It is impossible to avoid the newspaper and magazine articles, the blog posts and the talk around the watercooler about how the housing market in San Francisco is shifting back to being a seller’s market. If you’re a San Francisco homeowner and you’re thinking of selling your home, here are our “Top 8 Home Selling Strategies”. We have found that these are the best strategies to use to reach your goals – which we figure more than likely include selling your home quickly and for a great price.
A strong (and getting stronger) job market and economy, low listing inventory and low interest rates are the key factors tipping the balance of power back to sellers in San Francisco — in regard to Real Estate, that is. Trulia’s Chief Economist, Jed Kolko, lists San Francisco as #2 in his list of the “10 Healthiest Housing Markets” for some of these same reasons. If you think a seller’s market means as a seller you can hire any agent, have them stick a “For Sale” sign in front of your home, and then sit back as hoards of buyers rush in flashing their cash, you would be wrong. Keep in mind, buyers today are different than buyers of yesteryear (i.e., 2005 – 2007). But one thing hasn’t changed: offering the best product will get you the best price.
1. Find the right real estate agent. Who you consider to be the “right” agent is subjective…to a point. Essentially, you are looking for a good fit with your personality and communication style as well as your needs and priorities. That said, we hope your needs and priorities include experience, expertise, effective negotiation skills, creative marketing, a large vendor network, and fierce client advocacy.
So, how do you find the right San Francisco real estate agent? Lucky for you, we’ve moved from a world of information asymmetry to a flatter world where anyone can research pretty much anything or anyone online. (tip of the hat to Daniel Pink and Tom Friedman). This means you can save a lot of time and avoid some of the more hardcore sales pitches! Instead of having to spend hours of your free time hosting multiple agents in your home for interviews, you can instead research agents online, conduct phone interviews and narrow the field to your top 2 (maybe 3) contenders to meet in person.
To get the initial names, ask friends & coworkers and spend time on Yelp and other customer review sites. Then, start researching. Read their reviews, read their website, check out their social media profiles. Be sure that your agent knows how to market in a digital world. Today’s home buyer is online – research says that this is true for almost ALL HOME BUYERS and not just the Gen Y-ers. Some of the more experienced and organized listing agents will have their own process and may ask you questions as well, take a look at Danielle Lazier‘s home seller worksheet to get an idea of how things work at SFhotlist.
2. Freshen up the place. Your Real Estate agent knows how to get your house in selling shape. Set up a walk-through in your home with your agent and they’ll give you a list of what needs to be done before the first open house. Minor issues that as a homeowner you’ve learned to live with - a leaky faucet, shabby cupboard doors, a broken towel rack - will matter much more to potential buyers. Sellers have rose-colored glasses and buyers…well, their shades are smudged. Those little imperfections here and there which you don’t even notice anymore will be considered flaws (aka, price reductions) to a Buyer. As time and money permit, make the repairs and improvements as suggested by your agent before you go on the market when you can control the cost. Make good use of your Realtor’s vendor network. This will save you from having to negotiate for credits or repairs with the buyer during escrow.
3. Invest in staging or semi-staging if you are staying in the home. Barbara Corcoran had a good point when she wrote “People need to visualize how they can make the space their own. Get rid of your photos and replace the art you have with something more neutral.” Fully, or partially, staging your home with fresh furniture, neutral colors, accent rugs, and a few small pieces of art will make it considerably more appealing to buyers and has been known to increase the sales price of a home by 10-15%. Think about it, how amazing do the showrooms at Design within Reach and Room and Board look? This means getting rid of clutter, taking down the photos of your puppy graduating from puppy training school and the removing the Graceland memorabilia. It also means brighter light bulbs, changing out lamps, opening curtains/shades/shutters and getting rid of pet odors.
To be frank, the San Francisco listings that sell for the most money and in the shortest amount of time are freshly painted, vacant and professionally staged. It’s just the way we roll here. Making home improvements and repairs, staging and moving out aren’t options for everyone. If they are for you, then do them — even the pros over at HGTV agree with us on the benefits of staging.
Open Houses & Agent Tours
4. Show your home every chance you get. In San Francisco, Open Houses are an important part of proper marketing. They are a tradition and they work! Another important strategy is ensuring your home is available for private showings. As Corcoran says “Compared to any other age group, generation Y buyers are the most likely to purchase a home in the next two years. They’re young professionals under 30 who work long hours and have limited spare time. Not showing your house in the evening is like sending away a big chunk of your market.” It sounds like she is describing many home buyers in San Francisco.
5. Skedaddle. Make yourself scarce during Open Houses, Agent Tour days and during private showings. Showings are for prospective buyers and their agents. As tempting as it might be to hang around or pop in because you “just happen to be in the neighborhood”, please don’t. During Sunday Open House, take the opportunity to go to the movies, a museum or sit in a coffee shop and read the entire Sunday paper (for once)! Buyers need to see themselves living in your home, not you.
6. Negotiation begins at the beginning. In order to be in the best position when selling your home, the negotiating must start before the first offer comes in. This happens when you: hire a Real Estate agent; have a solid idea of what your property is worth based on information provided by your agent such as comparable sales in your neighborhood, the condition of your home and the general health of the real estate market; and choose a strategic and realistic list price. Also, strategies #1-5 above will directly affect your bottom line – repairs, fresh paint, staging and a pre-sale inspection are a huge part of your negotiation arsenal and they happen before your property hits the market. The less room for surprise, the more room for a higher offer price that does not get negotiated down during escrow. Your agent should be able to anticipate what items may become an issue for a buyer and work to address them with you ahead of time.
7. Leave your feelings at the front door. Selling your home can be emotional. We get that. You have precious memories and experiences attached to your home. The process of selling can be fraught with anxiety and worry. Do whatever you can to stay relaxed and calm, especially during the contract negotiations. Don’t take offers personally. The more objective you can be, the more likely you’ll be able to listen to good advice and make strategic decisions in your best interest. In today’s San Francisco real estate market, if you price it right and present your home in its best light, you will receive good offers probably in the first two weeks. You may choose to set an offer date so you can have full market exposure and receive all the bids at once because that suits your style best. What you’re looking for is the strongest offer on price and terms, aka contingencies and financing, with a bit of personal connection thrown in. The highest price is not always the best offer. Don’t base your decision solely on who you like the most or would most enjoy “having a beer with”. Leave that for your vote for President!
8. After full market exposure, What You See Is What You’ll Get. Many sellers refuse the first offer, which can be a big mistake. First bids often create a sense of confidence in the seller. They think that if one person submits a bid, there will surely be more and better bids to follow. The very first bid is often the best one you will get. Whatever the bid is, however low you think it is, or however insulted you might be, you need to consider it. Any offer is a place to start. Danielle knows the power of the counter-offer and isn’t afraid to use it.
It’s like dating. When your get asked out, do you think, “Yes, I want to go out with this person so I’m going to do it.” or is it more like “Hmmm, I want to go on a date with this person but if s/he asked me out then that must mean other people will, too…other richer, smarter, more beautiful people…so I’m going to say no. I’m going to roll the dice and take my chances for Brad Pitt or Kate Winslett to knock on my door.” Okay, that analogy is a bit weak but do you see our point?
Now, if you are in a strong seller’s market like San Francisco and you decide to have an offer date after 10-14 days of market exposure, the same rule applies. Assuming the listing has been properly exposed to the market, the offers that come in will be a true indication of market value. Again, an agent with strong negotiation skills is invaluable in the transaction.
These “Top 8 Home Selling Strategies” are based on our experience selling homes in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 10 years and they’ve worked when selling in all kinds of market conditions, in all of San Francisco’s neighborhoods and for all types of properties – single family homes to multi-unit buildings.