Selling your house can be an intensely emotional experience in any market, but it’s particularly nerve-wracking when it seems like other homes are going under contract in a matter of days while your listing lingers. In that situation, sellers can’t help but wonder if there might be something wrong with their place.
Well, the unfortunate truth is that maybe there is something wrong. Usually it’s the listing price, but there are a ton of other things that are keeping your house on the market — maybe it’s the marketing strategy, or even the house itself. If your house just won’t seem to move in a market that’s otherwise red-hot, consider whether one of these factors could be stalling a sale.
THE PICTURES ARE AMATEUR
It’s hard to under-emphasize the importance of listing photos. Most buyers start their home search online, and your listing photos are therefore the first impression that buyers will get of the property.
When all the other homes for sale in your neighborhood have crisp, clean images that show the home to its best advantage, and your listing photos are off-center, unfocused and scream “I took all of these pictures in 10 minutes with my cell phone,” then don’t be surprised when buyers aren’t all that interested in your place.
THE PICTURES DON’T MAKE THE HOUSE LOOK AMAZING
Sometimes even if you use a professional camera (or a professional photographer), the house still doesn’t look its very best in the listing photos. In this day and age of digital photography and the ability to preview and discard what’s been shot, there’s no excuse for shoddy images.
Make sure that you’re selecting only the photos that make your house shine, and if there aren’t any, then you might need to reshoot. Talk to your agent and the listing photographer about shooting at a time of day when there’s a lot of natural light and when the home is in pristine condition.
YOU HAVE TOO MUCH STUFF (ensure people are not distracted by your STUFF and can SEE THE HOME ITSELF)
Minimalism might not be a big thing where you live, and that’s perfectly fine — while you’re living there. But clutter is going to draw buyers’ eyes away from the space of the room and their ability to fill it with their stuff, distracting them when you want them to be fully focused on their dream of homeownership.
Garage sales, donation stations and storage units can all be a viable solution for too much stuff, but you need to get it out of the spaces where buyers can see it. (That means the closets, too — buyers most definitely will open closets and drawers, and if all the clutter is hiding there, it doesn’t leave a great impression.)
IT’S NOT IN GREAT CONDITION
Some buyers are going to be fine with a fixer-upper, but working on a house is not everybody’s idea of fun. Of course, no seller wants to spend money on something like a new roof or a sewer main when you’re about to leave and can’t reap the benefits of your investment — but if you think a buyer is going to feel just fine about moving into a house that needs a major repair, then that could be why none have made a viable offer on your place.
And sometimes the condition can be just fine, but the house hasn’t entirely kept up with the neighbors. If most of the homes for sale in your area have newly updated kitchens and bathrooms, and yours are old enough to vote, then the price needs to reflect that or buyers will just move on to the next opportunity.
UPGRADES AND FIXES WEREN’T DONE PROFESSIONALLY (Do it Yourself Projects) can stand out like a sore thumb!
If your profession is “home builder,” then perhaps you might get a pass here, but most people who are trying to save money on home repairs will likely end up paying for it when the time comes to sell. Even if your fixes look as cosmetically solid as they would if you’d hired a pro (and that’s a big if!), there’s no telling what an inspector might uncover — and the very last thing you want is for your home to go back on the market after being under contract because the inspection revealed a sub-par repair.
THE PRICE IS JUST OUTSIDE A SIGNIFICANT PRICE BAND
What’s a price band? Consider how a buyer searches for a house: Usually they’re looking on a listing portal or on the MLS, and in either case, they have a price range that fits their budget. Most search functions reflect those price ranges, allowing the buyer to search for homes between $100,000 and $150,000, or between $150,000 and $200,000, for example. The price band is simply the price range included in a search.
Some sellers try to leverage sales psychology when pricing a home, so they’ll price it by $1 less than the price band to entice buyers into thinking they might find a deal. For example, a seller might price a home that could sell at $300,000 at $299,999. That home would show up in a search for buyers qualified for between $250,000 and $300,000 — but buyers qualified for $300,000 to $350,000 won’t see it because it’s outside their price band.
Try to pick a sales price that straddles two price bands if you can, exposing it to more buyers.
THE PRICE WAS BASED ON AN ONLINE CALCULATOR
It’s hard to find a homeowner who hasn’t looked up their own house on a real estate portal like Zillow — we’re all curious, right? Well, even though that Zestimate price may have given you a warm fuzzy feeling, the truth is that it might not be all that accurate. Online calculators use public records data and sometimes MLS data to create their estimates, but if the data is patchy or there aren’t a lot of comparable homes that have sold nearby, then the algorithm might end up pulling some numbers that just don’t make any sense.
Of course, this can mean an absolute steal for buyers if your automated valuation is below the home’s actual value, and you could lose money on the sale. But on the flip side, if you trust that your home really is worth what the automated valuation says — and you haven’t asked an appraiser or a real estate agent what they think — then that could be why no buyers are interested.
SOCIAL MEDIA ADS GAVE TOO MUCH AWAY
Marketers know that advertising is in some ways an art of enticement. You want to give just enough away to interest buyers viewing your listing and invite them to learn more.
If you give too much away in marketing, it can have the opposite effect: There’s no mystery, and buyers will make a quick (potentially inaccurate) decision about whether or not they like the house. So remember, more is less — don’t put all your listing photos in a social media ad, for example, and try to leave a little bit of mystery in any listing advertising.
YOU WEREN’T CAREFUL ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA IN OTHER WAYS
Loose lips sink ships — and they also sink home sales. In an era when we’re all super-connected, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that a buyer might have access to what you’re posting on social media, and that can come back to bite you big-time.
For example, maybe you’re excited about a possible bidding war, but posting “three buyers bidding against each other, can’t wait to see how high these suckers go” on Facebook (or even worse, Twitter) could cause one or more of your buyers to decide they’d rather not transact with you. Even seemingly innocuous information about your neighborhood or the sights, sounds and scents around your place can turn buyers off, so think carefully before hitting “post” when you’re getting ready to sell.
THE WRONG AGENT IS LISTING THE HOME
Like all of us, real estate agents have strengths and weaknesses. Some agents are great at selling condos but haven’t sold any single-family homes, and that’s just one of the many facets that makes up an agent’s experience.
It’s completely understandable to go with the agent who helped you in your last sale, or a friend of a friend, but do ask any agents you interview about their experience in working with clients like you to sell houses like yours. If they don’t have any, then you might be in for a long wait and several price cuts before your house moves.
Just today a seller told me their previous agent was not a tough negotiator and whatever the buyer wanted, he just caved in and conceded. You must have a tough negotiator on your side. Someone who will stand their ground. If your agent easily concedes a lower commission, they probably aren't the right negotiator for your best interest, UNLESS you are willing to give them more than one transaction (a Sell and a Buy) for example.
SHOWINGS AREN’T CONVENIENT FOR BUYERS
One of the worst parts of selling a home is dealing with the showing process. It’s a pain to keep your house spotless in case a showing gets booked, and then vacate the premises while strangers traipse through with an agent.
Although sellers definitely deserve sympathy for how demanding showings can be, they’re not exactly a picnic for buyers, either, who are usually trying to visit several houses in the few-hour timespan they’ve managed to clear out, typically on evenings and weekends when they don’t have to work.
If you aren’t letting buyers come in and walk through on those evenings and weekends, and instead are dictating showing times that only fit your schedule, don’t expect buyers to fit your home into theirs. If it’s inconvenient, many qualified buyers who’d love your house will prefer to skip it.
THERE’S NO MARKETING BUDGET
Listing the home on the MLS might be all you need to do in some markets — but in others, there’s so much “noise” that qualified buyers might miss your place entirely. Or they might not know about your neighborhood or street, so their search may not have lead them to your house.
Whatever the case, there are times when a little marketing goes a long way. When you’re interviewing agents, ask them if they have a marketing budget and what it covers. If they don’t have a plan, then that’s a sign you might want to try a different agent.
THERE’S AN ISSUE WITH THE TITLE
If you’re like most sellers, then the last time you did any research (or paid someone else to do any research) on your home’s title was when you bought it. That’s completely understandable, but if something has changed in the intervening years, then you might not know about it until you’ve worked out an offer and the title company discovers it, which is never the best time to try to sort out a potentially very complicated legal issue.
Before your home is listed, it’s always a good idea to conduct a title search and make sure everything is squeaky clean. You’ll breathe easier during closing, anyway!
THE APPLIANCES ARE OUTDATED
No one is insinuating that you need to upgrade to all the best everything before you sell your house — but the fact of the matter is that if most homes in your neighborhood sport the latest stainless steel kitchen appliances, and yours are avocado green and older than some of your buyers, then this might be an investment you just have to make.
It’s all about context and perspective. Make sure you understand how your home is measuring up against its competition in the neighborhood.
IT SMELLS, OR IT’S NOISY
There are a lot of things that can turn buyers off once they actually step inside a house, but two that there’s almost no chance of mitigating include noise and odors. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about either — the jets overhead or the water plant up the road are just going to do their thing sometimes — but sometimes there’s quite a bit you can do to freshen the space up for the senses.
If you have pets, they may have contributed to some of the stink. Get an objective opinion (and don’t shoot the messenger!) about how your house smells, and address it if the answer is “not the best.”
THERE’S NO CURB APPEAL (Your home has to DRAW the visitor in, NOT REPEL THEM)
Ideally, buyers are going to start picturing your house as “theirs” as soon as they step out of the car to see it. One thing that will kill that fantasy before it even gets going is a house with little to no curb appeal.
You don’t need to landscape your entire outdoors, but make sure you’re addressing the basics. Is the grass alive? If so, has it been mowed? Is the porch clean of clutter and swept? Could a couple of planters with flowers make it look more inviting?
THE LISTING DESCRIPTION IS FLAT OR UNREALISTIC
Most buyers are going to look at the photos first and foremost, but many will also pay attention to the listing description. This is a chance to tell interested buyers what you love about the house, and they’re going to be looking for information or nuance that they couldn’t glean from the photos.
For example, maybe the view from the master bathtub is your favorite in the house, or perhaps there’s a greenhouse in the yard. Include details in the listing description that help the buyer round out what they know about the house from photos — and steer away from generic descriptions if possible. Buyers see a lot of them, and they won’t help your home stand out.
One of the biggest disappointments I have is when the verbiage says UPDATED and it was UPDATED 15 years ago. That is deceptive!
YOU INSIST ON STAYING DURING SHOWINGS
The impulse to do this comes from a good place nine times out of ten: You want to share all of the best features of your house with buyers, and how will they know what those are if you aren’t there to help?
Trust that buyers know what they are looking for and what appeals to them, and resist the impulse to give them a guided tour. It’s uncomfortable at best and creepy at worst for buyers, and you’ll never hear candid feedback about what they did and didn’t like. Make the place look as amazing as you can, then vacate and let buyers walk through themselves.
YOU’RE TOO ATTACHED
Sometimes it’s the right time to sell a house — and sometimes it doesn’t matter how hot the market is: You’re just not ready to let go yet. That’s a very normal feeling to have, but it can also sabotage your home sale for obvious reasons.
Consider whether your attachment to the home could be undermining you in other ways, like insisting that it’s worth a certain price or demanding specific concessions from your buyers. If you think it might be, then you have to decide whether your need to sell the house outweighs your desire to stay there, and act accordingly. If you are still emotionally attached to your home, that could affect its selling. My client was ambivalent about letting her home go, so many memories there. Guess what at about 55 days in she said "I"m just DONE AND DONE" keeping this house clean for showings with 3 kids in such a small space". Within 5 days her house was under contract. Emotionally you have to be READY to RELEASE your home.