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Listing losers: 8 reasons your home isn't selling and what to do about it

By Melinda Fulmer of MSN Real Estate


Why do some homes linger on the market for months — or years — while others are snapped up in a matter of days?

While much of it has to do with price and local inventory, a whole host of factors can conspire to make a home sit and stagnate on the multiple listing service without showings or offers.

To find out what makes some listings such laggards, MSN Real Estate polled agents across the country and combed through properties from our partner Realtor.comlooking for real-estate wallflowers and the issues plaguing them.

Think of these examples as cautionary tales for sellers, with a bit of advice sprinkled in from agents who have seen it all before.

"The longer a house sits on the market, the more it gets stigmatized," says Deirdre Lohan Conway, of Schooner Properties near Cape Cod, Mass. People ask, "What's wrong with that house?" and "Why hasn't it sold?"

If you don't want your home to be the listing that won't budge, read on for eight listing no-nos and four tips to help you sell lickety-split.

 

1. A 'what the heck are they thinking?' price tag

Price is usually the overriding factor in any home that doesn't sell. Whatever its problem, it can usually be rectified by adjusting the price, says Kathy Opperman, broker-owner of Century 21 Alliance in Philadelphia.

"It's always price for condition or price for location," Opperman says. "That's one of the main reasons [homes] sit."

Why are some homes priced so far above the pack? While many nostalgic sellers have unrealistic ideas about what their home can fetch, others simply can't afford to take less because they are underwater on their loan.

That was the case with this grand estate on 6.7 acres just outside beautiful Asheville, N.C. With more than $3.5 million put into the property between the purchase and renovations, it was listed for $4.2 million in 2008 — right after the real-estate bubble burst. The five-bedroom manor house with stables and an au pair apartment over the garage lingered on the market. The listing price eventually was lowered to $1.8 million as a short sale. It now has an offer pending, according to the firm listing it.

"You know you have hit the right price when you have interest and offers from multiple parties," Opperman says.

Overpriced home (© Realtor.com)

© Realtor.com


2. Tacky or dated decor

Everybody's taste is different, so less is more when it comes to decor at sale time. Loud patterns and bold colors can be big distractions.

In one of his recent upstate New York listings, Don Moore, an agent with Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate Tech Valley, says that wallpaper played a starring role in every room, as did colorful and dated window treatments and furniture.

Even the foyer was baby blue with pink trim. The gaudy decoration obscured what was a gem of an energy-efficient house, complete with 37 acres of land. The home had been on and off the market since 2010; its price dropped from $879,900 to $549,000 before selling recently — good thing, because the buyer had to invest quite a bit of money to remove all that wallpaper.

Other buyer turnoffs include time-capsule interior treatments such as mirrored walls, cheap wood paneling and 1970s kitchens.Tacky decor (© Realtor.com)

© Realtor.com

3. Poor condition

If a home looks as if it's going to cost half as much to repair or renovate as it does to purchase, it's going to take a long time to move, agents say. Indeed, today's buyer is a lot more reluctant to take on a "project," says Conway of Schooner Properties, especially if there are houses around it that don't need as much work.

Ditto for homes that have strong pet or mold smells. So fix it, or prepare to lop a large amount off the price, agents say.

4. Bad location

A wonderful house can't always overcome a bad location. Homes that are close to a power plant, waste-treatment facility or busy freeway will often sit, unless the seller is willing to take a major hit on the price, Opperman says.

She experienced this when a freeway moved into her backyard, forcing her to slash her home's price. "We had to disclose that they were putting one of those [turnpike] barrier walls 10 feet into my property," Opperman says. "We sold for $100,000 less than my neighbors across the street."

Moreover, when a neighborhood has disintegrated, pushing values down and crime up, it's hard to find a buyer who wants to purchase there, and owners are forced to rent out the home, possibly under the federal government's Section 8 housing program. Once renters are in, it's also more difficult to show a property to potential buyers, agents say, because tenants don't want to be disturbed — or uprooted.

 

5. Bad design

With many homes, it's an inefficient or strange floor plan or design that acts as a barrier to a sale.

In some cases, it's a matter of functional obsolescence, when a dated design no longer serves today's population, such as older homes where you have to walk through one bedroom to get to a second bedroom.

This home in Catskill, N.Y., is missing one important element — a driveway — says listing agent Ted Banta III of Premier Realty Services. Located on a steeply graded street that doesn't encourage parking – and with no room on the lot to add a driveway – it has lingered on the market for more than four years.

Sure, the buckled linoleum and rough interior aren't selling points either, but those could be overcome with the right price. Good thing it's close to Main Street, since an eventual new owner may be doing a lot of walking.

 

6. A fancy hacienda among humble homes

While it certainly feels nice to have the largest, most elegant home in the neighborhood, it won't do you any favors when it comes time to sell, agents say. People are paying not only for the house but also for everything around it. If the homes around yours don't mirror yours in size or polish, you might have a hard time getting a luxury price.

Moore, who sells properties near Albany, N.Y., tells of one golf-course property that has been on the market intermittently since July 2011 because its scale and amenities are so much richer than those around it.

Originally listed at $799,900, it's now priced at $579,000, a step closer to the ranch homes around it, which are selling in the low- to mid-$200,000 range.

"This is the most expensive house on the street for blocks around," Moore says.

Fancy hacienda among humble homes (© Realtor.com)

© Realtor.com

7. Investor-owned condo projects

Some condos can be a hard sell for banks, including those in largely investor-owned communities.

This unit in an upscale, master-planned, student-housing development near Clemson University in South Carolina could be attractive for parent investors — if they could get a loan on it, says agent Susie Kohout of Carolina Real Estate, who has the listing.

In recent years, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have made it more difficult to get a loan on a condo in a heavily investor-owned complex, which most college condo complexes are. This property has been on the market for three years, according to Realtor.com.

So, sure, the development with its game room, pool and lazy river looks great, but its pool of available buyers may be limited as few banks will fund it.

8. Frightening photos

If a seller can't be bothered to clean up before the sale, the agent probably shouldn't include many interior photos. In these horrifying photos of a Chicago-area home, posted on a real-estate message board, dirty clothes, hoarding and clutter dominate the shots, giving would-be buyers pause about the hygiene and condition of the rest of the house. Where is the storage if people need to dump their belongings throughout the house?

"As a buyer, would you even want to go look at something like this?" asked "blub blub blub," who posted the photos. Yet, according to "blub," this listing comes from a building in which units are selling briskly.  

Only a certain set of plucky buyers will see past the mess and cosmetic issues to realize that there's a bargain to be had.

Frightening photos (© Realtor.com)

© Realtor.com

Four tips for selling that listing lickety-split

1. Be realistic about price. 
"In my market, the only reason a property would stay on the market for longer than three months would be that the price is too high," says Ron Redfern, an agent from Greeley, Colo. "Price will overcome any objection," he says.

Don't listen to your neighbors or get stuck on what you think you should get. Look at comparable sales, paying special attention to those in similar condition.

2. Keep it neutral.

Everybody's taste is different, so don't stage your home as a showcase of your own bold or traditional style. Rather, buyers want a minimalist canvas on which to project their own tastes, agents and stagers say.

3. Be picky about the photos you upload to the MLS.

Less is more when it comes to images, Opperman says. While it is necessary to include photos of the home inside and out, it's not necessary to document every single mediocre thing, such as that cabinet over the toilet or a large but messy closet.

Photos should showcase the rooms or features that are true selling points. Buyers are making quick decisions about real estate online. Don't give them a reason to say no.

"If a buyer isn't excited about a home after seeing it online, they won't want to see it in person," Opperman says.

4. Put your best foot forward right off the bat.

Your home should look as good as it can from the minute it hits the MLS, agents say. “Don't think, 'Well, maybe I will stage it if it doesn't sell in six months," says PollyAnna Snyder, a Bozeman, Mont., agent responding on a real-estate message board.

It should be clean and decluttered from day one, agents say, to generate the most interest and offers. If sellers wait, they risk having their property thought of as a problem property.

"Days on the market can have lingering and adverse effects on price," Snyder says.




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