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Pricey homes need specialized sales approach


The Hunt Valley house was a spectacular 4,500-square-foot Georgian colonial with a contemporary interior done entirely in black and white. Behind it were stack-stone gardens, a hot tub and a gazebo.

Despite the breathtaking beauty, it was a tough sell because of the price, remembers Lynn Creager, the Coldwell Banker agent who listed the property. Priced over $700,000, few buyers could consider the home.

An expensive home requires an intensive sales campaign, realty experts emphasize.

"If you're in an upper-tier home, you must definitely do upper-tier marketing," Ms. Creager says. Through a highly focused advertising drive, glossy brochures and other sales tools, she was able to sell the Hunt Valley home in just 2 1/2 weeks -- something the previous agent didn't accomplish in many months of effort.

Intensive and specialized marketing is critical to the sale of any home in the upper tier of the price range, according to realty experts. That'sbecause the wealth of upper-end buyers gives them so many housing options that they can afford to be picky.

"For most wealthy people, a home is a discretionary purchase. Whether they buy now or a year from now, this house or another house, is not that big a deal," says David Knox, who conducts sales seminars for the residential real estate industry throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Upper-end buyers are also usually sophisticated buyers -- who present more of a selling challenge to both the property owner and his agent.

"People in high-income brackets didn't get there by being stupid with their money," Mr. Knox observes.

Here are pointers for the sellers of homes priced in the top 20 percent of the market:

* Don't pad the price of your home.

"Even if you're dealing in a $4 million dollar home, you still have to have it priced right," Mr. Knox says.

Among upper-tier sellers, there's a strong tendency to overprice properties, he says. One reason is that so many homes in the expensive range have unusual or custom features, which tend to be valued highly by their owners.

"People say, 'My home is unique,' and then price it too high," says Mr. Knox, whose company sells a videotape, "Pricing Your Home to Sell." Granted, there is more gray area in pricing an upper-tiered home since it's rare to find other properties exactly comparable. But too often sellers in this category think about the forest rather than the trees, according to Mr. Knox. They focus on particular styles and features, rather than the primary determinants of value: location and square footage.

"You might have a Frank Lloyd Wright 120 degree-angle contemporary that compares to a two-story Georgian colonial. On the surface, they're very different. But if they both have 6,000 square feet and are located in the same community, they could be priced almost alike," he says.

* Make sure your upper-end home is marketed with upper-end furnishings.

"Many of these homes are gorgeous -- with luxurious master baths and fabulous kitchens," Ms. Creager says. Newer properties, in particular, have the potential to show very well to prospects.

But the expectations of well-heeled buyers are also exceptionally high. Why try to market your palace with anything less than showcase furniture?

* Use professional photography, fancy brochures and glitzy advertising. The agent marketing your upper-tier home can anticipate a big commission but must also, of necessity, face big expenses to do the job right. In the 2 1/2 weeks Ms. Creager had the Hunt Valley colonial on the market, for instance, she blew $2,500 in marketing expenses.

A brochure with color photography is good for the sale of any home. But with a very pricey property, you'll want to call in a professional and attach several photos. For the Hunt Valley house, for example, Ms. Creager prepared a 15-page brochure that illustrated several of the home's features -- including its 20-foot-high open foyer and double guest closets with interior lights.

Besides the brochure, Ms. Creager spent a hunk of money for ads. Not only did she buy newspaper ads, but she also purchased ads in magazines that cater to upscale readers, including Unique Homes and Baltimore magazines.

* Don't rule out an open house for an upper-tier home.

"Most people in high price ranges don't do open houses because they just don't think they work," Mr. Knox says. After all, these skeptics reason, such an event would only attract curiosity seekers, neighbors and those without sufficient money to make the purchase. And they pose security problems for the owners of the home, the skeptics think.

In reality, however, Mr. Knox says a public open house can be far more effective for a fancy home than a plain one. That's because such an event could well attract the one important discretionary buyer who is so busy that he may be disinclined to schedule a long house tour in advance. And, if your house shows like a showplace, this buyer could get hooked.

And the security problems can be managed, he insists. "No, you don't let billions of people just march through. Rather, you have lookers go through one-at-a-time, accompanied by a real estate agent," Mr. Knox suggests. He also recommends that you ribbon off rooms that you want to remain untrampled, which creates an air of exclusivity.

* Consider 'creative financing' for your buyer.

If it takes a huge sum of capital to purchase your property, an otherwise qualified prospect may need a little assist, says Ms. Creager, who sells homes through the Phoenix-Hunt Valley office of Coldwell Banker.

Can you, as the seller of an expensive home, provide a second mortgage on the property? Or, better still, could you somehow assist with the cash requirements for such a purchase -- either by helping with the down payment or the heavy closing costs that inevitably come with such a deal.

Your best prospect may have plenty of income but trouble meeting the cash hurdles to purchase your place, Ms. Creager points out.

"Just because your buyer is rich doesn't mean he's cash rich," she says.

Ellen James Martin is a columnist for The Sun.)

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