That new-car smell. The latest fashion. A theater debut. There's something irresistible about the newest thing on the scene - and real estate is no exception. Like the proverbial 15 minutes of fame, your home's first week on the market is a moment in the spotlight that won't happen again - so it's crucial to make the most of it.
A new listing has two major perks that smart sellers won't want to miss out on. The first is your bargaining position: It will never be this good again. It's an inescapable reality of any sales negotiation that once you've named your opening price, you've got nowhere to go but down - and the longer it takes, the lower the price may go. Indeed, in the first half of this year, Long Island homes spent an average of 119 days on the market, and the average contract price was 6.45 percent less than the original asking price, according to real estate appraisal and consulting firm Miller Samuel. For a seller asking $350,000, that's a $22,575 discount. In the same time period for 2006, the average time on the market was 86 days and the listing discount averaged 4.1 percent.
The second advantage to the first week is the marketing blitz that occurs - effortlessly, and at no extra cost to the seller - when a home is entered into the Multiple Listing Service. Thanks to an endless array of electronic gizmos, apps and alerts, the moment a new home is listed, everybody knows it. "It is instantaneous," says Cyndi Sheppard of RE/MAX Alliance in Miller Place. "Whatever sites your office is involved in, they all feed off the Multiple Listing automatically."
Having your home announce itself to your target market at its moment of peak value is big exposure - and it only happens once. Here's how to capitalize on that new-listing luster before it fades:
1. Don't jump the gun
Even if you want your house sold yesterday, don't make the mistake of rushing it onto the market before the property and your selling strategy are anything less than perfect. There's a lot of preparation - from prettying up the place to pricing it properly - that needs to take place. "Unless the sellers are really savvy and have done all this ahead of time, it's premature," says Krae Van Sickle of The Corcoran Group. "You should hire somebody and figure out what's necessary, and then go on the market once you've got your show ready for prime time."
2. Hire a pro, or think like one
There are 7,996 homes for sale in Nassau and 11,713 in Suffolk, according to the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island. "With all the competition, you have to make sure that the marketing of the home is perfectly in place," Sheppard says. If you're not using an agent, you should be aware of what they're doing for your competition. "The listing agent is hired by the owner to give them information, consultation, to do management, arrange showings and marketing," Van Sickle explains. The marketing can include everything from professional photography and virtual tours to holding open houses.
Appealing to potential buyers is only half the marketing equation, says Karen Mazzola of Realty Connect USA. "It also needs to be accepted by the other real estate brokers and agents out there, so they'll view it as an exceptional piece of inventory."
To attract all those agents, "Make sure you've done your homework, and make it really easy for the selling agent to answer all the buyers' questions," Van Sickle says.
Get it right the first time, and you've got yourself an extended sales team, Mazzola says. "Basically, they're working for our homeowner as well."
3. Price it right
Sellers, understandably biased, are notorious for overestimating the worth of their homes. But this is no time to be sentimental - it's time to be pragmatic. "Price is a moving target," Van Sickle says. "You need to have a sober market analysis done by somebody objective. The agent should give the owners the raw data, and they should listen to the interpretation. The agent has to do a very thorough and considered market analysis to judge what price it should be."
Most buyers' agents won't bother showing your house if the price is unrealistic - they'd rather put their time and effort into the ones that are most likely to sell. An overpriced home isn't a good bet for two reasons. The first one's obvious: What buyer wants to overpay? And second, even in the unlikely event that a buyer falls in love and agrees to a price that's above market value, the lender may not.
If your place is more expensive than comparable ones in the area, or if similarly priced homes are offering more for the money - the same model house with a newer kitchen, for instance - rethink that number before you list it.
4. Get ready for your close-up
One of the biggest blunders sellers make is to list a home without photos, figuring they can add them later. Don't do it, Sheppard warns. When agents and buyers receive a new listing alert, they expect to see interior and exterior photos immediately - and good ones. If they don't, they'll likely pass it over and never look back, she says. By the time you get around to posting the pictures, you've missed your shot: Newer listings will be getting all the attention.
"The photograph is extremely important these days," Van Sickle says. "So many people are making a huge amount of their judgment based on the photos on the Internet."
You want your house to explode onto the electronic scene looking impeccable. The interior shots should depict a home that's spotless and clutter-free. Outside photos should be in season, with a manicured property for inviting curb appeal. "Take four or five different angles to see which looks best," Mazzola suggests.
5. Set the stage
Buyers need to be able to imagine themselves living in your house, and it's your job to remove any obstacles that might cloud that vision. Stage the place carefully, putting your home's best face forward - not your family's. "When you're selling a house, less is more," Mazzola says. "You want to depersonalize it so the buyers can picture themselves there. You don't want too many personal things up and hanging. It distracts them. They're supposed to be looking at the house and they end up looking at your pictures and your plaques and your history."
Patch up any problem areas before showing the home, Van Sickle advises. "You'll end up taking a huge discount if you don't fix it up properly," he says. "The first thing they look for is the defects. If they don't see any defects, then they walk in and begin to see themselves in the house," Van Sickle says.
Follow your agent's advice, or consult a professional home stager for tips on how to make your home look its best. "You're trying to do the superficial things mostly, the things that make it present well," Van Sickle says. "Buyers have choices. The ones that are best presented are the ones that will sell."
A picture is worth a thousand words
The owner of this four-bedroom Brookhaven home received an offer within a week of listing the home, and was in contract in 19 days. The house sold for $470,000 - 5.8 percent below asking price.
The home was first listed with another broker for $529,000 using the photo at right. When it didn't sell after nine months, the owner let the listing expire and hired Tracy Boucher of Coach Realtors.
"There was nothing wrong with it, but it didn't look good on the Internet," Boucher says.
It was off the market for a week, during which Boucher and the owner made a few tweaks. "I came in, we repriced it, put in the mulch, trimmed it up and reshot the house with a wide-angle lens," she says.
Boucher is very particular about what to include in a shot - and what to exclude. "We try to shoot to get most of the house in, never the street," she says. She forbids cars, trash cans and toys.
The professional photographer noted the direction the home faced, then waited for the optimum time on a sunny day and took the photo at a new angle from under the tree so the house wouldn't be obscured.
Home stager Lynne Kleinman explains why the new shot works. "You want to see the architecture of the house. It's a very appealing line," says Kleinman, who co-owns Accent Home Staging & Organizing in Great Neck with Ellen Blank. "The way they took it makes you want to walk in."
"His house was pretty clean, but it just needed a fresh perspective - and it worked," Boucher says.
Did it wrong the first time? Try again
Missed your big moment? All is not lost - but now you'll have to work twice as hard to stay competitive, says Cyndi Sheppard of Re/Max Alliance in Miller Place. "Constantly find things to do with your listing to bring it in front of the eyes of the buyers," she says. Here are three changes you can make that will keep your house in the running:
CHANGE YOUR PHOTOS A dated-looking picture tells buyers it's an old listing - and makes them wonder what's wrong with the house. If the tulips were in bloom when you took your exterior shot, it's time to replace that image. "Change the pictures with the seasons," Sheppard advises.
UPDATE THE DESCRIPTION This one's most effective if something has actually changed - you've given the place a new paint job, for instance, or scheduled an open house. But even if you just rewrite the description to highlight your pool in the summer, or the fireplace in the winter, the update might get your listing a second look.
IMPROVE THE HOME - OR DISCOUNT IT
"If it's not mint, start working on it," Sheppard says. "If it's not mint and you can't work on it, then you have to do a price reduction." It's painful, but sometimes necessary. "Just reduced" may not have the same ring as "new listing," but there is a bright side: Your home will be "new" to the eyes of every buyer in your new, lower price range.