Last year, there were over 10,000 homes in Worcester and Middlesex County alone, which were on the market during 2016, and came off the market without selling. 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, but I don’t want to spend too much time talking about that in this report. After all, one could argue that no matter how bad the house is, or how terrible the marketing program might be, that if you put the home on the market for $1.00 it would sell. As such, I want to choose, at least in this report, to not use price as a “cop out,” and instead focus on what can be done to actually get “top dollar” for each property, rather than just explore ways we can “give the home away.”
By way of background, I have been actively selling Real Estate here in Central Massachusetts for just over 27 years. In that time, I have had the privilege of working with well over 2000 Buyers and Sellers, and learned so much that I am finally going to put it all into a book this year.
I have been ranked by RE/MAX as one of the Top 100 Agents in the World numerous times, and the #1 Agent in New England 10 times. I have spoken to other Realtors nationally on creative marketing techniques, and technology, and I am currently developing a training course for agents to instruct them on how best to leverage the tools they have available to best deliver the highest quality service and results for their clients.
This means using technology, when applicable, but it also means not trading “high-tech,” for “high-touch.” There are so many things that we can do now, here in 2017, that we could not even dream of even a decade ago. In the end, however, no amount of technology can or will ever replace personal interaction, and that of truly being a caring, considerate professional, with the interest of your clients coming first.
Every year I have had the pleasure of being called in by homeowners who have had their homes on the market previously with other agents, and in almost every situation, I have been able to get in, revitalize the marketing plan, and get the home sold in a prompt and efficient manner. At the end of the this report, you will find a video link which you should check out when you have time. It contains several interviews with recent clients, several of whom were in that exact situation, and describe my coming in to their home sale, and actually RAISING the price, and having the property sell the first day. That’s a pretty powerful concept, to be sure, and that’s why hearing it from a third party is probably best.
If you have any questions about any of the information below, or would like to chat further, you can always email me at email@example.com or call me on my direct line, (508) 725-4663.
Thanks again so much in advance
Issue #1. 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.
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.
Perhaps the agent could have waited a minute, until there were no butts in the mirror?
The thing on top of the camera is called a FLASH for a reason!
Granted, I’m also a photographer, so I’m picky, but seriously? Overblown, underexposed and out of focus, all at once.
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.
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?”
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.
How much extra effort would it have been to put the door back on, focus, and get the lighting right?
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.
I think this makes the kitchen look just as the homeowner intended when they spent the money updating it. Do you agree?
This was a lovely family room, and I shot it with a wide-angle lens to show the high ceilings and sense of space.
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.
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?
Issue #3. Incorrect property information.
Have you actually gone online to look at your listing, and 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.
How about these gems I just pulled out of MLS?
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. 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.
Issue #4. 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?
“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?)
“Honey Stop the Car!” (there’s an agent in my area that starts nearly every remarks section with this. For the life of me, I still don’t know what it means. Surely those characters could have been used to better describe the property?
“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 story, 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!
But 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.
Issue #5. Your agent has a bad reputation among the agent community.
Let’s say the buyer’s agent has 4 homes that they’re helping their buyer to choose from. All of these homes fill their buyers housing wants/needs. What might play a role in eliminating properties from that list? You got it! Your listing agent. Over the nearly 30 years I have been selling real estate in Worcester County, I have worked with hundreds of different agents, from just about every real estate company there is. Some I adore, and they become dear friends, others I’ve had a single pleasant, or even less than pleasant transaction with, but really don’t even remember, and then there are a two or three that just drive me crazy to the point where i can’t understand how they are still in business. Not just a little crazy, but crazy to the point where I remember writing a letter to one of them after the closing telling her I’d rather have a colonoscopy than work with her again, because in the end, the feeling is pretty much the same!”
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE 99.999% of my fellow Realtors. Many of us are dear, dear friends, and have known each other for decades. The consumers think we’re “competitors” but they don’t realize that our kids played together, we went on vacation together with our families, we cover for each other on vacation, and we go out for lunch all the time, brainstorm ideas. Yes, despite what you may think, most of us are always there for each other. That said, those few others are notorious for being absolutely horrible to work with, and while I would most certainly show my Buyers any home they wanted to see, I also am not going out of my way to show their listings because I honestly just don’t want to work with them.
In the end, if an agent representing a Buyer knows the listing agent is notorious for: not returning phone calls, being stubborn and defensive during negotiations, lying about what they know about the property, and approaching the business with a reckless abandon – they’re actually protecting their buyer from a potentially frustrating and even harmful negotiation process.
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.
Issue #7. Buyers and 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 never answer their phone or return voice messages! Other times, it is the Home Owners fault, and they have set unrealistic 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.
Some agents try to win over Sellers by saying that they will “accompany all showings.” If you hear that – run! 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.
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.
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.
Issue #10. Your agent is marketing reactively, rather than proactively.
Reactive marketing is probably what you see around you each and every day. An agent listed your home, 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 over a dozen websites, multiple blogs, facebook, and twitter accounts, and push out information on my listings to thousands of people a day. 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 25 point marketing checklist that I implement for each listing, and I do it all within 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, week 3, week 9, 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?????
My passion for technology will never replace the personal touch – EVER. That said, I have taken it to the point where I now travel around from time to time and train other agents on who best to use the full depth and breath of technology to generate results for their clients, and when I do, the response is just overwhelming. I’m not sure how often they actually “follow through” on what I teach them, but at least I know at the end of the course that I’ve done my best to bring the level of the industry up a notch.
I don’t leave it to social media, by any means. I’m constantly reaching out to other agents that may have Buyers, 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. That, and ONLY that, is what true marketing is all about.
Well that was ten..so here is my Bonus Tip!
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.