Heather Wood, Freelance Writer: articles about interior decorating & redesign, home staging & enhancement, & more
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All the right moves

Make them, and you can sell your home while others languish on the market

By Heather Wood
published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Real Estate section
Sunday, July 29, 2007

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Summer has arrived and, with it, an increase in homes for sale. Santa Fe's typically hot real estate market remains strong, but a tough winter delayed many sales in the first and second quarters, causing a swell in summer listings. What that means for home sellers is more competition, more bargaining power on the buyer's part -- and possibly more days on the market than local sellers have come to expect. With more homes for sale, buyers have more power to be selective, to bargain and to not feel rushed to make an offer.

So what can you do to ensure your home isn't passed over when there might be three others like it on your block?

It's time to pull out all the stops and make an upfront investment in time, energy and, sometimes, money, to position your property ahead of other listings with similar characteristics in a similar price range.

Engage your Realtor

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It's the job of your real-estate professional to help you determine a list price for your property as well as market it. Make sure your associate broker (formerly referred to as "agent") understands all the benefits and drawbacks of your property. Be sure to ask how the company plans to market your property, including how often it will hold open houses for other brokers and the general public.

As Heidi Helm, a Realtor with Prudential Santa Fe Real Estate, says, "It is imperative that the broker and the client work together as a team. The ultimate goal is to achieve the highest and best outcome -- a sale -- as quickly as possible.

"Pricing the property correctly, overall condition of the home, all repairs completed and the curb appeal all are very important aspects to be communicated and clear about," Helm says. "Properly preparing the home for sale is something that the broker and seller work together on."

Find out what your Realtor expects you to do to prepare and keep your home ready to show: Do you need to vacuum each day, or make sure your pets are sequestered during open houses? What do you, in turn, expect from your Realtor? Establishing both parties' expectations upfront will prevent headaches in the long run.

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Photos by Chris Corrie
When it comes to staging a home for sale, less is more. By eliminating distractions, you let the features of the house stand out. Photos by Chris Corrie
When it comes to staging a home for sale, less is more. By eliminating distractions, you let the features of the house stand out.
Simplifying the eat-in kitchen of this Tesuque estate helps buyers appreciate the architectural details of the space. Photos by Chris Corrie
Simplifying the eat-in kitchen of this Tesuque estate helps buyers appreciate the architectural details of the space.

Be forthcoming

The growing popularity of "preinspections" is worth a second look. Having a pre-inspection can help reduce surprises when it comes to structural and safety issues in your home. It's a pre-emptive measure that is attractive to buyers.

Offering this type of information to potential buyers upfront can garner trust. It also reduces the possibility that the transaction could sour if things like mechanical or structural issues show up later in the bidding process.

Paul Norris, owner of WIN Home Inspection in Santa Fe and Rio Rancho, says, "Nationally, more and more home sellers are looking for a leg up when it comes to the competition. A preinspection is not only a good marketing move, but it can save money, stress and time in the long run."

Be proactive

So what makes your place stand out from other, similar listings? Consider the power of staging. Whether your home is vacant or occupied, a few concepts can help your home look "model home" ready -- which can encourage a quicker, more lucrative sale.

Photo by Jane Phillips/The New Mexican
Joshua Maes of Santa Fe Properties is a believer in first impressions. Photo by Jane Phillips/The New Mexican
Joshua Maes of Santa Fe Properties is a believer in first impressions. "Between the time the buyer and I pull in the driveway and the moment we cross the threshold, the decision has been made," he says.

When it comes to staging, less is more. By eliminating distractions, you let the house stand out. A good rule of thumb is to pack one-third to one-half of your personal effects -- books, accessories and closet contents. Pack up family photos, clear clutter and eliminate large collections.

Calm down paint to neutral colors that reflect the New Mexico landscape. And try to highlight the architectural details of a room, not your decorating scheme.

"Simplicity is a gratifying result, yet extremely difficult to achieve," says Realtor Jim Weyhrauch of Santa Fe Properties. "Personal belongings come with a lot of emotions attached to them. It is very helpful to have a professional with a sensitive yet objective eye guide you through the process," he adds.

Eve Sandoval, a loan officer with Home Buyers Mortgage, attends many open houses and Realtor tours. "It never ceases to amaze me," she says, "how many homes are so cluttered it's hard to evaluate their good features. Most people get so used to seeing stuff around the house it becomes invisible to them."

Sandoval agrees that a home stager can be helpful because he or she can arrange home furnishings so the home shows at its best. "It looks cleaner and less cluttered, enabling potential buyers to more easily picture themselves in the home," she says.

If you plan to stage your home, do it before your Realtor takes marketing photos for the Multiple Listing Service -- or have the company retake photos and update flyers, etc., if you stage after that work has been done. With more potential buyers previewing homes online, your photos should reflect your property at its best.

First impressions

Often ignored, curb appeal is essential. It's the first glance buyers and Realtors get of your property "in the flesh" -- and these days, lackluster just won't cut it.

A corner lot full of weeds? Peeling paint? Bird droppings near the front door light fixture? Forget it. "Between the time the buyer and I pull in the driveway and the moment we cross the threshold, the decision has been made" says Joshua Maes of Santa Fe Properties. "People would like to think that they would never make a decision based on first appearance, but the fact is they do it all the time." Roll up your sleeves and make sure that landscaping is well manicured. Keep on top of weeds and debris that blow in on gusty winds. Grace your front entry with attractive pots full of flowers and be sure that your welcome mat is fresh and inviting. The sassy "Get Lost" and "Leave" doormats that are all the rage are sure to turn a buyer off.

When you set the tone outside, both buyers and Realtors will be excited to find out what's behind the front door.

Get creative

Most buyers visit multiple for-sale homes in a few hours of "showings" with their Realtor, leaving their minds swimming. Think of creative ways to plant your listing in the minds of those who see it.

If you live on a street like Chocolate Flower, consider keeping a bowl of foil-wrapped chocolates in the shape of a flower by the flyer for the house. Selling on Star Vista? Why not offer a photo album of the beautiful night skies, and the house lit up at night, for buyers to flip through.

Really motivated? Offer incentives for things like carpet/flooring replacements, paint allowances and the like.

Buyers also appreciate viewing scrapbooks that detail the improvements of a property, especially if they are significant. It's an opportunity to show off your hard work and investment. If you're selling a historical property, dig up some interesting tidbits to include in your marketing effort. Things like "original Stamm house" or "built in 1912" or "double-adobe walls" give cachet and relevance to your asking price.

Spread the word

Don't leave all the marketing responsibilities to your Realtor. Send an e-mail, postcards, or flyers with pictures and pertinent information -- such as asking price, square footage, number of bedrooms and special amenities -- to all your contacts. Include friends, family, neighbors and colleagues in Santa Fe and beyond. You never know who knows whom and who might be thinking of buying in the area.

To build your base, let the same group know about upcoming open houses. Word-of-mouth marketing is key in the Santa Fe area, and you never know who might "tell a friend of a friend."

Be realistic

By the time most homeowners decide to sell, they are reluctant to put more time, energy or elbow grease into a home.

But they should remember that a home, once listed, is a commodity in the real-estate market, competing against thousands of others. What can you do to increase the likelihood of a good, timely offer? Perhaps $10,000 in new carpet now is better than a $50,000 price reduction down the line. Maybe five grand in landscaping will help your property compete with that of your next-door neighbors, who, like you, have decided to sell.

Remember that you are merchandising your home, and the goal is to attract a buyer quickly and for a good offer. Be willing to rethink your original asking price if necessary, and commit to the process. A well-presented home with a reasonable asking price rarely languishes on the market. Candy Brenton, marketing director for Santa Fe Properties says, "In a market where there is a lot of inventory, pay attention to what your broker recommends about pricing -- rely on their expertise. It's really important for a property to be priced appropriately from the beginning.

"Homes are very personal," Brenton says, and "your Realtor gives you a nonpersonal value on your home. Properties that are priced well are selling."


Heather Wood is a freelance writer who writes regularly for the Santa Fe New Mexican. She can be reached through her website at www.HeatherWoodFreelance.com.

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