The Top 10 Issues That Prevent Homes From Selling – Revised for 2018

Thank you so much for requesting my latest report.  I’ve spent the last 30+ years of my life, selling thousands of homes in our area, yet each client is just so special to me, and I’m so incredibly grateful to people like yourself who take the time to reach out, and who entrust me with helping them navigate the market in the way that best cares for their families greatest investment.   I’ve never taken those clients for granted, and if there’s anything I can every do to help, by all means reach out.

Ok, on to the topic at hand.  I had written down a few of these things last year, but decide some updates would be helpful.  I hope you find them useful and informative.  If you have any questions, by all means feel free to ask.

Over the course of 2017, were over 39,000 properties listed for sale in Worcester and Middlesex County alone.  During that time period, approximately 30,000 of them sold, leaving 9,000, or about 25%, which were listed and never sold.   In most cases, the listing expired without selling, and without relisting with someone else, or alternatively the Sellers just gave up and took the property off the market.

The question that always comes up in such situations is Why?

Was it the house?  Was it the price?  Perhaps it was the Real Estate Agent that was behind the problem, or maybe it was the Home Owner themselves that kept the property from selling?  Naturally, each situation is unique, but over the years I have come to realize that there were at least a few common themes behind most listing failures, and this report is intended to lay out a few of the more common ones. There are, however, so many more, and I have no doubt that I will expand this report over the next few weeks.

Certainly, price can be a huge factor, and I have no doubt that some of the properties were just overpriced.  Still, I don’t want to spend too much time talking about pricing in this report, largely because I don’t want to use price as a “cop out,” and instead focus on what can be done, aside from pricing, to actually get “top dollar” for each property, rather than just explore ways we can “give the home away.”

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Issue #1 –  Your agent is marketing reactively, rather than proactively.

Reactive marketing is probably what you see around you each and every day. An agent lists a home, does the whole promised you the world, dropped it in MLS,  and was never heard from again.

Somehow, the approach of sticking the sign in the ground and praying didn’t work!

In the end, marketing is far from a passive endeavor. In order to be proactive, an agent needs to take it light-years beyond what they were doing 20 years ago.  Take social media, for example.  I like to consider myself one of the kings of social media marketing.   I run multiple websites, blogs, facebook, and twitter accounts, and try to constantly push out information on my listings to Buyers and Agents alike.   This has probably been my single largest generator of Buyers (and sellers for that matter), that I could ever have asked for.  It’s not free, as some people may think, and no doubt I will spend thousands on social media marketing alone, but let’s face it, if it wasn’t working, I wouldn’t be spending the money!

I have a multi-point marketing checklist that I implement for each listing, and I do it all within the first 24 hours!   During a listing presentation, many agents will lay out their “marketing plan.”  In this plan, they talk about what action they are going to do in week 1, in week 3, in week 9, in week 12 etc…and I never really understood that.  If the idea for week 12 was so great, why didn’t you just do it the first day? Some call it a shotgun approach, but it works.

I’m also constantly reaching out to other agents that may have Buyers, as well as other listing agents who have properties in the same range and may know about people looking, and of course to the thousands of people in my own database.  Getting the word out is key.  When I started in the late 80’s, the listing agents job was primarily to go out and find buyers, bring them to the home, and sell it themselves. In fact, many agents didn’t even put properties in Multiple Listing at all.    That’s no longer the case.  WIth information so freely transmitted, and accessed by the consumers, the job of the listing agent has morphed into a true marketing role, in which their job is to promote the property to other agents and the clients of those agents, get them into the property, evaluate offers with the seller on a purely objective basis, and then shepherd the home though inspections, appraisals and legal morasses, to closing.  In short, if we have five offers, resulting from 30 showings the first weekend, and only 3 of three of the showings and none of the offers were from my personal clients, it means I’m doing an amazing job representing my seller, instead of worrying about how I can earn more selling it to my own customer..  ___________________________________________________________________________

Issue #2.  The photos of the property may be just horrible.

With most home buyers starting their search on-line, what could be more critical than taking great pictures.  Sadly, the pictures that most agents put in the system are just embarrassing.  So much so that a few years ago someone started a Facebook page called Bad MLS Photos, and agents from around the country submit to this page the worst photos they see in their MLS systems.   Pictures of bathrooms with a plunger sticking out of the toilet, pictures of a kitchen with the cat on the counter eating out of the sink, and of course the ubiquitous photo of the front of the home, with a rear view mirror in it, taken by an agent so lazy that they couldn’t even get out of their car!

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression!

I can’t tell you how often I take a listing that had been on the market with another agent for months with nothing to show for it, re-listed it properly, and in some cases RAISED THE PRICE, and still had it sell immediately with multiple offers.

Can pictures make this big of a difference every time?  Well, almost every time.     Check out some of the photos below. These were actual photos in the Multiple Listing System.  Do you feel that these properly reflect the home itself?  Considering what an agent is earning on the potential sale, did they bring their A-Game to the table from a marketing perspective?

Note: These are not the “Worst of the Worst.”  This is just handful I pulled out in 30 seconds to make my point.

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Perhaps the agent could have waited a minute, until there were no butts in the mirror?

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The thing on top of the camera is called a FLASH for a reason!

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Granted, I’m also a photographer, so I’m picky, but seriously?  Overblown, underexposed and out of focus, all at once.

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Now this is really an appealing photo.  I’m sure if I were showing the home to Grizzly Adams it might be a good idea to leave the decapitated heads of these poor animals there, but perhaps to appeal to the masses, it might the best to store them off-site.

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Time spent remodeling the kitchen, 4 months, money spent on the cabinets and appliances, $24,000, effort spent hiring the right real estate agent, ZERO.   Result, it sits on the market, and expires, and “nobody can figure out why?”

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Granted, this one is listed by a friend of mine, who is both the OWNER, and the REALTOR!   I hate to say anything, but seriously…can you picture loading this into MLS and saying to yourself “yeah that looks great – it’s just what I was looking for.”    Of course, it also makes me wonder whether this large remodel had a building permit, since a bannister would have been required by the building inspector.

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How much extra effort would it have been to put the door back on, focus, and get the lighting right?

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Here are some of my photos, just so you can see how it should be done.

Each of these was shot with multiple lights, and probably around 10K worth of photographic equipment. Then an hour was spent selecting from what may have been 100 images, retouching those chosen, and then resizing them into multiple different files, each optimized for where they would ultimately be used, whether for MLS, social media, general web presence, virtual tours, color brochures etc.  If you use too large a file size for the web, it slows down your site, too small a size for your brochures, and your photos look crappy. It is by no means a one-size-fits-all system, and I would estimate that I spend from 1-2 hours on the photos alone, and really…THAT’S how it should be done.  In the end, the photos are one of the single most important pieces of the marketing puzzle.

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I think this makes the kitchen look just as the homeowner intended when they spent the money updating it.  Do you agree?

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This was a lovely family room, and I shot it with a wide-angle lens to show the high ceilings and sense of space.

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This is what is known as an HDR image, in which I took three photographs at once, all at different exposures, and blended them in photoshop to bring out the rich highlights, as well as the shadows.

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Photographing sunrooms is always hard, because when you have the light proper inside, you can blow out the highlights out of the window.  This is another HDR image, shot wide angle, to capture the view outside, as well as the beauty of the inside.

If you’d like to see something really special that I do for my clients, click the image below! It will open up in a new browser window.Now THIS is the level of marketing that you were supposedly paying for the last time you hired an agent.  Did you receive it?

Click the image above to access the tour

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Issue #3  The home is not properly listed based on it’s correct location

OK, you would think that this is an easy one right? After all, how hard can it be to get the correct address into MLS?  Surely, even the worst of agents can type in the address…or can they?  As the tech revolution took off, both agents and buyers became more and more dependent on technology.  Among the most powerful tools, are “map based searches,” which overlay the current listing inventory on a geo-coded map of the region.

Unfortunately, the geo-coding systems that exist out there are ultra-sensitive and small things can throw them off. One of these occurs when your agent merely types in the wrong zip code.  I know, you’re thinking again that this must be rare, but I can assure it’s more common than you think.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pulled up a property search in Shrewsbury and come upon a street name that I just totally didn’t recognize.  Of course, it turned out in was in Southboro…not Shrewsbury.  I mean really??

Another way it happens has to do with street names, and occasionally it’s because the actual “street name” that you think you live on, isn’t what some of the public records show.  For years, you couldn’t find Lamplighter Drive in Shrewsbury in the GPS maps, instead you found Lamp Lighter Drive, and that’s what the map based searches were looking for.  This is when manually inputing the latitude and longitude would come in handy, as that overrules the address.  The same thing with abbreviations.  Hatrford Turnpike shows up in many geo-codes as Hatford Tnpk.  I know that seems crazy, but in order for a property to properly show up in a map search, it has to be coded in a way that it gets picked up by the systems.

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Issue #4  Incorrect property information.

If you’ve been on the market before, I’m sure you went online and saw your listing. When you did that,  did you check and verify the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage, garage type, etc?  These are all items that play an early role in a buyer eliminating properties from their search. I can’t tell you how often I see a home that has, according to MLS, 0 Baths, and 2 half baths, and 1 garage, when really it had 2 baths, 1 half bath, and no garage.  Someone apparently had hit the “tab” key and was working one box ahead in MLS as they entered the listing.

Another huge issue is not so much an accident, as a deliberate plan that sometimes backfires.  This all goes to the question of “what is square footage.”  Are we counting finished basements, attics or what?  You may think it’s doing you a favor to put your 2800sf home, with a finished basement, into MLS as a 4000sf home, but you may be costing yourself business.   The clients who look at it may think it’s “too big,” or just as often don’t realize the basement was counted, and are suspicious as to why a 4000sf home is listed “so cheap’ and assume that there is something wrong, so they pass it by. That’s not to say that you should never include basement square footage.  I do it from time to time as well, but only in specific circumstances, and with it spelled out properly in MLS.

Here’s another odd one, putting the home in MLS and not knowing if it’s a house or a condo.   Do you know what an “attached home” is?  Basically, it’s a duplex, or a “row house” such as you might find in Beacon Hill.  If you live in a normal free-standing property, then you live in a “detached home.”

When an agent is sitting with a buyer doing a search in the Multiple Listing System, or perhaps when an buyer is searching on many of the 3rd party websites, they would be looking for a “single family detached home,” perhaps a “colonial style” with a certain number of bedrooms and baths.

Countless homes are listed incorrectly like this each day.  I pulled these out when I did the original report, but it’s as valid today.   This was just a quick sample of how many I could fit in one screen shot.  If you click the image to enlarge it, you will see that each of these are incorrectly listed as being “attached homes,” and thus wouldn’t even show up in a normal search for detached single family properties.

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Issue #5  The MLS remarks desperately need help

Have you ever been looking online for a home yourself and come across that generic verbiage used by some agents when they sell property?

For Example:

“Not a drive by”   (This is a code for “it’s an ugly house.”)

“Tenant is Living. Must Make Appointment.”  (I can only imagine if the tenant were dead!)

“Awaiting your final touches” (meaning it’s a dump)

“PREICED TO SELL!!!!!   OWNER ANGSOUS!!!!”  (I have no words for this one! Spell-check anyone?)

“Seller is a lisensed Realator”   (Now this is probably part of the problem.  If an agent can neither spell Licensed nor Realtor, where do you go from there?)

“Current owner wants to sell.”  I would imagine they do, what with the sign on the lawn….

Frustrating right? Welcome to my world!

Your agent needs to be sure that your description is telling a good narrative, and with only a couple of hundred characters allowed in the system, you just can’t waste any, because not only the MLS, but also the syndication sites (Zillow, Trulia, & Yahoo Real Estate) are going to match the description input.  This is your agents chance to make you shine!

Don’t confuse lengthy – with good.  Sometimes less truly is more.  Even the most simple description can make the difference between someone making an appointment to see it – or not.  Remember, giving a prospective Buyer all the information they need, may allow them  to rule out inquiring.

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Issue #5 – Giving too much information in MLS

This one is surprising to many people, but often times, when describing your property in the listing, less is more.   When Buyers are looking on line for homes, you would think that they’re’ trying to scour for an amazing home to buy. Well, obviously there’s some truth to that, and if they see an amazing home, they’ll stop in their tracks.  Psychologically speaking, however, most don’t sit down and spend hours searching.  They look when that have a few minutes to spare, and primarily, they’re looking to eliminate most of the homes from consideration, and save one or two favorites.  Because of this phenomenon, what you want to do is to give them as few reasons as possible to eliminate the property.  Here area a couple of examples.

First – be wary of adding room measurements.  Here in Massachusetts, our MLS system allows you the “option” of listing the dimensions of each room in the listing itself.  Some agents feel this is important, and dutifully measure each room, however it’s likely hurting you, more than helping, because room dimensions are one of the first things a Buyer uses to eliminate a property. Assuming you have a mid-range property, you probably have bedrooms that are 11×13, 12×14, and maybe even one smaller one that’s only 8×10.  Having those in MLS calls attention to them, and the Buyers initial reaction is, “Yeah, those bedrooms are too small, next…”    In reality, most rooms like that feel much bigger in person, and so the objective is to prevent the Buyer from eliminating it, and get them in to see it in person, and evaluate it first hand.   There is, however, and exception to that guideline. If you have a home with some amazing, spacious rooms, I would definitely note that.  For example, “Amazing 24 x 24 Family Room, perfect for entertaining.” or perhaps “huge 20 x 30 Master suite over garage.”

Another example that often is challenging to explain is that of swimming pools.   If you have one, you’re someone who loves pools, but a lot of people really had set up in their heads that, for one reason or another, they don’t even want to see a home with a pool.   By putting in a photo of a normal sized backyard, with a giant above ground pool, anti-pool Buyers are eliminating it right off the bat, and never viewing the home.  Some would say that’s good, and wastes less time, but I can’t tell you how often I’ve shown a home to someone who suddenly just fell in love with it, and said they’d buy it even with the pool.  In fact, most of them wind up loving the pool in the end, so I’m glad we got them in.   Again, there are exceptions.  If you’ve got an acre of land on a cul-de-sac, with an unreal, free-form, in-ground heated pool, and still tons of yard to play in, then yes, lets’ include that in the photos.

 

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Issue #6.  Either you or perhaps your home, aren’t as welcoming to showing agents as you could be.

One day I can recall bringing a relocating client to see a home on Piccadilly Way in Westboro.  I rang the doorbell, and the owner, mop in hand answered the door, with a puss on her face that could kill.  The conversation went something like this.

“Hi, I’m Steve Levine, from RE/MAX.”

“Yes, may I help you?”

“Yes, I have a showing scheduled for today for these Buyers. May I come in?”

“That showing is supposed to be at noon, Steve.  It’s only 11:50!”

“Well, that’s pretty much noon, isn’t it?”

“Pretty much, and noon, are two different things.  I am mopping the floors, and if you come back at the correct time, I will be ready!”

“Okey dokey, thanks so much.”

Needless to say, I did not come back in 10 minutes, nor did I come back at any point in the months the house sat on the market.  Who needs that kind of drama? Thanks anyway…plenty of other homes to show.

In short…be nice to people!  Even if you’re just faking it…fake it ’till you make it!  Sometimes,  I’ll be out showing homes to clients, and  come upon a seller who left a bowl of candy, some cookies, a few bottles of water…along with a little note that reads “Thanks so much for coming to view my home.  Please feel free to help yourself to a snack.”  Even if my client wasn’t in love with that home, I’ll be back!  Not because I can’t buy a cookie myself, but just because these are the kind of people I truly want to help.   Being made to feel valuable and special is so nice.

Beyond you, and how you might be interacting with people, there is your home itself and how it makes Agents and Buyers feel.

Many people, especially two-income families, are out of the home all day.  You arrive for a showing, and the house is 50 degrees, the shades are drawn, the lights are off, and the bedroom doors are closed.  Even when I try and turn on the lights, there are bulbs missing, and the ones that are there are the energy-saving ones that start off dim, and need to warm up.

Meanwhile, the cat, apparently very unfriendly, is sitting on the kitchen counter hissing at me, and the dog, obviously too friendly, is trying to hump my clients leg.  Yeah, we’re done now…thanks for the showing!

What can you do when you aren’t home during the day?  Well, there are many, many things – among them setting up a marketing plan designed to stack the showings into a particular, narrow time period, and get an offer during that time.  In this way, we can minimize the inconvenience, while getting the maximum price for the property.  We can meet up and chat about that further.

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Issue #7.  Buyers and other Agents can’t get in!

There are few things more frustrating than having to jump through multiple hoops in order to schedule a showing.  Sometimes, this is unavoidable, however, there are often times when the listing agent is the only point of contact for a property and they don’t answer their phone or return voice messages in a timely manner.  Other times, I’m sorry to say, it is the Home Owners fault, and they have set unrealistic showing restrictions.  I ran into this a short time ago – “…all showings to be held after 12 noon and before 3PM on weekdays only.”  Apparently, they had a teenager, who liked to sleep in, and two younger kids who got home from school at 3:00PM. I mean I get it, but realistically that’s just not the way it’s done, and for the short time the home is listed, perhaps the teenagers could be bribed to get up early and make the beds when there is a showing?  Perhaps you can take the kids for a ride after school, on showing days?

Here’s another one.  Some agents try to win over Sellers by saying that they will “accompany all showings.”  If you hear that – please think twice. It may sound appealing at first – after all what better way for the home to be viewed than with the listing agent there?  However, no agents want to show those listings, because they are always incredibly hard to get an appointment for, and honestly I don’t want to walk my Buyer through while the listing agent is doing a shpiel about “this is the kitchen….”   If your listing agent has so little business, that they can promise to be at your home day or night, 7 days a week, for every showing, then they have way too much time on their hands. After all, who wants to eat at a restaurant where you can get a table in one minute on a Saturday night.

You would be shocked at how common it is, that the “showing instructions,” actually prevent the showing.  I deal with it all the time.  I will reach out to the listing agent to schedule an appointment, and hear back a week later, or not at all.

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Issue #8.  Your listing is not being properly syndicated to other sites.

When I list a property, I think I have a total of 50 or 60 other websites that I send the data to, in addition to ver 300 other agents that I allow to post it on their websites through my IDX interface.  That exposure is very important  in some markets, and with some properties.

Just as mission critical as this syndication is, it is even more important to do it properly, and way beyond the competition.  In our area, for example, most agents allow MLS to upload their listings to sites like Realtor.com, Trulia and Zillow, however only by the agent actually PAYING for those listings, do they look appropriate.  You see, those sites will “post” any listing they are sent, but in order for the home to be “showcased” in a fashion that is appealing to Buyers, and to have all of the inquiries on it actually go through to your listing agent, that agent must pay them a fortune.  I believe Realtor.com alone I had paid over $3500 to, and I know I just paid Zillow and Trulia close to $2500 each.  Yes, it costs money, to make money, and I’m fine with that arrangement, because (a) it’s in the best interests of my Sellers, (b) it results in a better sale for them, and (c ) both a and b mean more referrals for me down the road.

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Issue #9.  The buyer’s agents commission is not competitive.

By federal law, all commissions are negotiable.   It is a violation for any agents to get together and agree to charge no less or more than a certain rate.   At the same time, however, your home is listed out there in the MLS offering compensation to agents that bring their Buyers, and if your property is offering compensation far below others on the market, then why would people bring their customers there?  To the contrary, you can often overcome many objections by offering a HIGHER compensation that your competitors, even if your home has issues that a potential Buyer might not want.

Imagine for a moment, that you run a car dealership, and you have a lot full of minivans all priced at 20K.  Whenever one of your employees sells one, he or she earns $1000.  Now you have this one ugly lime-green minivan sitting on your lot that you really want to get rid of.  One approach might be to drop the price $500, but that won’t work.  In the end, the Buyers aren’t that price sensitive, and will happily spend $500 more for a color they like.  On the other hand, what if you went to your employees, and offered a “”50% bonus” which in this case is an extra $500, to whomever sells the green one?  I guarantee it’s off the lot by nighttime!  In short, give the incentive to the person who has the most influence on the decision making process.  In your case, that’s the Buyers agent.

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Well that was ten..so here is my Bonus Tip – the most important of all!

If I were to ask you what the most important time was in the marketing of your home, what would you say?  Most home owners would say that it’s the first week that the property hits the market – and if so, they would be very close.

In reality, the most important time is the week BEFORE the house hits the market. I’m not sure why I always use this example, nice I am NOT a hunter, but in a way, putting a home on the market is a lot like duck hunting.  You can hide in the weeds for weeks, but once you fire the first shot, the ducks all know you’re there!  For that reason, the FIRST shot is the very most important one, and that’s why the week BEFORE you hit the market is the most important of all.

It is during that week that you and I can figure out what improvements we want to make before the first Buyer walks in the door.  These should be things for which we hope you will earn $5000 for ever $1000 you spend.  Maybe it’s touch up paint, fresh carpets, painting that green bathtub white, or replacing light fixtures.  Perhaps it’s just a thorough clean-out, bringing in a dumpster for the things that are getting tossed, and a POD for things that we can store off-site, and then having my mover send a few guys over to get things into either the POD or the dumpster.

To maximize the value for my homeowners, I put together over a decade ago a group I affectionately call my “pre-marketing team.”  If you’ve ever tried to get vendors to show up at your house, you know how frustrating that can be.  I however, can send out one text message, and usually have my handyman, carpet installer, painter, roofer, mover, dumpster, plumber, electrician etc., drop whatever else they are doing, and get over the property to get your work done.   That in and of itself is a HUGE value!  These guys work with me all the time, and know that if they want to continue to get business, they need to get in, get it done right, do it at a fantastic price, and get out so we can list.  They don’t give me “a cut” of any of the work, and I would never accept it.  They are just members of my team that I know I can count on when I need it, and over the years, they’ve gotten to know and love each other too.

By leveraging that kind of power for you, I can take such a huge weight off your hands, and get your home properly prepared and listed long before it every hits the market.  In the end, that means top dollar, fast, and without the hassle.

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Of course, that was only top 11 tips, and there are so very many more!

While I am good at many things, and great at others, being succinct isn’t one of them!  Yes, those who know me, know that I can talk and talk and talk.  Hey, nobody is perfect, but it’s really useful information!

When you have a moment, drop me a quick email with any questions you might have, and perhaps we can arrange to meet up.  You can reach me best at stevertr63@gmail.com or of course call me on my cell at 508 735-4663.

In the meantime here is a video that you might enjoy, in which some of clients who recently bought and sold talk about their experiences, and things they might do differently in the future.