Published October 29, 2012
Want to increase your chances of buying a home below current real estate value? Just look for a seller who didn’t listen to his agent.
The best real estate agents encourage their sellers to do whatever it takes to get the home in its absolute best condition before going to market. The better the home shows, the more likely the seller will get top dollar.
Sometimes, this could be as simple as removing personal items or decluttering. Other times, an agent will suggest bigger fixes, such as painting, replacing carpet or upgrading countertops or cabinets. Savvy sellers listen to their agents, make the changes suggested and go to market in top form. That’s not always how it plays out, however.
For any number of reasons, many sellers protest suggested fixes. Either they don’t want to be inconvenienced, don’t believe the fixes will matter or don’t have the financial resources to make it happen. Inevitably, this means the buyer will get a discount on that property.
How to spot a home that might sell below its value
Is there a home for sale in a good neighborhood and in the desired school district that seems to be well-priced but for some reason isn’t selling? This is the home you want to investigate, because chances are the seller didn’t listen to his agent. Specifically, here are some tell-tale signs to look for.
Big furniture or a lot of furniture
Most people don’t buy furniture to use when staging their home. Often a seller may have a lot of furniture in one room, which makes the room look small to potential buyers. Real estate agents and professional home stagers know this all too well. For example, stagers always suggest a small loveseat over a full-blown couch or sectional sofa. Also, in the bedrooms, king beds often take up too much space. So a stager will often push the seller to swap it out for a queen or full-sized bed.
When you enter a house that seems crowded with furniture, imagine the rooms with fewer or smaller pieces. Be aware that plenty of potential buyers won’t get past the sense that the rooms are too small, and they’re likely to move on to a home that feels bigger. In turn, this could give you room to negotiate a good deal with the seller.
There was a home in West Hartford, CT on a great block, but the interior was dark. Three large French doors in the living room led to a deck, but the doors were stained black, and the carpet was brown. On top of that, the window coverings were big, heavy and overtook the room.
The house sat on the market for months, even though the price wasn’t far off the real estate market value. Here’s why: Every buyer walked in and out because the house was so dark. After the home had been on the market for three months, a smart buyer made an offer $40,000 below asking and ended up getting it.
Before the buyer moved in, he removed the window coverings, stripped the stain on the doors and painted them white, pulled up the old carpet and had the floors stained to a lighter oak. Right away, the dark room became light, bright and welcoming. The buyer’s total cost: $9,000, which instantly added $31,000 to his equity.
Grandma or Bambi staring down from the walls
Buyers are looking to see themselves — and not the current owners — in a home. Too often, however, the seller hasn’t “depersonalized” his home enough, or at all. Even though the listing agent may have told the seller to clear the house of his possessions, the seller may be proud of his accomplishments and resist.
And so potential buyers are treated to walls decorated with diplomas, family photos, awards and trophies. Moose and deer heads hanging on walls are surefire deal killers, especially when the hunting rifle used to kill Bambi is proudly displayed, too. At best, buyers tend to see such highly personal stuff as clutter that takes the focus away from the home. They’re turned off by it all, and they walk away.
They might also be walking away from a great deal. Are the bones of the home good? Does it have the floor plan you like? Are the kitchens and baths in acceptable condition? Is it in the area where you want to live? If you say “yes” to all of these, hang around a little longer. Imagine the home without the seller’s junk. Picture yourself living there, without Bambi.
A good home that doesn’t show well = a great opportunity
Ultimately, sellers who don’t listen to their agents or stagers inadvertently give savvy buyers a discount. For you to see that potential, try to understand as much as you can about why the seller is selling. Look for sellers who have ignored their agent’s advice. While conventional wisdom says that a buyer would be turned off by a home that shows poorly, go against this. Imagine the potential. And then, once the home is yours, make those small changes the seller should have made. Right away, you’ll have a little bit (maybe even a lot) of equity, thanks to the seller.