Photo: christian koch / Unsplash

If you thought selling a home was as easy as plonking a ‘for sale’ sign on the lawn and waiting by the phone, think again.

In many competitive real estate markets across the country, it’s no secret that sellers have had the upper hand for a while — multiple offer scenarios, properties selling in less than a day, and bully offers have become more common than not. But just because you have a property to sell doesn’t necessarily mean you should expect a flood of buyers knocking down your door.

When properties don’t get the traction they need — whether they have something wrong with them or not — they sit on the market. Your home is now what the industry calls a ‘stale listing.’ Stale listings are like stale doughnuts — they might look great, but once people know they’ve been sitting around for a while, they tend to get suspicious and avoid them. An untouched listing lets homebuyers speculate that something is up.

“The first assumption that jumps into every agent and buyer’s mind when it’s been sitting is, ‘It’s probably overpriced,’” says Cam Woolfrey, a sales representative with Royal LePage Realty’s Storey Team. “The second thing that would come to mind would be something is probably wrong with it.”

If your home has yet to see the hopeful buyer you’ve been waiting for, never fear. As Woolfrey explains, sometimes your property just needs to restrategize and receive a kick in the pants to get on the right track.

Your listing is past its best before date

Labeling a listing ‘stale’ depends entirely on what you’re trying to sell and for how much.

Generally speaking, Woolfrey outlines that entry-level freehold homes that haven’t sold past 20 days are considered to be ‘sitting on the market.’ For entry-level condos, it’s about 15 days. In the luxury market, there’s a little more leeway, but freeholds that haven’t budged in one and a half months, or luxury condos that haven’t moved past one month, are stale.

Photo: Wiktor Karkocha / Unsplash

Woolfrey explains that buyer cycles change approximately every two weeks — buyers come through, examine the product on the market, and then move on. It’s also the time when fresh listings will get the most exposure in automatic searches. Hence, the first few weeks in a listing’s life are the most important. If your listing is coming close to passing its freshness date, it’s time to change course.

A real estate agent who is familiar with current market needs and has a good sense of direct competition can best decide how to rework your listing strategy so your home entices buyers over competitors. Your agent should keep an ear to the ground and make decisions based on market condition analysis at the time of sale, especially in a fast-paced spring or fall market when you might be up against neighbouring properties.

“They should be able to analyze the current market, analyze what your direct competition is, and position your asset in a way that favours people looking at your [listing] over others,” says Woolfrey. “Or, if it’s not looking at yours, then… find a way to create that competitive advantage versus who you’re listed against.”

The price is right, or so you thought it was

When it comes to moving the needle from ‘for sale’ to ‘sold,’ pricing is paramount.

Woolfrey stresses that the right listing price is key, otherwise, if your home sits on the market, it could cost you all of the leverage you have in a seller’s market.

Photo: Nik MacMillan / Unsplash

“The longer it stays on the market, the more leverage the buyer gets to have, which, nine times out of ten, is likely the case because of the fact that, whatever the reason is that it’s not selling, you’re able to position yourself as a buyer and say, ‘Listen, this house should have sold. There’s a reason why it’s not selling, so here’s our price. Take it or leave it,’” he says.

Some homes may use overpricing as a listing strategy to force competition or ‘test the market’ but Woolfrey explains that this is counterproductive. Even if you’re priced 10 to 15 percent above market prices, Woolfrey says it could cut your buyer pool by half, or cause the property to sell at market value or lower.

“Your strategy should be to get as many people through the property as possible,” he says.

The property had an ugly picture day

If your price isn’t the issue, perhaps your listing’s marketing strategy sucks — those darkly-lit, portrait-mode iPhone photos of your untidy kitchen probably won’t attract the buyer’s offer you want.

“You’re going to want professional photography, floorplans, video marketing, targeted online campaigns, just designed to maximize the amount of visibility that your listing has,” says Woolfrey. “If you don’t have that, that would be the first thing I’d reevaluate and suggest.”

Staging is the unsung hero of listing marketing tools, and combined with professional photography, can really do wonders. It is pricey, but you’ll likely make a return on the investment once you sell, or your listing brokerage may even cover the cost for you.

“Staged properties have been known to sell two, three, six percent higher than the competition,” says Woolfrey. “It’s the perceived value that they create, showing the house in a way that depersonalizes it and just allows people to look at it and say, ‘Oh, this is what the space could do or could be.’”

Your home is a catfish, and the buyers can tell

You’ve taken beautiful photos and your property is listed at an attractive price — buyers may fall in love, but once they find out there’s a major repair or fault, they might reconsider, stalling your chances of selling.

It helps to be upfront with your buyers, whether it’s providing all of the information about the physical condition of the home or highlighting all of the changes you’ve made during ownership. Providing a pre-inspection report or mentioning any renovations that you’ve done will paint buyers a clear picture on the property so they can justify the value and risk level of your home.

“I find that if you take away that question mark, what possible renovations that they’re going to have to do and make that information available, people are much more ready to make an offer and justify the value as well,” says Woolfrey.

Even if you’ve accurately priced your home to adjust for repairs, Woolfrey says transparency still helps buyers to rationalize paying a specific price, especially in hot markets like Toronto.

“Having that peace of mind to give you a base for cost analysis, there’s a lot more security,” he says.

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