Early bird tickets for Baltimore’s BEST party on sale now!


The Baltimore Sun

The brick townhouse is a bright eight-year-old end unit with a list of upgrades - $10,000 in plantation shutters alone - and tasteful decor. Outside, it has a deck screened for privacy; inside, it has a big kitchen island. It's also in a convenient location, all likely pluses.

However, condos and apartments recently replaced the trees that were behind it and a dozen other townhouses are for sale in this Owings Mills complex, including three end units. All factors likely to limit its appeal.

The house has been on and off, but mostly on, the market for more than a year with more than one agent.

The current listing agent, Len Bernhardt, a Coldwell Banker veteran of 48 years, believes many would-be buyers are waiting out sellers in the hope that sellers will blink first.

"I would love to get back to California," said Gene Hill, the owner of the townhouse. But at the same time, she said, "I'm not going to just give my house away."

A recent price drop encouraged an offer so low she rejected it.

The story is not an unfamiliar one.

June housing sales reported by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. show the average sold price dropped by 4.43 percent from a year earlier. The statistics also show houses were on the market 32.93 percent longer, up from 82 days to 109 days.

If a house isn't generating buyer interest and a contract, it's time to reassess and make adjustments or consider renting it. Agents get feedback from colleagues who have shown a house to potential buyers, a good starting point for considering the next step.

There are a variety of reasons that a house may not appeal to buyers, but we spoke to several experts who identified five reasons a house may not sell: price, location, visual appeal, condition and our catchall of other market factors.

We asked area agents and Tara-Nicholle Nelson, host of HGTV FrontDoor.com's Savvy Woman Homebuyer video series (she's also a real estate broker, lawyer, speaker and author) to weigh in with some specific problems and their solutions.

1. Sale price is too high

"Price is everything," said Marc Witman, a partner in Yerman Witman Gaines and Conklin Realty in Baltimore. If the house hasn't generated serious interest within a few weeks and showings are at a trickle, re-evaluate the price. Recent comparables that sellers find at online real estate sites are helpful.

But they might not be entirely comparable, said Ann Whelan, an associate broker with ReMax100 in Ellicott City. The comparable figures don't distinguish between the house in a cul de sac and the one by the traffic light; the sold price doesn't indicate what assistance, such as $20,000 in closing costs or new energy-saving appliances, the seller provided. Agents have access to seller subsidy data.

SOLUTION: Drop the price to capture a new set of potential buyers, Witman said. Some 80 percent of buyers search online, where most tools automatically divvy up the market in $25,000 or $50,000 increments (though you can change the parameters). The house should drop into a lower price range.

Re-evaluate how much money you're willing to provide in assistance to a buyer. Offering your car or other goods unrelated to the house is more of a distraction than help.

2. Location is a turnoff

Location is key but it can mean more than whether your house is in the city or the country. A double-yellow line on the street in front, a train track behind, a shopping center parking lot nearby - they're buyer turnoffs. Less obvious is the neighbor's unkempt backyard and a dearth of parking.

SOLUTION: There's no moving the house, but there are some things a seller can do.

Hide the neighbor's yard with a fence or shrubs, said La Verne Gucker of Coldwell Banker in Annapolis. Draw attention to conveniences.

On a busy street? Landscape with a berm and shrubs.

Dealing with a parking issue now, Nelson said in an e-mail that she is having a seller draw up plans for a carport and obtain preliminary government approval, then obtaining three contractor bids to use as a selling point. "We'll offer to credit the amount of the middle contractor's bid to any buyer who offers the full selling price (obviously increasing our asking price to account for the credit)," she wrote.

Also, she asked the sellers to ensure generous indoor and outdoor storage space.

3. House has no visual pizazz

A generation of cable-TV watchers knows this: A house is supposed to be nicely landscaped, have a crisp interior and appear inviting. Would-be buyers may skip a house that falls short in looks.

Carol Schmidt, president of Chase Fitzgerald & Co., said many buyers lack the imagination to envision what a so-so house could look like spruced up.

"You've got to make your listing stand out," she said. "If a shutter is missing, or a flower bed isn't mulched, you think, 'What else are they missing?' "

Not obvious to a seller may be that the house looks dated, with carpeting in a 1970s green or walls in 1980s-kid colors. Eye-popping hues and themed decors may limit appeal.

"There is still that 'wow factor' when you walk in," Schmidt said.

SOLUTION: Paint. Enhance the landscaping, she said.

Consider staging the home. Nothing picks up a place better than new paint and carpeting; both can be done fast, Schmidt said.

If the house is vacant, paint with neutral colors; unusual shades don't work as well without their matching furnishings.

4. Condition is critical

Not only does the buyer want value, but so does the mortgage company.

"Lenders are quite strict about appraisals," said Whelan.

Insurers won't touch watertight shake roofs in some areas because of fire hazards, making a new roof imperative, Nelson wrote.

Sometimes, the basics are in need of help, such as broken window sashes.

Avocado kitchen appliances? They may work, but '70s-era appliances may detract, unless the rest of the neighborhood has them.

SOLUTION : Fix it, with caveats: It's probably more valuable to lower the price to compensate for the old kitchen than remodel a home on the market. An alternative is agreeing to fix it - for example, let the buyer select $10,000 in new flooring you will install in place of the orange shag.

A buyer is more likely to appreciate a nice kitchen than paying to renovate. But, Nelson suggested sprucing up a kitchen and omitting the appliances - instead, offer buyers credit funds to install their own choice of updates after closing.

5. We just don't like it

There are a host of other factors that can have your home sitting on the market for days. The rest of the neighborhood is for sale. The Web site is tired. The house may lack something the others have or should have. The customizations don't match current lifestyles.

SOLUTION: Re-examine the marketing plan. If a lot of identical homes are for sale, price competitively.

Have a great Web listing that links from other sites, said Gucker. Update online photos and shoot new ones of rooms where you've made changes, she said.

Besides the listing agent spreading the word, sellers can show initiative. E-mails on neighborhood listservs and talking about it don't hurt, Gucker said.

Consider staging a tiny bedroom, especially if it lacks closets or isn't legally a bedroom, as an office or studio, Nelson said.


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