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Country charm can help you sell a remote home

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Your home could be a tree-shaded cottage off a dusty country lane in an out-of-the-way community where you can still clearly see the sparkle of stars at night and hear hoot owls in the morning. Still, your ambition to sell your property for a good price would be every bit as strong as that of the urban condo owner.

What to do?

Selling a remotely located home can be tough. But with the right marketing techniques, you and your agent should be able to lure those unusual buyers with a preference for secluded living, real estate specialists advise.

"You're looking for a free spirit -- someone who cherishes privacy. It's the woman who likes the wind to blow through her hair and doesn't use hair spray. It's the man who likes a T-shirt and jeans better than a three-piece suit," says Jerry Primack, a vice president for the Prudential realty chain.

Fewer than 25 percent of homebuyers relish what he calls "countrified living," Mr. Primack estimates. The reality is that many country homes impose on their buyers long commutes. And some force their buyers to give up amenities to which they've become accustomed, such as a Jacuzzi bath.

It's hard enough getting prospects to come visit your out-of-the-way home, let alone buy it.

But as congestion and pollution become more prevalent in densely populated areas, more buyers are drawn to the notion of a residential retreat, says Kay Armstrong Baker, a sales associate with Century 21-H. T. Brown Realty in Columbia. The successful seller will target the buyer in search of clean air, solitude and room to stretch out, she says.

"It's an escapist point of view, but there are some people up to their necks in urbanism who want to get away from the confusion and humdrum of the city. It's a narrow market, but a strong market," says Norman D. Flynn, a realty executive and former president of the National Association of Realtors.

For those seeking to sell a home off the beaten track, realty specialists suggest:

* Stress a "back to a simpler life" theme in your ads.

Casting a wide net for prospects through extensive advertising can be essential to marketing an out-of-the-way property. And the ads that should prove most effective are those emphasizing the upside of country living.

You and your agent need to paint word pictures that focus on the positive qualities of rural living, says Ms. Baker, the Columbia agent. Divert attention from the potentially long commute and lack of amenities by focusing on the calm, neighborly lifestyle. The idea of living at a slower pace among people who hold old-fashioned values is an increasingly attractive concept to tired urbanites, Ms. Baker says.

* Offer a country dinner or another tangible incentive as a draw to get prospects to your home.

Obviously, you can't sell a home without first showing the property. But the challenge of getting the horse to the trough can be terrific, says Mr. Flynn, the realty executive. On a lazy Sunday, how do you get a couple of prospects into their car for a long drive to see your charming country cottage or majestic rural mini-mansion?

Packaging a visit to your home with another draw -- such as a coupon for one free dinner at a nearby country restaurant -- could be the budge needed to get prospects out, Mr. Flynn says. By mentioning the restaurant in the ads for your home, you might even convince a promotion-hungry restaurateur to provide a free coupon for each couple you send his way.

Use your imagination to come up with other tangible rewards that emphasize your country-living-is-wonderful theme. For example, what about giving away a free pass for horse riding or admission to a state or federal park near your home?

"You'd be amazed what lengths people will go to to get something for nothing," Mr. Flynn remarks.

* Use signs to lead passers-by to your home.

A property located on a main thoroughfare in a city, town or suburban area will sometimes sell to a passer-by who happened to see your sign. Such happy coincidences are less likely to benefit the owners of an off-the-beaten-track property -- especially if it's located on a dead end, says Claudia Januchowski, a sales associate with the Phoenix, Md., office of Coldwell Banker.

Still, she says you can enhance your chances of catching the random prospect through the use of signs directing prospects passing an intersection to your home.

* Encourage your realty agent to "farm" the neighborhood around your home in search of a buyer.

Tired urbanites won't be the only prospects for your out-of-the-way home. Often those living in your community can give you valuable leads, insists Mr. Primack, the Prudential vice president. In all likelihood -- because likes attract likes -- your neighbors have friends or relatives who also treasure the fresh greenery and solitude of living in a remote section. And word-of-mouth about your home can be the best publicity.

It's labor-intensive, but Mr. Primack often recommends that an agent selling a property in a remote area do some door-knocking in the immediate vicinity. Known in the real estate field as "farming," the technique used by agents to intensely cultivate an area can turn up the name of that one special buyer. As a sweetener, Mr. Primack suggests your agent could give away pot holders, note pads or refrigerator magnets to those who answer the door.

Door-knocking isn't the only way for an agent to farm your community in search of a buyer. Personalized mailings can be sent to neighbors announcing that your home was "just listed" for sale and providing details on features and price. Or the agent can telephone neighbors in search of leads.

Since relatively few agents use farming techniques in out-of-the-way areas, they can be surprisingly effective, Mr. Primack says. Some country people so relish their privacy that they won't answer the door or talk to strangers on the phone. But many others are calm, friendly individuals who will help your agent willingly.

"They're a different breed than city people," he says.

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