A few years ago, a small-business owner used his home-equity line to buy a four-bedroom, multilevel house in a solid suburb. His intention was to rent out the place for more than the mortgage payment, pocketing the profit.
But his plans never came to fruition. After the recession hit, the owner poured all his energies into saving his company. Then, because of financial pressures, he decided to sell the still-vacant house.
Unfortunately, the owner's empty property languished on the market unsold for months - outlasting his agreement with the first real estate agent he hired. Ultimately, it took several thousand dollars' worth of improvements, a price adjustment and a second listing agent, Sid Davis, to find a buyer.
"Selling a vacant house can be a big challenge. But it's certainly doable if you price it right from the get-go and pay tremendous attention to how the home looks during the showing period," says Davis, author of "A Survival Guide to Selling a Home."
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It is often harder to sell a vacant home than one pleasingly furnished because many vacant properties convey an icy feel to visitors, says Eric Tyson, co-author of "House Selling for Dummies."
He says it's often smart for the owners of a vacant home to spend a few thousand dollars on cosmetic upgrades. He also suggests they consider engaging the services of a home stager. This is a design-oriented professional who can lend the sellers a few key furnishings.
"You don't need many items to make a vacant house look a lot better. For example, just a few pieces of well-positioned furniture, along with some colorful area rugs, can make it seem a lot warmer," Tyson says.
Here are several other pointers for the vacant home seller:
- Start off your listing at a realistic price point.
Nowadays, a number of neighborhoods, particularly those surrounded by large pockets of unemployment, still have numerous unsold homes, including foreclosed properties. And most bank-owned properties are vacant when they hit the market.
Whether the property you're trying to sell is vacant or still occupied by your family, you need to check out your competition and adjust your pricing accordingly, Davis says.
"Ideally, you should have your vacant home priced just a notch below other like homes in the same community," he says, adding that "any property can get stale if it sits on the market for a long time. Potential buyers soon become wary of the place - demanding deep discounts if they bid at all."
- Correct any flaws in your vacant home.
"Think of a vacant place as naked. Every blemish is highlighted. There's little to defocus the buyer away from the problem spots," says Davis.
This reality makes it imperative that the sellers of a vacant home resolve all minor issues, so buyers won't remember the stains on the carpet, the marks on the hardwood floors or the dings on the walls.
Davis urges the owners of vacant homes to paint the interior walls a light, neutral tone, replace worn carpet and refinish (or replace) hardwood floors that need work. In addition, fix any unsightly area visitors might encounter, such as a rusty spot around a bathroom leak.
"Go room-by-room with a clipboard and then make sure you handle every little unattractive thing," he says.
- Bring a select few pieces of furniture back into your vacant home.
Many "lived in" homes are overflowing with excess furnishings - making the preparation for the sale period one in which listing agents must urge clients to de-clutter.
Ironically, the problem with a vacant home is just the opposite. It needs a few well-chosen furnishings so that would-be buyers can see the scale of its rooms.
Of course, you can always rent or buy furniture to outfit a vacant home. But Tyson recommends that a better solution could be to hire a professional home stager who has the "props" you need to stage your place thoughtfully.
Your listing agent may have good leads on the names of professional stagers in your area. Or you could consult the Real Estate Staging Association (www.realestatestagingassociation.com). Another option is to find an interior redesign industry specialist through this Web site: www.weredesign.com.
- Keep your vacant home in showtime condition.
Real estate agents like vacant properties because they're so convenient to show, without the need for complicated arrangements with the family living there.
The vacant house doesn't suffer the problem of dirty dishes in the sink or kids' toys spread across the family room floor. Still, other things can go wrong. For example, litter and newspapers can pile up on the front lawn. Lightbulbs can burn out. A leak can develop in a kitchen faucet. And, of course, dust and cobwebs are a given.
Davis says you can keep your vacant property looking its best by hiring a local teenager to handle the mail, newspapers and routine yard work. He also urges you to ensure that your listing agent keeps a close eye on the property.
"Your agent should commit to checking out your vacant home at least once per week and preferably twice. And make sure you get that promise in writing before you sign the listing agreement," he says.