When selling a home – pictures more important than descriptions

ColonialThe maxim “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” seems to be applied universally. But the meaning that different people are attracted to different characteristics may be also applied when viewing homes online. Recent research confirms how visual cues can either increase or put off a home buyer’s interest in your home.

Seiler, Madhavan, & Liechty’s 2012 ground breaking research on home buyers’ attention to visual cues deviates from the usual valuation models that focus on the perception of a home’s features (Seiler, Madhavan, & Liechty. (2012). Ocular tracking and the behavioral effects of negative externalities on perceived property values. Journal of Housing Research, 21(2), 123-137). Their study used ocular tracking technology to follow the eye movements of people viewing internet home listings. They found that people tend to spend more time viewing a home’s photos than reading about the property’s features, agent comments and other information; study participants viewed photos 60% of the time.

They concluded that the “percentage of time a person spends looking at the photo of the home” is more indicative of a person’s interest in a home than reading about the property’s characteristics or reading the agent’s descriptions; and it could be inferred that the longer a person looks at a home’s pictures, the more they might be interested in viewing it in person. As a result, the authors recommend that “real estate agents exercise great care when taking good photos of the property before listing a residence for sale.

Additionally, the study reported some interesting findings about a home’s value relative to negatively perceived features. Negative features that can be changed easily and inexpensively (such as carpets or paint) were not viewed by the study’s participants as a reason to significantly discount a home’s value; however, viewing negative external features that cannot be changed (such proximity to transmission lines or cell towers) is perceived to lower a home’s value.

The study’s findings about visual cues seems consistent with a 2008 Realtor® Magazine article (“How Photos Help Sell Homes”; realtor.org) which indicated that a home’s days on market is drastically reduced when there are multiple quality photos: “A property with a single photo spent 70 days on the market (DOM) on average, while DOM fell to 40 with six photos, 36 with 16 to 19 photos, and 32 with 20 photos…” The same article also reports that your home will probably sell for more if your agent posts multiple quality photos compared to posting only one photo; “listings with one photo sold for 91.2 percent of the original price, while homes with six or more sold for 95 percent of the original price…

So it seems that Seiler, Madhavan, & Liechty’s findings confirm the conventional wisdom to make your home look its best prior to listing it, as well as well as having the best quality photos posted to your listing. If you’re planning a home sale, consider asking about and comparing agents’ marketing concepts – including photos and video. It is customary for many agents to hire a third party to take and post pictures for the MLS listing and virtual tour. However, even though the posted pictures are high resolution, many MLS photos are distorted and/or do not depict the best viewpoint. To increase interest in your home – ensure that your hi-res photos are high quality by using the proper perspective and highlights the home’s features.

© 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. This article was originally published the week of July 21, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.

The magic of 4 to sell a home

Preparing Home for SaleFor a successful home sale, you need to focus on four areas…

Spring is rapidly approaching – are you one of the many home owners listing your home for sale this year?  Sure, last year may have seemed like a breakthrough, but the still recovering housing market is just as quirky as The Doctor’s TARDIS.  And unless you consider condition, preparation, pricing, and marketing; your home sale could fall flat.

A home’s condition can affect a home’s sale price (sometimes significantly), and is often overlooked by home sellers and listing agents.  It is not uncommon for owners to put off home maintenance, especially after the financial crisis of 2008; housing experts estimate that home improvement spending decreased about 28% between 2007 and 2011. Deferred maintenance can deter some home buyers, while motivating others to make a low offer.  You can get an idea of potential cosmetic, mechanical, and structural issues by having a pre-listing home inspection.

Whether or not you choose to address deferred maintenance and repairs prior to listing, preparation is required to get ready for home buyer viewings.  One of the most important things to do to prepare your home is to declutter.  Decluttering is often overwhelming because sellers expect to make the home immaculate; but really, the purpose to decluttering is to give rooms a neat and spacious feel.  Decluttering will make you decide which items to keep, what to throw out, give away, or put in storage.

Home staging is a way to create a “vision” for home buyers.  Home staging can get pricey if you hire a staging professional and rent furniture.  But it doesn’t have to be expensive; “do it yourself stagers” can often transform a home with little or no money.  If your home is vacant, inexpensive rentals can be used as room “place holders,” to help convey a room’s size and use to buyers.

Pricing your home correctly can mean the difference between a successful sale and languishing on the market.  A common mistake that occurs in a recovering market is the eagerness to price high; but buyer push back can be an abrupt awakening to the realities of the housing market – making you wonder why your home is not selling.  Be careful of the listing agent who intentionally over-prices your home, this is an old technique to persuade you to sign a listing agreement; the flip side is listing with an agent who intentionally prices the home too low, promising a “quick” sale (which only makes the sale easy for the agent).

Marketing a home sale has changed significantly in the last five years.  Gone are the days of “set it and forget it.”  Creative agents are constantly seeking avenues to publicize and promote listings.  A sales strategy can determine the correct positioning for the home; while implantation of a marketing plan can include new and imaginative methods, such as placement in specialty magazines and websites, video, and even open house “parties.”

Many don’t realize that the internet is where a majority of home buyers now congregate, viewing your MLS listing across hundreds of websites.  To bolster online appeal, make certain your agent uses professional pictures, inspired home descriptions, and complete MLS information.  Be wary of new marketing technology, which often has mixed results; for example: “virtual staging” is a technology than can enhance online appeal by electronically staging a home, but can flop when buyers expect to see what is pictured.

by 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. This article was originally published the week of February 10, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.

Private, pocket listings surge during housing recovery

luxury real estateThe recovering housing market has brought to light the controversial practice of the pocket listing. Although pocket listings are more common in the upper bracket and luxury real estate market, pocket listings tend to increase during hot markets when there are few available listings and increased home buyer competition.

by Dan Krell © 2013

Sometimes called “off-market” listings, or “private” listings, the pocket listing is a home sale that is not openly marketed in the multiple list service. The listing is kept “quiet” and is only known to the listing agent and/or broker who typically market the home to a select network of contacts and clients.

Pocket listings are common among the utra-wealthy because of privacy concerns; anonymity is an often cited reason for a home seller to choose to have a pocket listing, typically because the seller has some celebrity status. Private listings may also be promoted as a way to limit home viewings to those who are financially qualified to purchase the home; the focused buyer pool reduces the number of showings, which may be less disruptive to the seller’s daily schedule.

However, critics of pocket listings often point to MLS concerns, dual agency issues, and housing laws as reasons to be wary of the practice. Agents are not the only ones who have access to an MLS listing; MLS listings are often syndicated throughout the internet and available for anyone with internet access to see. Clearly, one of the obvious issues of a pocket listing is the reduction of marketing exposure that is lost from not having an MLS entry. Another issue that arises from a pocket listing is that it skews home sale and price data that appraisers use for valuations.

Consumer Advocates in American Real Estate (caare.org) cites the possibility of dual agency (where the buyer and seller’s agent is from the same real estate company) as a major concern for pocket listings. Because dual agents do not act exclusively in the interests of either the seller or buyer, the possibility of a conflict of interest may arise. Additionally, CAARE states that a seller who agrees to a pocket listing may exclude 70% or more of qualified buyers who are actively searching for homes.

A recent Maryland Real Estate Commission newsletter (The Commission Check; Summer/Fall 2013), reprinted an article from the August 2013 ARELLO® Boundaries discussing pocket listings, that stated; “pocket listings may run afoul of federal fair housing laws that not only prohibit readily apparent or intentional housing discrimination against protected classes, but also practices that have a “discriminatory effect” that “… actually or predictably results in a disparate impact on a group of persons or creates, increases, reinforces, or perpetuates segregated housing patterns because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin…”

Unbeknownst to some home sellers, their home sale may be marketed as a pocket listing during the period between the signing of listing paperwork and when the home is entered into the MLS. Although this time is often used to prepare a home for sale; it may also be privately marketed by the listing.

Although the National Association of Realtors® has “not defined what constitutes a pocket listing, nor do they have an official policy regarding the practice” (“What is a Pocket Listing”; Realtor Magazine, May 2013); potential housing law issues and ethical concerns of pocket listings should be addressed with your real estate agent/broker.

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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.  This article was originally published the week of October 28, 2013 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2013 Dan Krell.

Amazon and real estate – will Bezos’ vision change marketing of home listings

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homesThe big news this week is of course Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post. Why would the man who predicted the demise print media pay $250 million for a regional newspaper and a handful of associated local papers?

If the real estate business is a window into how media plays a role in the daily lives of the average American, then Bezos’ purchase might be a head scratcher. Over the last five years, the National Association of Realtors® annual Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers (realtor.org) has demonstrated how the internet has increasingly played a role in how home buyers actively searched for homes. In 2007, the Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers indicated that about 60% of home buyers completely relied on the internet to search for their home, while about 21% did not use the internet at all in their search. Compare those statistics to the 2012 Profile, which reported that 90% of home buyers used the internet to search for homes; and home buyers who were younger than 44 years of age, the use of the internet is reported to be 96%!

It seems as if home buyers relied on the weekend real estate sections of the paper for a leg up on new home listings and open houses. Real estate agents and brokers happily paid to have their listings included in what seemed to be the weekly catalog of homes for sale. In addition to the home listings, print real estate sections also included other related information (such as decorating, renovation, and buying/selling tips).

However, as the NAR’s Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers indicated, there was a sharp increase in the reliance of the internet to search for homes from 2007 -2012. The time frame is no coincidence; besides the exponential increase in technology and computing power during this period, it also covers the housing bust and subsequent foreclosure crisis. This was a time of tight advertising budgets and the search for efficient advertising modes; the internet offered a bigger bang for the advertising dollar, offering a more robust real estate platform than print could ever offer.

And although there was a colossal increase in the reliance of the internet for real estate listing information in the last five years, there was a consolidation and reorganization of online real estate content during that time frame as well. As the housing market declined in 2007, many sites stopped syndicating their own content and instead partnered with one of the high profile, well organized real estate portals.

It might seem as if the purchase of the Washington Post by an internet visionary who had once foretold the death of printed news might be confusing. But if you understand the Amazon.com business model and how it revolutionized the purchase and delivery of print and recorded media, you would not speculate that the purchase of the venerable news organization was to expand an internet empire to the newsstand – but rather you might believe that the purchase was to acquire a widely recognized brand that generates a considerable amount of content that can be packaged and sold through Bezos’ established model.

Just as the internet revolutionized real estate content and home listings, you might imagine how Bezos’ novel news paradigm could increase the robustness of content and distribution of home and open house listings.

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This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

By Dan Krell
Copyright © 2013

When in doubt- blame the market

by Dan Krell © 2010

In a recent conversation with a home owner, who withdrew his home from the market, I asked if we could talk about the possibility of re-listing the home. My intention was to discuss different aspects of the listing, such as; the price, the amount of buyer traffic, and the types of marketing. The usual respectful responses I have heard in the past include; “no thanks” or “sure, when are you available?” However, this owner’s sharp tongue and cryptic language seemed to put all the blame on the market.

Sure, it’s easy enough to just blame the market when your home doesn’t sell. Unlike the many home owners of the last few years, who were forced to make other plans when their homes did not sell, you are more likely aware of today’s general market conditions [than they were]. So listing your home without analyzing the data to plan and tailor your sale for your local market is just poor preparation on your part.

In today’s market, the primary sources of a non sale are either your agent and/or the listing price.

Did you know that many people do not interview more than one agent to list their home? According to the National Association of Realtors 2009 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers (Realtor.org) forty percent of home owners chose a real estate agent who was referred to them, while twenty-four percent hired someone with whom they worked in the past.

Let’s face it, your decision to sell your home hinges on information provided to you by your agent. Because much of the market data is interpreted, there is a chance that you can be misinformed (or even malinformed) by any one real estate agent; for this reason, (in today’s market) it is essential to interview at least three agents to get an accurate picture of the neighborhood market, pricing and marketing strategy.

Our natural inclination is to hire the agent who promises us the highest price and with the greatest exposure. However, many experts recommend that before you make your decision, you should talk to several past clients of the agent you intend to hire to get a true picture of their professional abilities. Additionally, a current trend of agent passivity has affected many sellers; many agents have discontinued advertising and dropped open houses from their repertoires. The reality is that you need to get the most accurate and candid picture of your ability to sell without the agent’s salesmanship to get the listing.

Pricing a home has become much more technical because of variance in market conditions, seasonal trends, and home differences- while also keeping in step with frequent changes in lending and appraisal practices. When considering pricing, it’s important to review and compare several agents’ data. Although the point of pricing your home properly is one of the most important items to consider when selling a home today, so much has been written and said about it recently that that I won’t belabor the point. However, consider that if your home is over-priced, home buyers may become alienated because the list price is not in their range of competing homes.

Selling and marketing real estate in today’s environment has moved away from the “sales-y” approach by the ego-centered real estate agent, and evolved into relying on truthful and honest information. However, for those who fail to recognize the weaknesses of their home sale- just blame the market.

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of April 19, 2010. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2010 Dan Krell