Five Things to Consider Before Listing a House for Sale

Selling property in a tough market calls for thorough planning. We asked Nya Clarke, owner/broker of Vineyard Haven’s Century 21 Island-Wide Realty; Caroline Taylor, a broker with Vineyard Haven’s Island Real Estate; and Stephanie Burke, co-owner and principal broker of Edgartown’s MV Seacoast Properties, what potential home sellers should bear in mind before listing their homes. Here’s their advice on getting off to a smart start:

1. Timing. According to Nya, spring is hands-down the best time to put your house on the market. “There’s more activity, the sun is shining, and everything is in bloom,” she says. Caroline recommends listing a home that will appeal to a seasonal buyer at the end of February or beginning of March. “I wouldn’t list from November through early February unless the home is priced on the lower end and might attract a first-time, year-round buyer,” she says. Stephanie observes that the “ebb and flow of sales has changed in recent years,” but suggests that ideally sellers list in very early spring and plan to keep the house on the market through the summer season.

2. Choosing a real estate professional. Both Stephanie and Caroline strongly recommend asking friends and business associates for referrals. “Find someone who has worked with the firm or individual before,” Stephanie urges. Nya advises looking for an agent “who works full time and will focus wholeheartedly on marketing your property.” While some brokers specialize in a particular geographic area of the Island (the historic Copeland district of Oak Bluffs or the West Chop section of Vineyard Haven, for instance), others might focus on a specific price range, from lower-priced properties to high-end luxury homes. Many firms, however, list and sell properties Island-wide across all market segments. A careful look at an agency’s website will give you insight into any niche it might serve.

3. The duration of a listing agreement. The length of time you commit to work exclusively with your real estate listing agent(s) is negotiable. In a slow market, it’s important to allow a reasonable amount of time to achieve a sale. While responses from our experts range from a minimum of six months up to a year, Stephanie suggests budgeting at least a whole season – from spring through October or November, for instance – to give your listing the best shot.

4. Market evaluations. Nya, Stephanie, and Caroline all recommend asking two or three real estate agents for comparative market evaluations (CMAs), which provide an estimated fair market value of a property based on its features and conditions in the area’s housing market. Caroline cautions that these free reports are an “opinion of value” and that in a declining market such as the Vineyard, the numbers are constantly shifting. Nya advises homeowners to obtain an up-to-date professional real estate appraisal to get a more accurate reflection of a home’s value.

5. Home improvements. While all three brokers are enthusiastic proponents of de-cluttering, each advises consulting with a real estate professional before investing in any work prior to listing. “Depending on the price range,” Stephanie points out, “it may not be wise to put money into a house.” Bottom line: Rely on experienced listing agents for advice on whether and how you might improve your specific property to get it as market-ready as possible.

Market snapshot: A look back at summer and ahead to 2012

Lisa Stewart, owner, Lighthouse Properties, Oak Bluffs: Summer brought lots of activity in the low end of the market and a smattering in the high end. The rental market was very active and customers are already booking six- to eight-week rentals for next summer. We’ll see a flurry of closings from summer transactions but with a huge and growing inventory of Island-wide listings, we’ll need to flush out the low end of the market and the foreclosures before we can truly build momentum from there.

Sean Federowicz, owner, Coldwell Banker Landmarks Real Estate, Vineyard Haven: The summer market was busy on the Island
but not necessarily productive. We showed a lot of property but it seemed that often the checkbooks were left behind. There’s a lack of urgency in the market with 860-plus units of inventory. Buyers are ready to engage but sense better negotiating opportunities post-season. We need good weather and a more stable macro-economic situation to give us a solid close to 2011. I’m cautiously optimistic.

Jim Feiner, principal, Feiner Real Estate, Menemsha: The market has been widely mixed, with pockets of sales as buyers seek good value and execute transactions. Buyers are much more keenly aware that there are excellent opportunities; their bidding has been aggressive and they are more informed. I expect to see a consistent flow of opportunistic buyers at every price point, as well as more out-of-the-ordinary marketing attempts to bring buyers to the table. More sellers are realizing that they can no longer be stubborn about pricing. The old pricing model of “list high and the market will come up and take it” no longer works.

Real estate Q&A

Q: Is there any benefit to listing my house with more than one Island agent or agency?

A: The brokers we surveyed recommend against listing homes with more than one agency, although it’s your right to do so. While you may list your property with up to three agencies, Nya Clarke of Century 21 Island-Wide Realty cautions that some computerized multiple listing services off-Island, often valuable marketing channels, will not accept properties listed with more than one agency.

In addition, Stephanie Burke of MV Seacoast Properties suggests that sellers may garner greater attention from an exclusive relationship with one agent rather than diluting focus by listing with multiple companies.

Caroline Taylor of Island Real Estate puts it bluntly: “It accomplishes nothing. It’s generally worse to list with three agencies. If an agent doesn’t know if she will be compensated for her efforts, she may be less likely to put out the marketing dollars or the energy to sell the property.”

Listing with more than one agency, these brokers concur, can create confusion in logistics as well as in the mind of the consumer.

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