractor status…The prevailing independent contractor relationship between broker and salesperson encourages “quantity” over “quality…It is clear from the letters which have been received by Realtor News on the Agency issue that far too many Realtors and Realtor Associations simply have no concept of what an agent is, does or cannot do or that their status as an “independent contractor” vis-à-vis their broker has nothing to do with their obligations, as an agent, to the seller or the buyer.  It only compounds the public confusion as to the status of a Realtor when Realtors themselves do not understand who and what they are.

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NAR should promote Realtor Authenticity

Realtor Authenticity
Rules of Authenticity (infographic from MarketingWeek.com “How to be an Authentic Brand”

Several years ago I told you about the National Association of Realtors’ attempt in shifting consumer attitude towards Realtors.  They are pivoting away from selling Realtor integrity, to selling Realtor value.  In 2014, the NAR voted on creating a Code of Excellence to demonstrate competency.  It wasn’t until this past November that the NAR approved a framework of competencies for agents to achieve.  The eagerly anticipated implementation will allow Realtors to assess and grow their skills and knowledge in many aspects of the business of real estate.  But this Commitment to Excellence, as it is named, may help Realtors increase their competency; but in the end, just like being proficient in the Code of Ethics, it will likely fall short in building consumer trust.  The NAR should promote on Realtor authenticity.

Having agents commit to more training is a good idea in building competency among real estate practitioners.  However, research has demonstrated that showing off accolades and awards doesn’t instill value, nor does it increase sales (Valsesia, Nunes, & Ordanini: What Wins Awards Is Not Always What I Buy: How Creative Control Affects Authenticity and Thus Recognition (But Not Liking). Journal of Consumer Research. Apr2016, Vol. 42 Issue 6, p897-914).

Realtors have a trust gap.  And a badge indicating competency and a Commitment to Excellence won’t bridge that gap.  The business of residential real estate is likened to a game of smoke and mirrors.  Instead of encouraging Realtor authenticity, agents are often taught techniques of persuasion to increase sales.  Many agents devise gimmicks and expensive marketing materials to entice you to do business with them.  Even before you meet with a real estate agent, they are likely scheming how to gain your trust.  Whether or not they earn it is an entirely different matter.

Instead of creating another Realtor badge, designation or code, the NAR should consult with James Gilmour and Joseph Pine II (of the Strategic Horizons LLP).  The title of their 2007 groundbreaking book sums it up nicely: “Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want.”  Realtor authenticity is sorely lacking in the industry, and it’s not just the NAR; it stems from the brokers who train real estate agents as well.  In order for Realtors to build trust, they need to be authentic.

A brief 2004 article by Michael Angier (Authenticity Matters: Are you the real McCoy; Sales & Service Excellence Essentials. Vol. 4 Issue 9, p10) highlighted the necessity for authenticity in the sales environment.  He stated that “People like to do business with people they like. And they like people who are like themselves… Buyers today are savvy. They have more choices. And they can tell whether the company and the people in it are congruent. They seek out, resonate with and tend to be loyal to companies that are authentic. Your uniqueness and the things you’re best at doing are part of your differentiating position. It’s who you are—your identity. It’s what people can relate to. If there’s anything false, made up or covered over, your prospects will sense it. And they can’t even tell you why they didn’t buy…”  Realtor authenticity would certainly positively affect client satisfaction.

Realtor authenticity will not only build trust but can also increase sales.  And indeed, a 2006 research article by Allen Schaefer and Charles Pettijohn (The Relevance Of Authenticity In Personal Selling: Is Genuineness An Asset Or Liability? Journal of Marketing Theory & Practice. Vol. 14 Issue 1, p25-35) confirms that authenticity is related to sales performance.  Their results indicated that salespeople who felt more authentic in their roles performed at higher levels and had a higher commitment to “personal selling.”

What do you think?  Below is the framework of the Commitment to Excellence Program as adopted by the NAR is below (from nar.realtor/policy/commitment-to-excellence). It seems to me that Realtors should already be striving to be competent in these areas:

1) Being current and knowledgeable about the laws, regulations and legislation affecting the real estate disciplines the REALTOR® engages in, and about real estate in their community generally.

2) Understanding the Code of Ethics is a living document, and keeping themselves informed about its duties and obligations on an ongoing basis.

3) Providing equal professional services to all consistent with Article 10 of the Code of Ethics.

4) Advocating for property ownership rights in their community, state and nation.

5) Acknowledging and valuing that honesty and integrity are fundamental and essential to REALTORS® being known as consumers’ trusted advisors.

6) Becoming and remaining proficient in the use of technology tools to provide the highest levels of service to clients, customers and the public, and facilitating cooperation by sharing accurate, current information with consumers and with other real estate professionals.

7) Keeping up-to-date on laws and regulations governing data privacy and data security, and taking necessary and appropriate steps to safeguard the privacy and integrity of information entrusted to them.

8) Committing themselves to enhancing their knowledge and skills in the real estate areas of practice they engage in on an ongoing basis.

9) Providing superior customer service.

10) Appreciating that courtesy, timely communication and cooperation are fundamental to facilitating successful real estate transactions, and to building and maintaining an impeccable professional reputation.

11) As a broker-owner or principal of a real estate company, being committed to creating and maintaining an environment that promotes excellent customer service consistent with these standards.

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Protect your valuables when selling your home

Preparing your home sale is more than just deep cleaning, decluttering, and minor repairs. Prepare and plan how to protect your valuables during the sale.

protect your valuables
Protect Your Valuables when Selling Your Home (infographic from Elders Real Estate realestatesevenhillsnews.com.au)

I often write about preparing your home for a sale.  Of course, that preparation is to make your home sell quicker and get the best price.  However, preparing your home is more than just deep cleaning, decluttering, and minor repairs.  Preparing and planning how to protect your valuables will not only keep the prying eyes of nosey home buyers focused on your home’s spaces – it can also thwart would-be criminals.

Homes for sale are prime targets for thieves, and your home is not an exemption.  Don’t make it easy for them.  It may sound obvious – use common sense.  However, you’d be surprised how many home sellers don’t lock up their valuables.  In my many years of selling homes, I have seen how home sellers can be careless by leaving credit cards, cash, medications, and financial statements on counters and desks.  There was one instance where the owner left their gun cabinet open!

And theft doesn’t only occur during open houses.  Your possessions can go missing at any time.  Anyone can have “sticky fingers,” even rogue real estate agents (agents have been arrested for stealing from a listed home).  A Washington State agent was caught stealing prescription medications last year.  Another agent faced criminal charges for stealing jewelry.

Additionally, criminals take the opportunity of an open house (and even virtual tours) to stake out your home; only to strike at a later time. So think about laying out your expensive china just to stage your home.

Yes, thieves are looking for anything of value in your home.  Besides jewelry and cash, they will take anything they think they can personally use or sell.  Medications are a commodity to thieves; and anything with personal identification can be used in ID theft.

I am often asked, “Should I install surveillance cameras?”  A few years ago, a home with surveillance cameras was not typical.  Seeing the cameras often turned off home buyers because they felt “creeped out” and didn’t like the idea of being watched.  However, in today’s cyber-world, where surveillance cameras are nearly everywhere, surveillance cameras have become increasingly commonplace.  Before you go out and install cameras in your home, you need to understand the legal implications by consulting with an attorney or privacy legal expert.

Don’t just put away your jewelry and other items of importance, lock them up!  If you’re not one of the millions of home owners who has a safe or strongbox, there are other options such as storing items in other locations (safe deposit boxes; someone else’s home; and even a rented storage unit).

Burglar alarms are a mixed blessing.  Besides deterring crime, real estate agents often set them off; which can be a nuisance and possibly result in a fine for you (more info on false alarms and fines can be obtained from the Montgomery County Police False Alarm Reduction Section).

If you haven’t already deployed crime deterrents in and around your home, consider using interior and exterior lighting.  Exterior lights can help identify night time visitors, as well as possibly deterring would-be thieves.  Consider using timers or motion sensing lights.   Motion sensing lights will activate the light when people approach your home.

Would-be thieves casing your home look for easy entry points.  Lock up your ladders and secure your shed so as not giving criminals the tools to get inside.

And although you may be told that lockboxes are fool proof, only allowing agents in your home – it’s the user that is the weak link.  Careless agents sometimes leave doors unlocked or open, or do not fully close the lockbox, leaving the key free to be used by any passerby.

Your agent can be part of your protection plan.  Consider having your agent accompany all showings.  Additionally, have more than one person during an open house.  This can not only help protect your valuables, but the direct agent contact may be influential in your home sale.

For more information on protecting your valuables, check out Montgomery County Police’s brochure “Home Security, Safety Tips to Keep Your Home and Valuables Safe.”

Copyright © Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.